The future of Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov hangs in the balance following a scandal involving senior ministry officials, as Volodymir Zelenski continues his efforts to root out corruption in the country, which urgently needs more help to repel Russian attacks. Reznikov is one of the key players in Ukraine's efforts to obtain modern weaponry from foreign partners, but allegations that officials in his ministry have purchased goods for the army at inflated prices have cast doubt on his continued tenure.
Reznikov has denied all the allegations and claimed they were a press attack. However, his deputy minister Vyacheslav Shapoval eventually resigned and was later accused of purchasing bulletproof vests and other equipment at inflated prices. The intensity of rumours about a possible replacement for Reznikov reached its peak on Sunday night, but on Monday several senior members of Zelensky's People's Servant party did a U-turn on their positions.
The head of the parliamentary group, Davyd Arakhamia, said on Sunday that Reznikov would be moved to the Strategic Industry portfolio and replaced by General Kyrylo Budanov, head of military intelligence. Arakhamia argued that the change is logical because in wartime the defence ministry should be headed by "military men and not politicians".
Both the dismissal and the appointment of a new defence minister should have the approval of the parliamentary majority, with Arakhamia responsible for securing the necessary votes. However, in an apparent reversal, the head of the People's Servant parliamentary group wrote on his Telegram account on Monday that no changes are expected in the Defence Ministry this week.
The contradictory statements have caused mixed reactions in Ukraine, with many questioning the wisdom of making major changes to a key ministry at a time when the intensity of fighting in the Donbas is increasing and given that there is no indication that Reznikov was aware of the alleged fraud. Others, on the contrary, believe that it is important to react severely to any suspicion of corruption in the ministry, given the importance of trust in foreign military assistance.
Reznikov himself has pointed out that only Zelenski could trigger his dismissal and, in an interview and press conference on Sunday, denied any knowledge of the alleged fraud and stressed that he follows a 'zero tolerance' approach to corruption.
Reznikov also warned that Russia was likely to step up its attacks in the run-up to the anniversary of the invasion and recalled his ministry's important role in procuring modern weaponry from Kiev's allies. He admitted that the anti-corruption measures being implemented in the ministry could not be completed in time due to the challenges caused by the war but promised more transparency.
Zelensky himself has so far not commented on Reznikov's future, although in recent weeks he has pledged to crack down on corruption in state institutions and stressed that there is "no turning back" for the country as it struggles to survive. Several officials and former officials were charged with fraud ahead of last week's Ukraine-European Union (EU) summit, where Brussels acknowledged Kiev's progress in building anti-corruption institutions.
Zelensky is also expected to strengthen his defence team by appointing permanent figures to key posts such as the interior ministry - whose head was killed in a helicopter crash last month - and the State Security Service, which is temporarily headed by Vasyl Maliuk after the previous head was dismissed for failing to deliver results in the fight against Russia.
85h of defence.Intimidation of 🇺🇦 is imprudent. Its impossible to break our defenders,moreover its impossible to make the Kyiv lay down arms.The times are difficult,but it will pass.🇺🇦 will win.We’re already winning.Therefore, we advise the occupiers to go home. It's not too late pic.twitter.com/6NPnqOctom— Oleksii Reznikov (@oleksiireznikov) February 27, 2022
The European Union expects Ukraine's President Volodymir Zelenski to visit Brussels this week, coinciding with the summit of heads of state and government on Thursday and Friday, according to EFE. The trip is not completely guaranteed for security reasons, but if confirmed, the Ukrainian leader is also expected to participate in a session before the European Parliament.
The European institutions have been inviting Zelenski to visit Brussels for months, and when asked about it last week during the EU summit with Ukraine in Kiev, the Ukrainian president said that he "really" wanted to travel to the EU capital, although at the same time he said that there are "great risks" due to "Russia's desire for revenge".
This would be Zelensky's second trip abroad since the invasion began, following his visit to the US in late December, during which he met with President Joe Biden and addressed Congress, and from which he returned to Kiev with a promise of more military aid from Washington.