Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Sunday that he will replace his defense minister Oleksii Reznikov with Rustem Umerov, a Crimean Tatar lawmaker. Zelenskyy said that new leadership was needed after Reznikov’s tenure during the ongoing war with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Zelenskyy made the announcement on his official Telegram account, writing that Reznikov went through “more than 550 days of full-scale war.” Later in his nightly address, Zelenskyy said he believes “that the Ministry needs new approaches and different formats of interaction both with the military and with society.”
“The Verkhovna Rada (parliament) of Ukraine is well acquainted with this person, and Umerov does not require additional introductions. I expect support for this candidacy from parliament,” the president told the nation.
Who is Rustem Umerov?
Umerov, 41, is a politician with the opposition Holos party, which advocates for closer ties with the European Union and NATO. He has served as head of the State Property Fund of Ukraine since September 2022. 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.
Umerov was also part of the Ukrainian delegation in negotiations with Russia over the U.N.-backed grain deal. The deal, which was signed in 2019, allowed Ukraine to export grain to Turkey via the Black Sea, bypassing Russia’s control over the Kerch Strait. However, Russia suspended the deal in July 2023, accusing Ukraine of violating its terms.
Why was Reznikov removed?
Reznikov’s removal comes after a scandal around the Ministry of Defense’s procurement of military jackets. In August, Ukrainian investigative journalists reported that the materials were purchased at a price three times higher than normal and that instead of winter jackets, summer ones were ordered.
In the customs documents from the supplier, the jackets were priced at $29 per unit, but the Ministry of Defense paid $86 per unit. Reznikov denied the allegations during a news conference last week. He said that the jackets were suitable for winter conditions and that the price difference was due to currency fluctuations and taxes.
Reznikov also faced criticism for his handling of the war in Donbas, where more than 14,000 people have been killed since 2014. Despite a ceasefire agreement signed in 2020, clashes between Ukrainian forces and separatists have continued, with both sides accusing each other of violations.
How did the US react?
U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters in Delaware on Sunday that he was aware Zelenskyy had replaced his defense chief. Asked if he had any comment, Biden said, “Not publicly.” The U.S. Department of Defense also declined to comment.
The U.S. has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, providing military aid and diplomatic backing. Biden met with Zelenskyy at the White House in August and reaffirmed his commitment to Ukraine’s security.
However, some Ukrainian officials and analysts have expressed disappointment with Biden’s decision to waive sanctions on Nord Stream 2, a controversial gas pipeline project that would allow Russia to bypass Ukraine and deliver gas directly to Germany.
What’s next for Ukraine?
Zelenskyy’s announcement came after two people were hospitalized following a 3½-hour Russian drone barrage on a port in Ukraine’s Odesa region on Sunday, 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 the Black Sea grain agreement that Moscow broke off from in July.
Russian forces fired 25 Iranian-made Shahed drones along the Danube River in the early hours of Sunday, 22 of which were shot down by air defenses, the Ukrainian air force said on Telegram. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, described the assault as part of a Russian drive “to provoke a food crisis and hunger in the world.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that the attack was aimed at fuel storage facilities used to supply military equipment.
The drone strike was the latest escalation in tensions between Ukraine and Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014 and has been backing separatist rebels in Donbas ever since. Zelenskyy has called for a summit with Putin to resolve the conflict, but Putin has demanded that Ukraine grant special status to Donbas as a precondition.