Zelensky at odds with top general Bild

Commander Zaluzhny urged for a withdrawal from a key city, but the president refused, the newspaper reported

An internal conflict is underway between Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and General Valery Zaluzhny, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, according to government sources cited by Bild on Monday. Kiev insiders told the German tabloid that the military commander called for a withdrawal from a key Donbass city weeks ago.

Zaluzhny advised the president to abandon Artyomovsk, which is called Bakhmut in Ukraine, rather than keep defending it as Russian troops threaten to take control of the city, the newspaper said. However the Ukrainian leader declared the city a fortress, and refused to pull back.

Amid intense fighting for Artyomovsk this year, Russian forces have made notable advances. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the private military company Wagner Group, claimed last Friday that it was "de-facto completely surrounded," with only one road available for possible evacuation.

According to US media, Washington has been urging Zelensky to pull out of Artyomovsk since late January and focus on preparing a major counteroffensive in the spring using Western-supplied weapons, but the Ukrainian president fears a morale hit that such a move would cause.

The city is part of a 70km Ukrainian defense line created since Kiev initiated the fighting in Donbass in 2014. US officials have assessed that its loss to Russia would not affect the strategic situation.

Bild sources claimed that Ukrainian troops on the ground in Artyomovsk "do not understand why the city is being held" and believe they should have withdrawn a long time ago. Zelensky recently stated that Ukrainian forces would defend it as long as it "remains reasonable" to do so.

The German tabloid also noted that Zaluzhny’s popularity, which he scored for leading the military campaign against Russia, makes him a viable challenger to Zelensky in a potential presidential run. The general has not publicly announced any ambition to run for office, but rumors have been circulating in Ukraine for months regarding Zelensky’s concerns over possible competition.