Words sometimes don’t come easily, especially when talking about your enemy, as social-media users noted in a video of Vladimir Putin that has gone viral.
The Russian president’s full-throated rhetoric against Kyiv seemed absent for a few moments at least when asked about Valery Zaluzhny, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces.
Russian media had reported last month that Zaluzhny had been injured in a missile strike near Kherson, although this was denied by Kyiv.
This was why during a discussion on Sunday, Russian military correspondent Alexander Sladkov asked Putin if he knew the whereabouts of the man heading the operations against Russian aggression.
But Putin’s typical assured tone appeared to desert him momentarily. The Russian leader answered awkwardly, “Where is he, Zaluzhny?” and looked the side as if he was looking for the answer from his colleague sitting next to him.
Putin is then told that that there is a Telegram social-media channel about the Ukrainian commander, to which Putin responds with a stutter, “I know, I think I know.”
“Ask him where he is. You’d have to switch to a foreign language for that. I think he’s abroad,” Putin said, “but I could be wrong.”
As of Monday morning, the clip, tweeted by Ukrainian internal affairs adviser Anton Gerashchenko, had received more than 520,000 views. “Putin started to stammer when it came to Zaluzhny,” wrote Gerashchenko, “was it a coincidence?”
Putin started to stammer when it came to Zaluzhnyi…— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) June 18, 2023
Was it a coincidence? pic.twitter.com/rAzYlUOiiX
Russian state news agency Tass reported the interaction, but took a different angle, headlining the story “Putin suggests that Zaluzhny may be outside Ukraine.”
The Tass article reported how Zaluzhny, who had been a constant fixture in the Ukrainian media, did not appear in public for a significant period of May. He missed a NATO committee meeting on May 10 during a two-week absence last month, although he was seen again in the media on May 25.
Tass also reported that the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Naryshkin, had told reporters that Moscow had information about Zaluzhny’s condition but would not disclose anything further.
Zaluzhny is a key figure in Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said had been ongoing on at least four sectors of the front on Sunday.
However, the think tank that Kyiv’s long-awaited push to recapture Russian-occupied territory would be put temporarily put on hold.
Citing the head of the Estonian Defense Forces intelligence center, Colonel Margo Grosberg, the ISW said that Kyiv would pause the push for seven days to “reevaluate their tactics for future operations.”