Ukraine’s wartime defence reshuffle signals a corruption crackdown to the world


Ukraine's wartime defence reshuffle signals a corruption crackdown to the world

Some will, no doubt, greet the news of Oleksii Reznikov’s dismissal with feelings of surprise.

At the very moment Ukraine’s armed forces start to make progress at the front as part of their hard-fought counter-offensive, President Zelenskyy jettisons the defence minister in a nationally televised address.

The reason for this reshuffle has everything to do with the country that Ukraine is trying to become as it rips and tears itself away from Russia’s grasp.

Reznikov oversaw an organisation that has accomplished an extraordinary transition from post-Soviet army into something far more dynamic and non-hierarchical – and far better equipped.

The 57-year-old former lawyer has been widely praised for his role in securing billions of dollars of advanced weaponry from western countries like the US and the UK.

However, it was a succession of allegations about corruption at his department that ultimately brought him down.

His deputy, Vyacheslav Shapovalov, was forced to resign in January after the ministry was accused of signing food contracts at hugely inflated prices.

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Ukraine's wartime defence reshuffle signals a corruption crackdown to the world

A few months later, a Ukrainian journalist revealed a startling price increase for a batch of winter jackets manufactured in Turkey.

What’s more, the jackets were lightweight and inadequately warm.

There is no suggestion that Reznikov has been involved personally in these scandals but the president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said the time had come for a fresh start, appointing a respected 41-year-old called Rustem Umerov to take his place.

“I believe that the ministry needs new approaches and other formats of interaction with both the military and society as a whole,” said Zelenskyy in his nightly address.

A fresh start is a key war aim in Ukraine, as the president and the majority of his fellow citizens try to shed their Russian invaders – and the Russian way of doing things in the post-Soviet era.

Putin’s model of government involves total control of the state and the economy, which is run in connection with a powerful oligarch-class.

It operates through fear and favour and there is no public accountability at the top.

Dissent is not tolerated.

Ukraine is charting a different path as it attempts to separate itself from its oversized neighbour – the Russian invasion is the latest chapter in that long-running story – and Zelenskyy has committed himself to that journey.

He won the presidential election in 2019 on an anti-corruption platform and he knows that further reforms are essential for admittance to bodies like the European Union.

It is for these reasons that his well-connected and battle-hardened defence minister has had to go.


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