Ukraine is forced to deny firing its military chief and rumours swirl that Putin’s war commander has been killed as deep tensions on both sides over conflict’s stalemate

Ukraine has been forced to deny it has sacked its military chief amid rumors that Putin’s warlord has been killed.

Volodymyr Zelensky has denied firing his warlord General Valerii Zaluzhnyi as deep tensions simmer on both sides over failures to make major breakthroughs in the war.

Zaluzhnyi, 50, even posted a photo overnight with Ukrainian chief of general staff Serhiy Shaptala, also 50, to demonstrate that he is still in charge.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin’s wartime commander, General Valery Gerasimov, has not been seen for more than a month following an unverified series of reports that he was killed in a missile attack on Sevastopol.

Gerasimov, 68, is known to go long periods of time without being seen, but during this period he failed to boost the morale of his forces with visible visits to the front line.

A crater formed by the wreckage of downed Russian drones outside a residential building in one of the city districts, Odesa, southern Ukraine

A crater formed by the wreckage of downed Russian drones outside a residential building in one of the city districts, Odesa, southern Ukraine

Volodymyr Zelensky was forced to deny sacking his warlord General Valerii Zaluzhnyi (pictured) amid deep tensions on both sides over failures to make major breakthroughs

Volodymyr Zelensky was forced to deny sacking his warlord General Valerii Zaluzhnyi (pictured) amid deep tensions on both sides over failures to make major breakthroughs

Vladimir Putin's wartime commander General Valery Gerasimov has not been seen for more than a month after a series of unverified reports that he was killed in a missile attack on Sevastopol (File photo)

Vladimir Putin’s wartime commander General Valery Gerasimov has not been seen for more than a month after a series of unverified reports that he was killed in a missile attack on Sevastopol (File photo)

Unconfirmed reports came on January 5 that he was present at a command post hit by a Storm Shadow attack the previous night near Sevastopol in occupied Crimea.

Moscow did not comment on the allegations that emerged on social media.

Kyiv’s military intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, said he could not verify the allegations about Gerasimov.

In fact, the Russian warlord has not been seen this year.

He last appeared tired in video footage on December 29 when he presented awards to “military personnel who distinguished themselves during the liberation of Marinka” in Ukraine’s occupied Donetsk region.

It comes amid criticism of the performance of the Russian armed forces, most recently by Senator Dmitri Rogozin, formerly deputy prime minister in charge of defense industry, and later head of the Russian Space Agency.

“Important changes must take place in the Russian military,” he said.

‘From my point of view, an increase in the number of staff members will be required. Numerical superiority over the enemy is necessary.

“There are many people there in Ukraine, there is general mobilization. We don’t have it.’

He also blamed the armed forces under Gerasimov for over-reliance on ‘traditional weapon systems’ in the war.

Meanwhile, the Russians seized on reports that Zelensky had fired Zaluzhnyi.

There were allegations that a decree was being drawn up and that the general had rejected an offer of an ambassadorship to Europe.

There were also claims that he would be replaced by Budanov (38).

General Valery Gerasimov with Vladimir Putin.  Gerasimov, 68, is known to go long periods without being seen, but during this period he failed to boost the morale of his forces with visible visits to the front line

General Valery Gerasimov with Vladimir Putin. Gerasimov, 68, is known to go long periods without being seen, but during this period he failed to boost the morale of his forces with visible visits to the front line

Kyiv's military intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, said he could not verify the allegations about Gerasimov (File photo)

Kyiv’s military intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, said he could not verify the allegations about Gerasimov (File photo)

Ukrainian soldiers of the 41st brigade stand in a trench near the front line, outside Kupiansk, Kharkiv region, on January 23, 2024.

Ukrainian soldiers of the 41st brigade stand in a trench near the front line, outside Kupiansk, Kharkiv region, on January 23, 2024.

Ukrainian infantry take zero positions on January 27, 2024 in Kupiansk Frontline, Ukraine

Ukrainian infantry take zero positions on January 27, 2024 in Kupiansk Frontline, Ukraine

The rumors circulated for several hours before Zelensky’s spokesman, Serhiy Nykyforov, dismissed the claims.

‘Absolutely not. The president did not fire the commander in chief,” he said.

Elsewhere he said: ‘There is no topic of conversation, there was no dismissal, I can’t say anything else.’

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry also rejected the reports.

Zelensky did not mention the speculation in his nightly televised address.

But the reports highlight instability in Kiev, which has been seized upon by Russian propagandists.

Some Telegram channels even claimed that Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, who was only appointed in September, had resigned.

Some analysts see Zaluzhnyi as a threat to Zelensky and a likely future president of Ukraine.

A recent poll found that 72 percent of Ukrainians would have a ‘negative attitude’ to the resignation of Zaluzhnyi.

There was one allegation that Zaluzhnyi’s camp may have leaked the sacking rumors to force Zelensky to back him publicly amid deep strains in their relationship following the failure of Ukraine’s counter-offensive.

Zelensky and Zaluzhnyi.  Some analysts see Zaluzhnyi as a threat to Zelensky and a likely future president of Ukraine

Zelensky and Zaluzhnyi. Some analysts see Zaluzhnyi as a threat to Zelensky and a likely future president of Ukraine

Rogozin claimed that the Russian military is ‘fighting under great stress and sometimes lacks modern military-technical answers to many threats, including the enemy’s superiority in attack drones’.

He lashed out at ‘those who spread lies about our collective and extremely dangerous enemy’.

Rogozin warned: ‘The hope that the other side will run out of weapons and soldiers is the most dangerous self-deception.

“Those who spread it are either boastful morons or sent agents whose aim is the disintegration of the unity of our front and rear (in the war).”

Military officials have spoken in recent days of increased Russian military activity on long stretches of the 1,000km-long (600-mile) front line through eastern and southern Ukraine.

Fighting was largely frozen along the front line during the winter, but missile and drone strikes inside Russia demonstrated Ukraine’s long-range strike capability, stretching Moscow’s security assets.

On the southern front, military spokeswoman Natalia Humeniuk told a briefing that Ukrainian forces were expanding the foothold they secured in late October on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River despite intensified Russian attacks.

Russian forces advanced through the Kherson region in the days following the invasion in February 2022, but by the end of the year had abandoned the region’s main town and the Dnipro’s west bank.