By Tom Balmford
KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday he had decided to replace his defense minister, paving the way for the biggest upheaval in Ukraine’s defense establishment since the launch of his full-scale invasion by Russia in February 2022.
In his nightly video address to the nation, Zelenskiy said he would sack Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and this week ask parliament to replace him with Rustem Umerov, director of the country’s main privatization fund.
Reznikov, defense minister since November 2021, helped secure billions of dollars in Western military aid to support the war effort, but he has been dogged by allegations of corruption surrounding his ministry which he called a defamation.
This decision comes in a context of repression of corruption in Ukraine that Zelenskiy made a point of underlining. kyiv has applied to join the European Union and public opinion has become very sensitive to corruption as war rages on with no end in sight.
“I have decided to replace the Defense Minister of Ukraine. Oleksii Reznikov has gone through more than 550 days of full-scale warfare,” Zelenskiy said.
“I think the ministry needs new approaches and other formats for interacting with the military and society as a whole.”
Zelenskiy said he expected parliament to approve Umerov’s nomination, adding that Umerov “needs no further introduction”. Zelenskiy must submit Umerov’s candidacy to parliament for consideration.
A 41-year-old former Crimean Tatar MP, Umerov has headed Ukraine’s State Property Fund since September 2022 and has played a role in sensitive wartime negotiations, for example on the Black Sea grain deal.
He was praised in Ukraine for his track record with the State Property Fund, which oversees the privatization of state assets, and had been embroiled in corruption scandals before taking office.
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE WEST
During the war, Reznikov’s Defense Ministry pressured the West to overcome various taboos on supplying powerful military equipment to Ukraine, ranging from German-made main battle tanks to rockets. HIMARS multiple launch. kyiv now seems ready to receive American-made F-16 fighter jets soon.
Western military aid played a crucial role in the war, with Ukraine first repelling Russian troops around the capital Kiev before launching counter-offensives in the northeast and south.
His troops are now fighting through heavily mined areas and Russian defensive lines in an attempt to recapture territory to the southeast and east.
English-speaking, Reznikov is considered to have established strong relationships with defense ministers and Allied military officials.
A deputy has tipped him off as a possible new Ukrainian ambassador to London.
His apparent departure appears to end months of national media pressure that began in January when Reznikov’s ministry was accused of buying food at inflated prices.
Although he was not personally involved in the food deal, some Ukrainian commentators said he should take political responsibility for what happened.
Last month, a Ukrainian media accused its ministry of corruption in the purchase of winter coats for the army. Reznikov has denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly said he was the target of a smear campaign.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Anna Pruchnicka; editing by Diane Craft and Rosalba O’Brien)