Ukraine Defense Chief’s Removal on Hold Amid Security Risks

(Bloomberg) -- A shakeup involving the replacement of Ukraine’s defense chief may be delayed as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government braces for a Russian offensive.

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A day after a senior lawmaker in Zelenskiy’s party announced that Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov will be replaced by Ukraine’s head of military intelligence, a parliamentary official said no decisions on staff changes will be made this week.

The delay is due to “risks to the system as a whole” ahead of a key meeting on weapons deliveries this week and military preparations, Mariana Bezuhla, the deputy chair of the Ukrainian parliament’s defense and intelligence committee, said in a statement on Facebook.

The back-and-forth casts uncertainty over the fate of Reznikov, who has been forced to defend his ministry against charges that officials had been skimming funds off military food supplies. The minister and his staff have denied the accusations.

The personnel decision ultimately lies with Zelenskiy, whose office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

David Arakhamiya, the parliamentary for Zelenskiy’s party, said on Sunday that Reznikov would take on a new post within the cabinet — and followed up with a Telegram post confirming that no decisions would be made this week.

Ukraine has been cracking down on corruption under pressure from allies supporting the country militarily and from a public demanding fairness. Last week authorities carried out raids across the country, a dragnet that included searches of a tycoon once close to Zelenskiy, a top tax official and a former head of military procurement.

A former lawyer appointed to the post in 2021, Reznikov, 56, has been a central architect of Ukraine’s defense against Vladimir Putin’s invasion. The minister has been a leading pitchman for increasingly sophisticated weapons from the US and European allies — and spearheaded Ukraine’s change in fortunes last year as the military pushed back Russian forces in a series of blistering counteroffensives.

Arakhamiya said he would be replaced by Major General Kyrylo Budanov, because “the time and circumstances demand strengthening and regrouping.”

“The enemy is preparing to launch an offensive. We are preparing to defend and to return ours,” Arakhamiya said in his post Sunday evening. “At this stage, law enforcement agencies should be headed not by politicians but by career military.”

Reznikov and his ministry denied accusations that surfaced in a report in January that subordinates had deliberately bought staples for the army at inflated prices for their own profit.

Reznikov will shift to heading the Ministry for Strategic Industries, Arakhamiya said. “It is absolutely logical, taking Reznikov’s experience and need to improve the ministry that must do more,” he said.

--With assistance from Volodymyr Verbyany.

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