Everything about him evokes something familiar and easy-going. The round features of his face, his calm and deep voice. His country surname (Zaloujny means “behind the pond” in Ukrainian). His common sense too. Just appointed chief of staff by Volodymyr Zelensky on July 27, 2021, one of his first decisions was to authorize his men to immediately respond to Russian fire. Until then, the Ukrainian soldiers, engaged in fighting on the Donbass front since 2014, were forced to fill out written documents and then wait for authorization from the top of the hierarchy before responding to Russian artillery strikes, which which enraged the soldiers and undermined their morale.
The nickname “iron general” with which he has been given does not fit well with his good nature, as it usually evokes severity and brutality among high-ranking officers. In the case of Zalouzhny, “iron” refers more to an inner discipline.
There is something deeply unconventional about this general. He doesn’t flatter his ego with rows of medals hanging from his chest. We notice instead a baby Yoda, a character from Star Wars, hanging on his bulletproof vest, or cats from cartoons stuck to the back of his helmet. Quite the opposite of Valeri Guerassimov, 68 years old, his Russian alter ego, looking like a Soviet parody with his cheeks cut with a billhook and his jaw with a hammer. Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff has never been caught smiling and has completely disappeared, in public, since December 29, 2023.
A discreet general in front of the media
Curiously, Valeri Zalouzhny publicly professes his admiration for the intellect of “the other Valeri” whose writings he carefully studied. “He is strong, cunning and unpredictable. It is a powerful enemy that we must respect to defeat”, he told Ukrainian blogger Dmytro Komarov, in May 2023. Belonging to the next generation, having entered the armed forces after the fall of the USSR, the Ukrainian makes no secret of his aversion to Sovietism and its representatives. Considered a reformer, he also declared that he “will not waste a second” if he “flushes out a representative of the Soviet army, whatever their rank”, in his army, to dismiss him.
But deep down, the general public doesn’t know much about the general. He has only answered questions from journalists three times since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, preferring to express himself through two long analytical articles, published on the websites of The Economist and of CNN.
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