Amid rampant speculation that he is about to be fired, Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Valery Zaluzhny is posing on social media alongside far-right imagery and members of the country’s military.
The Washington Post reported on Friday, Feb. 2, that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky told the White House that he was planning to fire Zaluzhny, whom he’d clashed with over military strategy over “battlefield setbacks” in the country’s war with Russia.
Zaluzhny reportedly argued that Ukraine needed to conscript new recruits between 18-27 to make gains on the battlefield, something which Zelensky said the country wouldn’t be able to fund without raising taxes.
The same day, 67th Mechanized Brigade commander Andriy Stempitsky posted a photo of himself with a smiling Zaluzhny being presented with an award from his brigade in front of a photo of the World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera.
Bandera, a far-right ethnonationalist who wrote about his movement’s affinity with Nazi race policies, was nevertheless jailed by the Germans for much of the war. His followers, however, formed the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which carried out massacres of as many as 100,000 Poles and thousands of Jews.
“The award [of the brigade] … was presented to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces General Valery Zaluzhny,” Stempitsky wrote in the post. In addition to the portrait of Bandera, the two men are standing in front of a red and black flag with skulls and crossbones on it, as well as the slogan “to victory, without negotiations,” independent researcher Moss Robeson, who writes about the afterlives of the UPA and the Bandera movement, told the Daily Dot.
“Stempitsky is also a leader of the Right Sector political party,” Robeson said, referring to a right-wing group of hardline ultranationalist parties in Ukraine that came together out of paramilitary movements during the Euromaidan movement.
“He’s a former leader of Tryzub, a paramilitary group created … in the 1990s. Right Sector has plenty of neo-Nazis (including in the leadership of its party) but Tryzub seems to be like their Banderite vanguard.”
Stempitsky’s 67th Mechanized Brigade was formed when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022 from the Right Sector’s paramilitary group. Right Sector has a history of both flirting with and actively integrating members of the Ukrainian far-right into its ranks. According to a report from Haaretz, they handed out copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the fabricated antisemitic conspiracy text Protocols of the Elders of Zion during demonstrations in 2014.
According to a report in the Financial Times in December, Zaluzhny and Zelensky have had a strained relationship for over a year. Zaluzhny is seen as a potential rival for the presidency when elections are held next, polling at 40% to Zelensky’s 42%, as well as being viewed as more trustworthy by Ukrainians compared to Zelensky.
Zaluzhny’s popular reputation was on full display in the comment section of Stempitsky’s post, with a long list of praise for the general.
“Zaluzhny is an amazing person! The iron general indeed!” commented one person in Ukrainian.
“Commander – pay attention here, judging by the likes,” added another one.