Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Sunday that he has decided to replace his defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, who has been in charge of the country’s military since November 2021. Zelensky cited the need for “new approaches” as the war with Russia enters its 19th month.
“This week, parliament will be asked to make a personnel decision … I have decided to replace the minister of defense of Ukraine. Oleksii Reznikov has gone through more than 550 days of full-scale war,” Zelensky said in his nightly address to the nation.
Reznikov has faced several challenges and controversies during his tenure, including corruption scandals involving the procurement of wartime supplies, the resignation of his deputy over allegations of graft, and the dismissal of all officials in charge of regional military recruitment centers.
Zelensky said that rooting out corruption across Ukraine’s government is vital to Kyiv’s chances of attaining long-awaited membership in NATO and the European Union. He also thanked Reznikov for his service and praised his achievements, such as increasing the combat readiness of the troops, modernizing the weapons and equipment, and improving the social protection of the military personnel and their families.
Zelensky nominates Umerov as new defense minister
Zelensky nominated Rustem Umerov, a former people’s deputy of Ukraine and a Crimean Tatar lawmaker, to become the new defense minister. Umerov is currently the head of the State Property Fund of Ukraine, a state agency responsible for privatizing state-owned enterprises.
“The Verkhovna Rada (legislature) of Ukraine knows this person well, and Mr. Umerov does not need any additional introductions,” Zelensky said. “I expect parliament to support this candidate.”
Umerov, 41, has a background in law and business. He was involved in the exchange of prisoners of war, political prisoners, children and civilians, as well as the evacuation of civilians from occupied territories. He was also part of the Ukrainian delegation in negotiations with Russia over the U.N.-backed grain deal.
Zelensky said he believes that Umerov will bring “new approaches and different formats of interaction” with the military and society. He also expressed confidence that Umerov will continue to implement the reforms initiated by Reznikov and strengthen the defense capabilities of Ukraine.
War with Russia continues to escalate
Zelensky’s announcement came amid a surge of violence in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting against Ukrainian forces since April 2022. The conflict has claimed more than 15,000 lives and displaced over 2 million people.
Russia invaded Ukraine in July 2022 after Kyiv refused to accept Moscow’s demands to grant autonomy and amnesty to the rebels. Russia also annexed Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea that was part of Ukraine until 2014.
The international community has condemned Russia’s aggression and imposed sanctions on Moscow. The United States and its allies have also provided military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.
However, diplomatic efforts to end the war have stalled. The Minsk agreements, signed in 2015 and 2019, have not been fully implemented by either side. The Normandy format talks, involving France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, have not produced any breakthroughs.
On Sunday, two people were hospitalized following a Russian drone attack on a port in Ukraine’s Odesa region, officials said. The attack on the Reni seaport comes a day before Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to meet with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the resumption of food shipments from Ukraine under a Black Sea grain agreement that Moscow broke off from in July.
U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters in Delaware on Sunday that he’s aware Zelenskyy had replaced his defense chief. Asked if he had any comment, Biden said, “not publicly.”