Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Sunday night that he would replace the country’s defense minister, even as kyiv’s counteroffensive appears to be gaining ground with its troops pushing into Russian-held territory.
Oleksiy Reznikov’s departure as defense chief marks the biggest change in Zelenskyy’s entourage since the war began in February 2022. It comes as the Ukrainian government steps up efforts to aggressively deal with corruption allegations involving military officials.
In a video message on Sunday evening, the Ukrainian leader announced that Reznikov would be replaced as defense minister by Rustem Umerov, the head of the country’s State Property Fund.
“Reznikov has gone through more than 550 days of full-scale warfare,” Zelenskyy said. “I think the ministry now needs new approaches and other formats for interacting with the military and society as a whole. »
For weeks there have been rumors that Rezniko’s days were numbered. His reputation has been hit several times this year following a handful of wartime scandals within the Department of Defense in which officials were accused of profiteering. Even though Reznikov was never implicated, these revelations hurt not only his ministry, but also him personally.
Zelensky called on the country’s parliament to approve the decision as soon as possible.
Reznikov has been one of the most prominent faces of Ukrainian military leadership since the Russian invasion. He traveled across Europe to attend NATO meetings, to plead with his partners for more weapons and to fulfill their aid pledges more quickly.
His participation at the NATO discussion table over the past 18 months has allowed him to come into close contact with the defense chiefs of the NATO alliance, in particular with the United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. The two speak regularly on the phone and meet in person at the monthly meetings of the Ukrainian Defense Contact Group, where a coalition of 50 countries decides on new weapons to send to Kiev.
The group’s next meeting is likely to take place in mid-September and, depending on how quickly Ukraine’s parliament moves, it could be the first time Umerov takes part in the high-level meeting with defense ministers.
Reznikov was due to travel to the US earlier this month for a meeting with Austin at the Pentagon, followed by meetings with the heads of the largest US defense contractors to discuss purchases and deliveries of new equipment, a person says. close to the file. .
Zelensky’s move comes as the Ukrainian counteroffensive finally appears to be making progress after weeks of sluggishness.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday that Washington has seen signs that the counteroffensive is accelerating. According to Kirby, officials have “noted over the past 72 hours or so noticeable progress by the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” especially along the southern front, in the region around Zaporizhzhia.
A senior Ukrainian general said on Saturday that Kyiv forces broke through the Russian first defensive line near Zaporizhzhia. Ukrainian troops were consolidating their hold on territory recaptured in recent fighting and quicker gains were expected as they squeezed the weaker second line of defence, Brig. General Oleksandr Tarnavskiy told the Guardian in an interview.