Written By: Pol Navarro I Serradell
Edited by Stef Clement
Supervised by Cansu Macit Karaduman
On 3 September 2023, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the replacement of the country’s defence minister. The cabinet reshuffle was made despite the apparent progress of Kyiv’s counteroffensive, which has seen its forces advancing into Russian-occupied areas (Gavin & Mcleary, 2023). Oleksiy Reznikov’s dismissal as defence chief represents the most significant alteration within this government since Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year (Olearchyk, 2023).
Since Reznikov’s appointment in November 2021, he has played a central role in acquiring billions of dollars of Western military assistance to support the war endeavour (Balmforth, 2023). However, he has faced allegations of corruption related to his ministry, the latest regarding officials purchasing food and winter uniforms at inflated prices (Trofimov, 2023). While Reznikov has not been implicated in any of these assertions and has consistently denied any wrongdoing, they have still been seen to damage him by association (Pennington et al., 2023).
Zelenskyy’s aim of ‘rooting out corruption across Ukraine’s government is vital to Kyiv’s chances of attaining long-awaited membership in NATO and the European Union’ (Pennington et al., 2023). Even though Zelenskyy did not elaborate on his reasons for the replacement, he stated: ‘Reznikov has gone through more than 550 days of full-scale war. I believe the ministry now needs new approaches and other formats of interaction with both the military and society as a whole’ (Gavin & Mcleary, 2023). Reznikov submitted his resignation Monday, writing on Facebook: ‘Following the decision of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, I submitted my resignation to the Ukrainian Parliament (Pennington et al., 2023).
While in his role, Reznikov is recognised for establishing a robust relationship with defence ministers as well as officials from allied countries (Balmforth, 2023). He lobbied the West to break through restrictions on providing Ukraine with advanced military equipment, such as German-manufactured main battle tanks and HIMARS rocket artillery, as well as the anticipation of receiving the long-awaited US-made F-16 fighter jets (Balmforth, 2023). According to local news reports citing officials, his name could be among the options for the position of Ukraine’s new ambassador to the UK because of his essential role in the war and connections (Adams & Cursino, 2023).
The newly appointed Minister of Defence, Rustem Umerov, is a 41-year-old former legislator and member of the Crimean Tatar community. Umerov has been in charge of Ukraine’s State Property Fund since September 2022 (Balmforth, 2023). Beyond his current position, he is well-known for taking part in behind-the-scenes talks with Russian officials, both after the annexation and after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion and negotiating high-profile prisoner exchanges and evacuations of civilians (Harding, 2023). Moreover, he has participated in talks on establishing an export corridor for Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea (Agence France-Presse, 2023).
In his role as Zelenskyy’s special envoy, Umerov has nurtured strong connections within the Muslim world, particularly establishing close relationships with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Trofimov, 2023). Similarly, he has played a significant role in the mediation efforts of Türkiye, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to facilitate the release of numerous prisoners, including Ukrainian military leaders who were held captive in Mariupol (Trofimov, 2023).
Umerov, whose candidacy is expected to be swiftly approved in parliament, will have to assume the role of the minister of defence amid the counteroffensive, which is progressing slowly (Gavin & Mcleary, 2023). Brig Gen Oleksandr Tarnavskiy, a top Ukrainian general, assumed Kyiv’s forces had breached Russia’s first defensive line near Zaporizhzhia (Gavin & Mcleary, 2023).
Agence France Presse. (2023, 3 September). Crimean Tartar Set to Be Ukraine’s New Defence Minister. BARRON’S https://www.barrons.com/news/crimean-tatar-set-to-be-ukraine-s-new-defence-minister-261b5a8
Adams, P. & Cursino, M. (2023, 4 September). Ukraine’s defence minister Oleksii Reznikov dismissed. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-66702893.
Balmforth, T. (2023, 4 September). Ukraine’s Zelenskiy moves to replace wartime defense minister. Reuters.https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukraines-zelenskiy-moves-replace-wartime-defence-minister-2023-09-03/.
Gavin, G., & McLeary, P. (2023, 4 September). Ukraine to replace defense minister amid counteroffensive. POLITICO.https://www.politico.eu/article/oleksiy-reznikov-ukraine-defense-minister-rustem-umerov-russia-war-invasion-zelenskyy/.
Harding, L. (2023, 4 September). Rustem Umerov: Who is Ukraine’s next defence minister? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/sep/04/rustem-umerov-who-is-ukraine-new-next-defence-minister.
Olearchyk, R. (2023, 3 September). Volodymyr Zelenskyy to replace Ukraine’s defence minister in wartime shake-up.Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/95208e6f-eb9a-47c9-b3fb-e6dd214fa664.
Pennington, J., Hallam, J., & Lister, T. (2023, 4 September). Zelensky replaces Ukrainian defense minister, citing need for ‘new approaches’. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/09/03/europe/ukraine-zelensky-fires-defense-minister-reznikov-intl-hnk/index.html.Trofimov, Y. (2023, 3 September). Ukraine’s Zelensky appoints Crimean Tatar executive as new defense minister. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/world/europe/ukraines-zelensky-appoints-crimean-tatar-executive-as-new-defense-minister-ee7bcbf6