Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday he had decided to replace his defense minister, setting the stage for the biggest shake-up of Ukraine’s defense establishment since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.
In his nightly video address to the nation, Zelenskiy said he would dismiss Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and would ask parliament this week to replace him with Rustem Umerov, head of the country’s main privatization fund.
Reznikov, defense minister since November 2021, has helped secure billions of dollars of Western military aid to help the war effort, but has been dogged by graft allegations surrounding his ministry that he has described as smears.
The decision comes amid a crackdown on corruption in Ukraine that Zelenskiy has been eager to emphasize. Kyiv has applied to join the European Union and the public has become highly sensitive to corruption as the war rages with no end in sight.
“I’ve decided to replace the Minister of Defense of Ukraine. Oleksii Reznikov has been through more than 550 days of full-scale war,” Zelenskiy said. “I believe the ministry needs new approaches and other formats of interaction with both the military and society as a whole.”
Zelenskiy said he expected parliament to approve Umerov’s appointment, adding that Umerov “does not need any additional introduction”. Zelenskiy has to submit Umerov’s candidacy to parliament for review.
A 41-year-old ex-lawmaker and Crimean Tatar, Umerov has led Ukraine’s State Property Fund since September 2022 and played a role in sensitive wartime negotiations on, for instance, the Black Sea grain deal.
He has been praised in Ukraine for his track record at the State Property Fund, which oversees the privatization of state assets and had been embroiled in corruption scandals before he took charge.