Ukraine sent mixed messages over the fate of its defence minister on Monday, leaving a key post in its war effort in doubt even as it braces for a new Russian offensive.
The questions left dangling over defence minister Oleksii Reznikov were the first public sign of serious disarray in Ukraine’s wartime leadership, until now remarkably united during almost a year of all-out Russian military assault.
A day after announcing that Reznikov would be sidelined, a top ally of President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to row back for now, saying no personnel changes in the defence sector would be made this week.
David Arakhamia, chief of the parliamentary bloc of Zelensky’s party, had said the head of military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, would take over the defence ministry, while Reznikov would be made minister of strategic industries.
But Zelensky remained silent on the issue, while Reznikov said on Sunday he had not been informed of any move and would reject the strategic industry job if offered it. The confusion caps a twoweek purge of the Kyiv leadership, the biggest shake-up since the Russian invasion. Central and regional officials have been swept from office, security forces raided the home of a billionaire, prosecutors announced a huge fraud case at the biggest oil company and refinery, and ex-officals have been stripped of citizenship.
Zelensky has touted the crackdown as an opportunity to demonstrate that Kyiv can be a safe steward of billions of dollars of western aid. But it risks destabilising the leadership after nearly a year in which Kyiv’s political class had solidly united against Russia’s invasion. Meanwhile, Russian forces have been advancing for the first time in six months in relentless battles in the east.
A regional governor said Moscow was pouring in reinforcements for a new offensive that could come as soon as next week. Reznikov, a 56-year-old lawyer, has been the face of Ukraine at international meetings when allies have pledged billions of dollars in arms, and has been warmly received in western capitals including Paris just last week.
Although there have been investigations into corruption at the defence ministry, most notably accusations that it signed a contract to overpay for food for troops, he has not been personally accused of any wrongdoing.
Two senior lawmakers on Monday noted the defence minister must be a civilian – an apparent obstacle to his immediate replacement by Budanov, a 37-year-old military officer. Volodymyr Fesenko, a political analyst at the Penta think tank, said he expected Budanov to request retirement from the military before his appointment, while Reznikov could be given a post of special envoy, making use of his stature abroad. “Everything will be resolved,” Fesenko told Reuters.

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