Who is Rustem Umerov, Ukraine’s next defence minister?

The multilingual Crimean Tatar boasts a successful career in finance and is known for being a skilled negotiator.

Rustem Umerov
Rustem Umerov, head of the country's main privatisation fund, attends a meeting in the president's office [Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has proposed Rustem Umerov, head of Ukraine’s main privatisation agency, to serve as the country’s wartime defence minister following Oleksii Reznikov’s dismissal.

Here is what you need to know about Umerov:

A Crimean Tatar born in exile

Umerov, 41, is a Crimean Tatar, a Turkic group of Sunni Muslims whose ancestral home is the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

In 1944, 180,000 Crimean Tatars, including Umerov’s family, were deported from Crimea to Uzbekistan on the orders of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. He was born in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

In 1991, Rustam and his family returned to Crimea during the Crimean Tatar repatriation of the late 1980s and early 90s.

A polyglot with finance background

At an elite boarding school, the young Umerov learned five languages: Ukrainian, Tatar, Russian, Turkish and English.

As part of the Future Leaders Exchange Program run by the US Department of State, he was sent to study in the United States in 1998 before joining the European Youth Parliament.

Umerov began his career in the private sector. He joined one of Ukraine’s leading mobile operators in 2004.

In 2013, he established his own investment company, ASTEM, and its ASTEM Foundation. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in finance.

In 2014, when Russia occupied Crimea, he was the adviser to Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis.

An anticorruption lawmaker

Since 2020, Umerov has been a member of a Ukrainian government task force working on a strategy to end the occupation of Crimea.

In September 2022, Umerov, then a lawmaker from the pro-European Holos party, became head of the State Property Fund, an agency selling state assets to private investors.

He is credited with turning around an institution frequently mired in corruption scandals. He also relaunched sales of state property, raising record proceeds for the state during the war.

Rustem Umerov
Rustem Umerov attends peace talks with a Russian delegation in Belarus in 2022 [File: Sergey Kholodilin/BelTA via AP]

A skilled negotiator

Umerov, described as a talented negotiator by people close to him, was a member of the Ukrainian team that negotiated with Russia in March 2022, one month after Russia’s full-scale invasion.

He also participated in talks on the Black Sea grain deal and prisoner exchanges, including Ukraine’s Azov fighters who were captured during the battle for the southern city of Mariupol in 2022.

He was also involved in securing the release from Russian authorities of Crimean Tatars Ahtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov in 2017.

He was a member of the delegation during a visit by Zelenskyy to Saudi Arabia in May and accompanied first lady Olena Zelenska during a visit to the United Arab Emirates in March.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies