US Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was unhappy with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky's plan to fire General Valery Zaluzhny and offered to "smooth over" the differences between the two, The Times reported on Friday.
Zelensky fired Zaluzhny as commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces on Thursday. Nuland was in Kiev at the end of January, as rumors of Zaluzhny's impending dismissal began to gain traction. In a meeting with the US ambassador to Kiev, Bridget Brink, and Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, she supposedly offered to help bridge the gap between the president and his top military leader.
Umerov reportedly told Nuland that Zaluzhny had "reacted with skepticism" to Zelensky's public statements and direct orders, going so far as to negotiate directly with Western countries about weapons deliveries behind the Defense Ministry's back.
Zelensky was unhappy that the general would not provide any plans for his 2024 military campaigns, Umerov is said to have told Nuland.
Russia's chief delegate to the military security and arms control talks in Vienna, Konstantin Gavrilov, had identified the Zaluzhny affair as the reason for Nuland's visit long before the Times.
Gavrilov told the Rossiya-24 TV channel on February 1:
"Nuland flew there for a good reason, apparently to sort things out and clear up this conflict between Zelensky and Zaluzhny and to find out what is really happening and how it might all end. A reconciliation is 'unlikely' because things between the two have 'gone too far'."Officially, the US has neither supported nor opposed Zaluzhny's replacement. Within days of Nuland's visit, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told American media that "we're just not going to get embroiled in that particular decision."
Currently the acting deputy to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Nuland was previously in charge of European and Eurasian affairs at the State Department. In December 2013, she visited Ukraine to hand out pastries to the armed protesters in Kiev's central square. She was then taped discussing how to "midwife this thing" just days before the February 2014 coup that overthrew the elected Ukrainian government and triggered a conflict with Russia over Crimea and Donbass.