Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he would ask parliament this week to dismiss Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov and to replace him with Rustem Umerov, head of Ukraine’s main privatisation fund.
The announcement on Sunday, made in Zelenskyy’s nightly video address to the nation, sets the stage for the biggest shake-up of Ukraine’s defence establishment during the war.
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Reznikov, who was named defence minister in November 2021, has helped secure billions of dollars of Western military aid to assist the war effort, but has been dogged by graft allegations surrounding his ministry that he described as smears.
“I’ve decided to replace the Minister of Defense of Ukraine. Oleksii Reznikov has been through more than 550 days of full-scale war,” Zelenskyy said.
“I believe the ministry needs new approaches and other formats of interaction with both the military and society as a whole.”
The change of defence minister must be approved by parliament, but is likely to be supported by a majority of lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada. Zelenskyy said he expected parliament to approve Umerov’s appointment.
Umerov, a 41-year-old ex-lawmaker who is a Crimean Tatar, has headed Ukraine’s State Property Fund since September 2022 and has played a role in sensitive wartime negotiations on, for instance, the Black Sea grain deal.
Zelenskyy’s announcement comes after Reznikov claimed the F-16 fighter jets supplied by Ukraine’s allies would be deployed by next spring and boasted about the country’s plans to increase drone production in an interview with the Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform.
“I think this autumn there will be a boom in the production of various Ukrainian drones: flying, floating, crawling, etc, and this will continue to grow in volume,” Reznikov said.
Maritime corridor in focus
Earlier on Sunday, Zelenskyy spoke with his counterpart French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss the “functioning” of a sea corridor set up by Kyiv for safe navigation of ships after Moscow exited a landmark grain deal.
The phone call came on the eve of a summit in Russia between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who wants to revive the grain deal, and as Moscow hit Ukraine’s Odesa region with drones.
“We also discussed ways to ensure the functioning of the grain corridor and enhance the security of the Odesa region,” Zelensky said on social media after a phone call with Macron.
Ukraine this week said four more ships had gone through its temporary maritime corridor in the Black Sea, set up last month to ensure safe navigation.
I had a focused call with @EmmanuelMacron.
I thanked France for its support, including crucial military aid. We discussed the next packages.
We agreed that France and French companies will take part in Ukraine’s upcoming Defense Industries Forum.
We also discussed ways to…
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) September 3, 2023
South African inquiry quashes US weapons claim
Meanwhile, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has quashed the allegations made by the United States that a Russian ship had picked up weapons in South Africa late last year.
Ramaphosa said an inquiry into the allegation found no evidence the vessel had transported weapons to Russia.
“None of the allegations made about the supply of weapons to Russia have been proven to be true,” Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation on Sunday.
“No permit was issued for the export of arms and no arms were exported,” he said.
When all matters are considered, none of the allegations made about the supply of weapons to Russia have been proven to be true, and none of the persons who made these allegations could provide any evidence to support the claims that had been levelled against our country.
— Cyril Ramaphosa 🇿🇦 (@CyrilRamaphosa) September 3, 2023
In claims that sparked a diplomatic row, the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, told local journalists in a May briefing that Russian cargo ship Lady R had uploaded weapons at a naval base near Cape Town in December.
The US accusations raised questions over South Africa’s professed stance of non-alignment and neutrality over Russia’s war in Ukraine and concerns about possible Western sanctions.
South African officials were quick to reject the claims, with Ramaphosa’s government launching an independent inquiry led by a retired judge.