Ukraine’s Zelensky replaces wartime defense minister

  • Zelenskiy says he decided to replace Oleksii Reznikov
  • Reznikov lobbied the West for billions of dollars in aid
  • His ministry faced smears of corruption
  • Alternate Rustem Umerov, Head of Privatization Fund

KYIV, Sept 3 (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday he had decided to replace his defense minister, setting the stage for the biggest shakeup in Ukraine’s security establishment since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

In his nightly video address to the nation, Zelensky said he would fire Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov and ask parliament this week to replace him with Rustem Umerov, head of the country’s main privatization fund.

Reznikov, the defense minister since November 2021, has helped secure billions of dollars in Western military aid to help the war effort, but has been dogged by allegations of corruption surrounding his ministry, which he described as smears.

The decision comes amid a crackdown on corruption in Ukraine, which Zelenskiy is keen to emphasize. Kyiv has applied to join the European Union, and the public has become increasingly sensitive to corruption as it looms as endless war.

“I have decided to replace Ukraine’s defense minister. Oleksiy Reznikov has been in a full-scale war for more than 550 days,” Zelensky said. “I believe the ministry needs new approaches and other forms of communication with the military and society as a whole.”

Zelensky said he expected parliament to approve Umero’s appointment, adding that Umero “does not need any additional introduction”. Zelenskiy will submit Umero’s candidacy to parliament for review.

A 41-year-old former lawmaker and Crimean Tatar, Umerov has headed Ukraine’s state property fund since September 2022 and played a role in key wartime negotiations on, for example, the Black Sea grain deal.

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He was praised in Ukraine for his record at the State Property Fund, which oversees the privatization of state assets and was embroiled in corruption scandals before he took office.

Contact with the West

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov shows off his military uniform during a news conference amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, August 28, 2023, in Kyiv, Ukraine. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich Get license rights

During the war, Reznikov’s Defense Ministry lobbied the West to overcome sanctions on the supply of powerful military equipment to Ukraine, including German-made main battle tanks and HIMARS rocket artillery. Kyiv is now set to receive US-made F-16 fighter jets.

Although Reznikov has been in repeated contact with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the move, saying it was an internal matter for the Ukrainian government.

Western military aid played a key role in the war, with Ukraine initially forcing Russian troops around the capital Kiev before launching counteroffensives in the northeast and south.

Its troops are now fighting their way through heavily mined areas and Russian defensive lines to retake territory in the southeast and east.

An English speaker, Reznikov is seen as having developed strong relationships with allies’ defense ministers and military officers.

A member of parliament has invited him to be Ukraine’s new ambassador to London.

He has been out for months under domestic 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.

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Last month, a Ukrainian media outlet accused his ministry of corruption during the purchase of winter coats for the army. Reznikov has denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly said he is being targeted by a smear campaign.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Anna Pruchnicka; Editing by Diane Croft, Rosalba O’Brien and Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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