Ukraine is set to replace Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov with the chief of its military spy agency, a senior legislator has said, in a high-profile cabinet reshuffle following corruption scandals and ahead of an expected Russian offensive.
Reznikov, 56, would be transferred to another ministerial job and replaced by Kyrylo Budanov, 37, who heads Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence agency, David Arakhamia said on the Telegram messaging app on Sunday.
“War dictates personnel policies,” said Arakhamia, a close ally of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
There was no immediate statement from Zelenskyy on replacing Reznikov, a former lawyer who became defence minister in November 2021, a few months before Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022.
Reznikov has helped secure Western weapons to buttress Ukrainian forces, and his removal as defence minister would be the highest-profile government change in a slew of resignations and sackings following a corruption scandal late last month and Zelenskyy’s pledge for Ukraine to meet Western standards of clean governance.
The scandal involved food contracts that envisaged paying vastly inflated prices. Amid the public outcry, one of Reznikov’s deputy ministers has been fired, while two other senior officials have also since left their posts.
Arakhamia said that Ukraine’s “force” agencies — like the defence ministry — should not be headed by politicians during wartime but by people with a background in defence or security.
“Kyrylo Budanov will head the defence ministry, which is absolutely logical in wartime,” the legislator said.
Holding the rank of major general, Budanov has headed the military intelligence since August 2020.
“Time and circumstances require reinforcement and regrouping. This is happening now and will continue to happen in the future,” Arakhamia said. “The enemy is preparing to advance. We are preparing to defend ourselves,” he added, referring to Ukrainian fears that Russia is planning a vast new offensive this month.
Ukraine is planning its own counteroffensive but is waiting for the arrival of battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles from Western allies.
Arakhamia added that Reznikov would be made minister of strategic industries but did not say when the moves would be formalised.
Reznikov had said earlier on Sunday that any decision on a reshuffle was up to Zelenskyy and that an internal audit of procurement procedures at the defence ministry was under way. The ministry’s own anti-corruption department had “failed” to do its job, he told reporters, and needed to be “completely rebooted”.
He told the Ukrainian Fakty ICTV online media later in the evening that the transfer to the new ministry was news to him.
“If I suddenly received such an offer from the president of Ukraine or the prime minister, I would refuse it, because I do not have the expertise,” Reznikov was quoted as saying.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, when asked about the reshuffle on national television on Sunday night, said: “Reznikov was extremely efficient in terms of communication with our partners. And this is a very important component in this case.”
Podolyak said that Reznikov’s “wonderful” personal relations with allies have helped Ukraine secure billions of dollars of military aid to fend off the Russian invasion.
“Negotiations are not just mathematical formulae but also personal relationships. And trust. Unfortunately, today we are losing a measure of trust in us,” Podolyak said.
Analysts said any decision to replace the defence minister would not affect Ukraine’s military operations.
“The timing is not so important,” said William Courtney, senior fellow at the Rand Corporation, a United States-based think tank.
“The main thing is that the new minister of defence be capable,” Courtney told Al Jazeera. “The new minister of defence would have to be the representative of the Ministry of Defence to the parliament, to the presidency, and also to many in the West. Oleksii Reznikov has enjoyed a good reputation in the West as an effective minister of defence, who understood the broad political implications of what was going on. Hopefully the new minister will perform the same role and not seek to duplicate the military strategy functions.”