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Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday that he would replace his defence minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, in a move that marks the biggest change to his government since Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year.
Zelenskyy said he would replace Reznikov, who led Ukraine’s successful push for massive military assistance from western allies to resist Russia’s invasion, with Rustem Umerov, who currently runs the country’s agency in charge of privatisation.
“Oleksiy Reznikov has gone through more than 550 days of full-scale war. I believe that the ministry needs new approaches and other formats of interaction with both the military and society at large,” Zelenskyy said in a video address to the nation on Sunday evening.
“Autumn is a time for strengthening.”
The move to replace Reznikov comes as Ukrainian forces appear to be on the verge of making bigger gains after a slow start in their counteroffensive against Russian forces in Ukraine’s south-east.
Zelenskyy said that he had asked parliament to approve Reznikov’s replacement “this week”.
Although the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces operates independently of the defence ministry in coordinating military strategy and combat operations, the minister’s role is key in procuring weaponry and mobilising troops. Zelenskyy, as president and commander-in-chief, ultimately leads and bears responsibility for both.
The shake-up also follows a series of corruption allegations directed at the defence ministry, including accusations from activists that it paid inflated prices for food for the army and military jackets. Zelenskyy made no mention of the allegations in his announcement.
Reznikov, who served as a paratrooper in the Soviet military but became a high-profile lawyer and then politician after Ukraine’s independence, was appointed months before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February last year.
He has denied accusations of graft, but a subordinate was fired early this year following claims that eggs were purchased for the army at inflated prices.
Reznikov is expected to be appointed as Ukraine’s new ambassador to the UK, according to local news reports citing officials.
Umerov, whose candidacy is expected to be swiftly approved in parliament, is an ethnic Crimean Tatar with roots in the Black Sea peninsula that Russia illegally annexed in 2014 and has used as a staging area for its full-blown invasion of Ukraine.
Umerov is fluent in English, critical in a role demanding constant communication with top defence officials from western allies, including the US and EU countries.
Umerov, who was a successful businessman, has since September 2022 served as head of a state agency that auctions off assets to investors and manages government-owned factories and property.
As defence minister, Umerov will be expected to clean up the ministry while preserving the steady supply of western weaponry.
Zelenskyy also said that he had spoken with France’s president Emmanuel Macron by telephone on Sunday to discuss “what new supplies can help our warriors”, including training in France for pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets being supplied by allies to Kyiv.
It was not immediately clear if Ukraine was also seeking to secure French fighter jets, given that France’s fleet does not include F-16s.
“There is a very important agreement on training our pilots in France. Our coalition of modern fighters is getting more powerful,” Zelenskyy said.