The reported attempt to eavesdrop on Valery Zaluzhny has sparked speculation over who was behind it
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has confirmed that a listening device has been found in an office intended for use by General Valery Zaluzhny, the country’s highest-ranking military official. Domestic and international forces may have been interested in what Zaluzhny discusses behind closed doors, commentators have noted.
Reports about a surveillance device discovered in a workplace linked to Zaluzhny first emerged on Sunday from Ukrainian media, which cited insider sources. Hours later, the SBU released a statement confirming the find and downplaying its significance.
The bug was discovered at a location described as “potentially” being used by the general, rather than his actual office. The SBU said the device had been inactive and that there was no evidence of it recording or exfiltrating information.
On Monday, Zaluzhny said he had been due to use the office that day, according to remarks quoted by RBK Ukraine, one of the outlets that broke the story. The general added that he had not been in that particular office for some time.
In its original scoop, RBK claimed that the device was made of untraceable parts, which made identification of its origin impossible.
Not the only one
Zaluzhny also confirmed that he was not the only senior military official to apparently be targeted by unknown spies, as previously mentioned by the media.
Ukrainian journalist Yury Butosov claimed that Konstantin Bushuyev, the general’s personal assistant, was another target and called the incident a major security lapse.
Zaluzhny was asked whether someone in the general staff could be responsible, to which he replied: “No, we have not worked with ‘ears’ for a long time.”
The general added the incident was part and parcel of being “at war,” and said he counted on the investigation to prove who was behind it.
Playing down concerns
Former Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar insisted the discovery was not particularly concerning, because “everyone realizes the risk” of being spied on when speaking. Ukrainian classified military information had been previously leaked “from headquarters” on several occasions, she claimed on social media.
“Holding a high office a priori means being watched constantly, because it’s an issue of national security,” Malyar added.
The ex-official stressed that she did not know who was behind the attempted snooping.
Zaluzhny and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky have reportedly been at odds with each other. The animosity, which Zelensky’s office has dismissed as a “Russian narrative,” has been widely covered in domestic and international media.
In public, the two leaders have clashed over conflicting assessments of the frontline situation in the fighting with Russia, following Kiev’s failed summer counteroffensive. The general described this situation as a “stalemate” in early November, weeks before the president conceded that to be correct.
“Zaluzhny has become a very active political figure, so both enemies and friends may have been eavesdropping on him,” political scientist Dmitry Zhuravlev told lenta.ru, a Russian news outlet. The general’s foes in the Ukrainian leadership may have been looking for blackmail material, for example, he said.
Zhuravlev added that a “Western force” may have been behind the device, considering the complicated relationships between Ukrainian officials, Kiev’s Western backers, and their Russian opponents.
Zelensky and Zaluzhny have reportedly been at loggerheads for months, with the president accused of occasionally prioritizing political goals over military objectives.
There is also the issue of the general’s popularity among the Ukrainian public, which makes him a potential challenger to Zelensky at the ballot box, according to publications such as The Economist and the Financial Times, among others.
A survey released by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) on Monday showed a drop in public trust for Zelensky from 84% in December last year to 62% today. Zaluzhny’s trustworthiness was not measured by the pollster in 2022, but it now stands at 88%, while the military in general has an enduring 96% trust rating.