Putin does not rule out that Ukraine’s army commander-in-chief could be abroad

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin does not rule out that Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhny could be outside of Ukraine, state news agency TASS reported on Sunday.

Asked about Zaluzhny’s whereabouts, Putin told reporters: “I know. I think I know. I think he is abroad. But I could be wrong.”

Russian state media claimed in May that Zaluzhny suffered a head injury and several shrapnel wounds as a result of a Russian missile strike which targeted a command post near the city of Kherson.

At the time, the Russian media said that Zaluzhny underwent a craniotomy in Kyiv’s military hospital and that his condition was complicated by his type II diabetes.

One outlet quoted a Russian official as saying: “The forecast is that he will live, but he will not be able to do his job.” Another outlet said: “Doctors expect the 49-year-old to live, although he will not be able to conduct his duties as commander.”

Zaluzhny was meant to attend a NATO military committee meeting on May 10 but he could not make it. Admiral Rob Bauer, the chair of NATO’s military committee, said that he received a letter from Zaluzhny explaining that he could not attend the meeting due to the difficult situation at the battlefront. Instead, the committee was provided with the necessary information by the Ukrainian Military Representative to NATO, Major General Serhii Salkutsan.

On May 20, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Malyar stated that the Russians had launched a fake story about Zaluzhnyi’s “disappearance” to demoralize defenders of Bakhmut, state news agency Ukrinform reported.

She said: “The Russians have launched an information wave claiming the alleged disappearance of our Commander-in-Chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi. The commander is in place. He is doing his job. We just talked.”

Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergey Naryshkin said on May 24 that the Russian government was receiving information about the state of Zaluzhny’s health but would not reveal any details.

On May 25, Ukrainian Colonel Anatoliy Shtefan, who is close to Zaluzhnyi, shared a video in which the commander appears seated at a desk and says: “I sincerely thank all Ukrainians, together we will definitely win. And not only today. Always.”