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Ukraine's Zelenskiy approves ex-army chief Zaluzhnyi's candidacy as envoy to UK

Ukraine's President Zelenskiy and UAF Commander in Chief Zaluzhnyi pose for a picture during a meeting in Kyiv

(Reuters) -Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday that he had approved the candidacy of former army chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi as ambassador to Britain.

Zaluzhnyi, widely seen as a national hero for overseeing Ukraine's war effort throughout Russia's full-scale invasion, was replaced last month by ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrskyi.

"Today, I approved the candidacy of our country's ambassador to the United Kingdom, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. "General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi spoke to me specifically about pursuing that direction -- a diplomatic direction."

Zelenskiy said Ukraine's Foreign Ministry had sent the request for approval and that "our alliance with Britain is set to strengthen further".

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told national television that the president "had long sought" a suitable candidate "and one of the key requirements was an understanding of the military context.

"Britain is one of the leaders in military help for Ukraine. It is a country which has a vision of military strategy. The new ambassador therefore had to have a deep military background," Kuleba said.

Ukraine has not had an ambassador in Britain since Zelenskiy dismissed former envoy Vadym Prystaiko in July 2023 after he publicly criticised the president.

Zaluzhnyi's dismissal as army chief was the focal point of a shakeup of senior positions in Ukraine's armed forces. It followed weeks of tension and speculation about possible disagreements between the president and his top commander.

Zaluzhnyi had written in a published article last November that the now-two-year-old war against Russia had entered a stage of attrition, and he called for technological advances.

Zelenskiy did not respond directly to the comments, but denied any suggestion that the war had entered a stalemate.

Zelenskiy on Thursday met British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps in Kyiv and said he had expressed gratitude for Britain's "tangible leadership" in providing support for Ukraine and working together to counter Russian actions.

A British government statement said Shapps announced a 325 million pound ($417 million) package of military aid for Ukraine, including delivery of more than 10,000 drones. A British aid package in January also provided for drones and was valued at 200 million pounds.

In his remarks, Zelenskiy said priority areas of cooperation were boosting air defences, long-range weapons, and artillery and joint production of weapons, and bringing Russia to account.

"We have already reached a historically unprecedented level of cooperation with Britain," Zelenskiy said, referring to Britain as the first of several countries to sign an accord extending security guarantees to Ukraine.

(Reporting by Yuliia Dysa; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Elaine Hardcastle, Ron Popeski and Leslie Adler; editing by Diane Craft)