President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday that he was replacing his minister of defense, the biggest shake-up in the leadership of Ukraine’s war effort since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February last year.
The fate of the defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, had been the subject of increasing speculation in Ukraine as financial improprieties in the ministry came to light and the government started several investigations into official corruption.
Mr. Zelensky said in a statement that Mr. Reznikov, who has not been personally implicated in the widening investigations into mishandling of military contracts, would be replaced by Rustem Umerov, the chairman of Ukraine’s State Property Fund. Mr. Zelensky said he expected Ukraine’s Parliament, which must approve the change, to sign off on his request.
“Oleksii Reznikov has gone through more than 550 days of full-scale war,” Mr. Zelensky said in a statement announcing his decision on Sunday night. “I believe that the ministry needs new approaches and other formats of interaction with both the military and society at large.”
There was no immediate comment from Mr. Reznikov, who has been a public face for Ukraine on the world stage. He was among a handful of Mr. Zelensky’s top security officials who remained in Kyiv, the capital, as it was partially surrounded by Russian forces after the start of the invasion.
Mr. Reznikov had won praise for negotiating the transfer of vast quantities of donated Western weaponry under the Ramstein format talks with allies, named for the city in Germany where they began last year. He oversaw the expansion of the army and its transition from an arsenal of Soviet-legacy armaments to Western systems even as his country was under attack.
But the Ministry of Defense this year was buffeted by a string of allegations of mishandling military contracting and corruption as its budget ballooned during the war. At one point, $986 million worth of weaponry the ministry had contracted for was undelivered by dates specified in contracts, according to government figures. Some deliveries are months late.
Ukrainian investigative journalists have found other woes with military contracting, seeming to show huge overpayments for basic supplies for the army such as eggs, canned beans and winter coats.
Mr. Reznikov had said the ministry was suing to recoup money lost in the weapons contracts. Government officials have said many of the problems had arisen in the early, chaotic days of the war in Ukraine’s frantic scramble to buy weapons and ammunition and have since been fixed. Two ministry officials — a deputy minister and head of procurement — were arrested over the winter after the reports of overpriced eggs.
Even so, the contracting scandals prompted demands for Mr. Reznikov’s resignation. For weeks, Mr. Reznikov has faced questions about his future during news conferences, often saying that it was up to Mr. Zelensky to determine the makeup of his government.
Corruption has plagued Ukraine for most of its post-independence history but had improved over the past decade, according to assessments by Transparency International, a global anti-corruption group. Mr. Zelensky campaigned on an anti-corruption platform before winning the presidency in 2019, and efforts to fight graft have been widely acknowledged as crucial to Ukraine’s efforts to move closer to its Western allies, including its hopes of joining the European Union.
In recent weeks, Mr. Zelensky has stepped up measures against wartime graft, firing all the country’s recruitment officers after bribery scandals and proposing a law that would punish corruption as treason under martial law.
In May, the head of Ukraine’s Supreme Court was detained in a bribery investigation. And on Friday, Ukrainian media reported that and a court set bail at more than $25,000 for a former deputy minister of economy accused of embezzling humanitarian aid.
In an earlier shake-up last summer, Mr. Zelensky had dismissed the director of his domestic intelligence agency and prosecutor general, also in the wake of allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
Andrew E. Kramer is the Times bureau chief in Kyiv. He was part of a team that won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for a series on Russia’s covert projection of power. More about Andrew E. Kramer
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