Ukraine’s Defence Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, has been fired, according to the country’s leader, Volodymyr Zelensky. Mr. Reznikov had been in charge of the ministry since before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Ukraine has suffered up to 120,000 deaths and 170,000 to 180,000 injuries under his rule.
President Zelensky stated in his nightly speech that it was time for “new approaches” in the defence ministry. Mr Zelensky has proposed Rustem Umerov, the head of Ukraine’s State Property Fund, to succeed Mr Reznikov.
“I believe that the ministry requires new approaches and other formats of interaction with both the military and society as a whole,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said from Kyiv.
According to Ukrainian media, Mr Reznikov will become Kyiv’s new ambassador in London, where he has formed solid relationships with key MPs.
Mr Reznikov, 57, has been a well-known personality in Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict. He is well-known internationally for regularly attending meetings with Ukraine’s western partners and playing a crucial role in advocating for greater military weapons.
However, his removal had been predicted for some time. Mr Reznikov told reporters last week that he was discussing alternative opportunities with Ukraine’s president.
According to Ukrainian media, the former defence minister stated that if Mr Zelensky offered him the chance to work on another project, he would most likely accept.
His removal comes amid a broader anti-corruption campaign in Mr Zelensky’s administration, with eliminating graft in the state considered as critical to Ukraine’s desire to join Western institutions such as the EU.
Ukraine ranks 116th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, however efforts in recent years have seen its standing improve significantly.
While Mr Reznikov has not been accused of corruption personally, there have been a number of controversies concerning procurement at the Ministry of Defence for army items and equipment.
In the aftermath of the incident, Mr Reznikov’s deputy, Vyacheslav Shapovalov, resigned earlier this year. At the time, it was generally reported that Mr Reznikov was barely hanging on to his job.
Mr Reznikov stated at the time that the stress he had experienced this year was “difficult to quantify precisely,” but that his “conscience is absolutely clear.” Mr. Umerov, who represented Ukraine in peace talks at the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, will take his place.
The Ukrainian MP allegedly experienced signs of suspected poisoning while participating in peace talks in March 2022 with Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. He later rejected the reports in a Facebook statement, encouraging people not to trust “unverified information.”
He told the BBC at the time that finding answers required bravery, but he was committed to “find [a] political and diplomatic resolution to this brutal invasion.”
Mr Reznikov’s removal comes at a time when Ukraine is waging a slow and bloody counter-offensive after acquiring more modern weapons from Western partners.
On the frontlines, progress has been gradual, but top Ukrainian generals said on Sunday that their forces had broken through a vital line of Russian positions in the country’s south.
Russia doubles 2023 defense spending over Ukraine
Meanwhile, Russia has more than increased its 2023 defence spending target to more than $100 billion – a third of all public expenditure – according to a government document examined by Reuters, as the expenses of the Ukraine war spiral and throw increasing strain on Moscow’s coffers.
The findings give light on Russia’s conflict spending at a time when sector-specific budget expenditure data is no longer available.
They reveal that Russia spent 12%, or 600 billion roubles, more on defence in the first half of 2023 than the 4.98 trillion roubles ($54 billion) it had initially planned for the year.
According to the document, defence spending in the first six months of 2023 totaled 5.59 trillion roubles, or 37.3% of the total 14.97 trillion roubles spent in the period. Russia’s budget proposes spending 17.1% of total funds on “National Defence.”
The Russian government and finance ministry did not react to inquiries about the figures.
Rising war expenses are helping Russia’s modest economic recovery this year by increasing industrial output, but they have already driven the budget to a $28 billion deficit, which has been exacerbated by plummeting export receipts.
Higher defence spending as Moscow conducts what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine could exacerbate the deficit, while increased output could cannibalise other sectors and squeeze out private investment.
According to Reuters calculations based on the paper, Russia spent 19.2% of its initially projected budget expenditure for 2023 on defence in the first six months.
According to the most recent publicly accessible figures, Moscow spent 2 trillion roubles on the military in January and February. Budget expenditure in the first half of this year was 2.44 trillion roubles greater than in the same period in 2022. According to the record, 97.1% of the additional funds went to the defence sector.
The paper included a revised estimate for annual defence spending of 9.7 trillion roubles, which would be one-third of the entire spending target of 29.05 trillion roubles, the biggest amount in at least a decade.
Russia spent a minimum of 13.9% and a high of 23% of its budget on defence between 2011 and 2022.
According to the document, Russia has already spent 57.4% of its new yearly defence budget.