Zelensky replaces defense chief Reznikov amid ministry graft allegations


KYIV — Ukraine’s defense minister resigned Monday, hours after President Volodymyr Zelensky announced plans to replace him amid a widening corruption probe and slow-moving counteroffensive against Russian invaders in the country’s southeast.

Zelensky said on Sunday night that he will ask parliament to approve his nomination of Rustem Umerov, currently head of the State Property Fund of Ukraine, to replace Oleksii Reznikov, who has served as defense minister since November 2021 and was responsible for overseeing billions in weapons and other military aid from Ukraine’s international partners.

“I believe the ministry needs new approaches and other formats of interaction with both the military and society as a whole,” Zelensky said.

Reznikov’s removal comes after months of speculation that he would be ousted. Although Reznikov has not been charged personally in ongoing corruption investigations and Zelensky did not cite malfeasance in his announcement, several high-profile allegations of graft have plagued the Defense Ministry.

Early this year, the ministry faced blowback for allegedly purchasing food for soldiers at inflated prices, and David Arakhamia, the head of Zelensky’s faction in parliament, publicly announced — incorrectly at the time — that Reznikov would be removed. Then, last month, Ukrainian media suggested the ministry had engaged in a corruption scheme while purchasing jackets for the military — allegations Reznikov vehemently denied.

But with Ukraine dependent on enormous amounts of foreign aid, Kyiv is eager to show its Western partners that it now has zero tolerance for corruption. On Saturday, Ukraine’s State Security Service accused billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky of fraud and money laundering. Kolomoisky previously owned Ukraine’s largest savings and loan bank, PrivatBank, which was nationalized in 2016 to prevent its insolvency after $5.5 billion in assets went missing. Kolomoisky also served as governor of the country’s Dnipropetrovsk region and strongly backed Zelensky in his 2019 bid for the presidency.

Kyiv is also under pressure to produce results in its counteroffensive, which Reznikov acknowledged in an interview with The Washington Post in the spring might not live up to Western expectations and could cause “emotional disappointment.”

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Months into the counterattack, Ukrainian troops are facing an immense challenge in the country’s south, where Russian forces prepared complex defensive positions and mined huge swaths of territory. There has been some progress in recent weeks, with Ukrainian forces claiming to take control of the strategic village of Robotyne. But the operation has been slow, and Russian forces are simultaneously trying to retake occupied territory they lost last year in the northeast.

Reznikov did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In his resignation letter Monday, Reznikov claimed success in rearming the Ukrainian military. When he started in the job, he wrote, partners refused to even provide Ukraine with portable air defense systems known as stingers. In the time since, he said, an aviation coalition was formed, and Ukraine obtained “modern tanks, antimissile defense/anti-missile equipment, antiaircraft missiles, armored vehicles, artillery, MLRS, other types of modern Western-style weapons.”

“The key tasks that were defined when I was appointed to the position were completed,” he wrote, citing reforms in procurement and digital transformation within the ministry.

Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, a Ukrainian NGO, said in a Facebook post that Umerov has a “solid strategic vision” and is a “talented negotiator.”

Umerov is Muslim, and his family is from Crimea — the peninsula Russia invaded and illegally annexed in 2014. While serving in parliament, he co-chaired an initiative focused on retaking Crimea from Russian control. “The very fact a Crimean Tatar was appointed as the minister of defense is a powerful message to the world as Ukraine plans to end the war,” she wrote.

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In a message, she added that Reznikov had been “delaying any decision-making” regarding reforms in the ministry and “unfortunately didn’t resign” after the food-procurement scandal. His dismissal was a “matter of time” after the latest corruption allegations, she said.

“The resignation of Reznikov is a good sign,” she said. “It’s a sign that public pressure in Ukraine works despite the large-scale invasion.”

There is some speculation that Reznikov — who speaks English and has forged strong relationships with Ukraine’s partners — may become Ukraine’s ambassador to London.

The position was vacated in July when Zelensky dismissed Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko. His firing came soon after he described a remark by Zelensky about expressing gratitude for British military assistance as “unhealthy” sarcasm.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry declined to comment Monday on any potential appointments.

Serhiy Morgunov in Warsaw contributed to this report.


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