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Ukraine replaces its defence minister

Removing Oleksii Reznikov in favour of intelligence chief is ‘absolutely logical for wartime’, says senior politician

Andy Gregory
Sunday 05 February 2023 22:49 GMT
Homes and hospital damaged in Kherson shelling

Ukraine is replacing its defence minister Oleksii Reznikov, according to a top ally of president Volodymyr Zelensky, following pressure over a corruption scandal at the ministry.

His removal is part of a “strengthening and regrouping” as Ukraine braces for Vladimir Putin to potentially launch a major offensive on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion, said David Arakhamia, the parliamentary leader of Mr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party.

The 56-year-old will be replaced by the head of Ukraine’s mililtary intelligence agency, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, aged 37 – a move Mr Arakhamia said was “absolutely logical for wartime”.

Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov held a press conference in Kyiv on Sunday (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images)

“Law enforcement agencies at this stage should be headed not by politicians, but by cadre law enforcement officers,” he said, adding: “The enemy is preparing to advance. We are preparing to defend ourselves and return our own.”

Mr Reznikov himself had insisted that Ukraine was now “ready” and “able to hold back” a renewed Russian offensive should it come on 24 February, just hours before it was made clear that such preparations would involve his own demotion to the role of minister for strategic industries.

Speaking at a lengthy press conference on Sunday, the outgoing minister was vague in his remarks on the intense speculation over his future over recent days, stating that “no one is in the chair for his whole life” and that his future was in Mr Zelensky’s hands “in accordance with the constitution”.

He has faced intense pressure since allegations first broke in Ukrainiain media on 23 January of the ministry making wartime purchases of military rations at inflated prices – claims now subject to an official investigation.

While Mr Reznikov is not alleged to have signed the December contract worth some 13bn hryvnias (£290m) – and had dismissed the claims as a smear campaign – he is viewed as ultimately responsible for the department and previously emphasised his own zero tolerance approach to corruption.

Mr Reznikov, who was appointed defence chief in November 2021, told reporters on Sunday that his department had begun an internal audit of all procurement contracts and said his ministry’s anti-corruption department needed to be overhauled and had failed to perform its role properly.

The row comes a time when Mr Zelensky has fired a string of senior officials – including Mr Reznikov’s deputy Vyacheslav Shapovalov – as Kyiv strives to crack down on corruption, in support of Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union.

Mr Arakhamia did not indicate when Mr Reznikov’s move to the Ministry of Strategic Industries would be formalised, but said it would “strengthen military-industrial cooperation, which is absolutely logical, given his expertise” in building relationships and securing arms from Ukraine’s allies while defence minister.

Mr Zelensky did not make any mention of a change in leadership at the defence department in his nightly video address on Sunday, but the imminent shakeup was also reported by several Ukrainian media outlets, citing sources.

His stated replacement, Mr Budanov is described by Reuters as an enigmatic intelligence operative decorated for his role in classified operations, who rapidly rose through the ranks to lead Ukraine's Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR).

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