Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Moves to Replace Wartime Defense Minister

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Sunday that he has opted to appoint a new head for the defense department, marking a significant reorganization in the country’s defense hierarchy since the onset of the full-fledged invasion by Russia in February 2022.

In his evening video communication with the citizens, Zelenskyy revealed plans to relieve Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov of his duties, intending to propose to the parliament this week to nominate Rustem Umerov, the current director of the nation’s principal privatization agency, as his successor.

Having served as defense minister since November 2021, Reznikov has been instrumental in procuring extensive military assistance from Western nations to bolster the war initiatives, but has continually faced allegations of corruption associated with his department, claims he has dismissed as unfounded.

This development occurs at a time when Zelenskyy is fervently focusing on curbing corruption within the nation, a move that aligns with Kyiv’s aspirations to become a member of the European Union, especially as the populace grows increasingly intolerant of corruption amidst the ongoing conflict.

Zelenskyy stated, “I have resolved to assign a new individual to the role of Ukraine’s Defense Minister. Oleksii Reznikov has endured over 550 days of intense warfare. It is my conviction that the ministry necessitates fresh strategies and alternative modes of engagement with both the armed forces and the general public.”

He further expressed optimism about the parliamentary approval of Umerov’s nomination, mentioning that Umerov requires “no further presentation.” The formal proposal of Umerov’s candidacy to the parliament lies ahead.

Umerov, a 41-year-old former legislator and a member of the Crimean Tatar community, has guided the operations of Ukraine’s State Property Fund since September 2022, actively participating in crucial wartime discussions, including negotiations surrounding the Black Sea grain agreement.

His tenure at the State Property Fund, an entity tasked with managing the privatization of governmental assets and previously entangled in corruption controversies, has earned him commendations in Ukraine.

Relationship with Western Allies

Reznikov’s department has successfully advocated for the Western nations to break barriers on supplying advanced military equipment to Ukraine during the conflict, encompassing German-fabricated main combat tanks and HIMARS rocket artillery systems. Currently, Kyiv is anticipated to soon acquire F-16 fighter aircrafts manufactured in the U.S.

While Reznikov maintained regular engagements with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a representative from the Pentagon refrained from commenting on the matter, labeling it as an internal Ukrainian governmental affair.

The support from Western nations has been pivotal in the warfare, aiding Ukraine in initially repelling Russian forces near Kyiv, followed by initiating counterattacks in the northern and southern regions.

At present, Ukrainian forces are navigating through areas laden with explosives and Russian defense barricades to reclaim land in the southeastern and eastern sectors.

Known for his proficiency in English, Reznikov has established solid relationships with defense ministers and military personnel from allied nations.

Speculations are rife in the parliamentary circles about his potential appointment as Ukraine’s forthcoming envoy to the UK.

His impending departure seems to culminate several months of internal media scrutiny that initiated in January following allegations that Reznikov’s ministry engaged in overpriced food procurements.

Despite his lack of direct involvement in the food agreement, numerous Ukrainian analysts insisted he should assume political accountability for the occurrence.

Recently, a Ukrainian news platform charged his ministry with engaging in corrupt practices during the acquisition of winter clothing for the military, an accusation vehemently denied by Reznikov, who claimed that he was the victim of a character assassination campaign.