Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has fired his defense minister in the middle of the country’s war with Russia, insisting the government needs a “new approach” to the conflict.
In a video address posted on Telegram on Sunday evening, Zelensky announced his decision to dismiss Oleksiy Reznikov from his position and replace him with Rustem Umerov, the head of the State Property Fund.
“I have decided to replace the Minister of Defense of Ukraine. Oleksiy Reznikov went through more than 550 days of full-scale war. I believe that the Ministry needs new approaches and other formats of interaction both with the military and with society as a whole,” Zelensky said.
The decision still requires parliamentary ratification which is expected to be a formality.
Reznikov’s dismissal had been rumored for some time amid allegations of corruption within the ministry since the Russian invasion in February last year, a scandal that led to the resignation of his deputy, Vyacheslav Shapovalov, back in January.
Investigative journalists in Kyiv alleged that high-ranking officials within the defense ministry had signed off on military catering contracts to suppliers at inflated prices. While Reznikov did not personally negotiate the contracts, it was suggested that his removal would be necessary to restore faith in the ministry and adhere to a zero-tolerance approach to corruption.
The move comes just hours after Reznikov revealed Ukrainian pilots would commence combat missions using the U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets in the spring.
Umerov, age 41, has been involved in several diplomatic initiatives in recent times; he co-chaired the Crimea Platform in August 2021, which aimed to facilitate the reversal of the Russian annexation of Crimea.
More recently, he represented Ukraine in peace talks at the beginning of the Russian invasion last year and played a role in the wartime negotiations over the Black Sea grain deal.
The reshuffle at the Ukrainian defense ministry comes as Russia is suffering “mounting casualties” and is attempting to lure Central Asian migrants from neighboring countries into its military ranks with promises of fast-track citizenship, according to an intelligence report from the U.K. Ministry of Defence.
Online adverts in Armenia and Kazakhstan have promised new recruits an initial payment of €4,771 and monthly salaries of €1,831 in a bid to bolster its ranks.