Ukraine to replace defence minister as fighting rages in Donetsk

Ukraine to replace defence minister as fighting rages in Donetsk

Ukraine is set to replace Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov with the chief of its military spy agency, a close ally of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday, in a reshuffle at the forefront of Ukraine’s war campaign.

Reznikov would be transferred to another ministerial job and replaced by Kyrylo Budanov, head of the GUR military intelligence agency, said David Arakhamia, a senior lawmaker and chief of Servant of the People parliamentary bloc.

Budanov, 37, is an enigmatic intelligence operative decorated for his role in classified operations who rapidly rose through the ranks to head up Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence.

“War dictates changes in personnel policy,” Arakhamia said on the Telegram messaging app.

He said that Ukraine’s “force” agencies — like the defence ministry — should not be headed by politicians, but by career defence or security officials.

Arakhamia did not say when the move would be formalized. There was no immediate comment from Reznikov.

Asked earlier at a news conference about media reports of his possible exit from the ministry, the defence minister told reporters that any decision was up to Zelenskyy.

WATCH | Russian missile hits apartment in eastern Ukraine, killing 3:

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The search for survivors in Kramatorsk is ongoing after Russian strikes kill at least three civilians. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is hosting EU officials and lobbying for more military support from international partners.

Reznikov, 56, became defence minister in Nov. 2021, just a few months before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

During the war he fostered relationships with Western defence officials and helped oversee the receipt of billions of dollars of military assistance — including rocket launchers and tanks — to help Kyiv fend off the Russian invasion.

As a wartime defence minister, Reznikov singled out Ukraine’s “de facto” integration into the NATO military alliance as a top priority, even if joining the bloc was not immediately possible.

During his tenure as defence minister, he spoke out strongly about wartime corruption, which he said was akin to “marauding.”

A woman looks at a hole in the wall left by a fragment of a Russian shell in her apartment in Kherson, Ukraine on Sunday. (LIBKOS via The Associated Press)

But in recent weeks his own defence ministry became embroiled in a corruption scandal over an army food contract that envisaged paying vastly inflated prices.

One of his deputy ministers has been fired and named a suspect in the scandal, and another one has since resigned separately.

Arakhamia said Reznikov would be made minister of strategic industries.

His exit from the defence ministry would be the highest profile government change in a slew of resignations and firings following the corruption scandal late last month.

Emergency and municipal workers clear the rubble from a residential building which was hit by a Russian rocket, in the city center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday. (Andrii Marienko/The Associated Press)

The shakeup coincides with Ukrainian fears that Russia is planning a major new offensive this month. Ukraine is planning its own counter-offensive but is waiting on Western supplies of battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.

Reznikov hosted a news conference on Sunday afternoon, in which he said Ukraine expected a possible major Russian offensive this month, but that Kyiv had the resources to hold them at bay.

He also said that his ministry’s anti-corruption department needed to be overhauled and that it had not done what it was supposed to do.

Fierce fighting in Donetsk

News of the cabinet shuffle comes as fierce battles are raging in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region as Russia intensifies pressure before the first anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine, President Zelenskyy said on Sunday.

“Things are very difficult in Donetsk region — fierce battles,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. “But however difficult it is and however much pressure there is, we must endure … We have no alternative to defending ourselves and winning.”

Russia, he said, was applying increased pressure to “make up for its defeats last year. We see that on various sectors of the front and also pressure in terms of information.”

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