Ukraine is ready to replace Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov with the head of its military intelligence agency, a senior lawmaker said, in a high-profile cabinet reshuffle following corruption scandals and ahead of an expected Russian offensive.
Reznikov, 56, will be transferred to another ministerial job and replaced by Kyrylo Budanov, 37, who heads Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence agency, David Arakhamia said on the Telegram messaging app on Sunday.
“War dictates personnel policy,” said Arakhamia, a close ally of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
There was no immediate statement from Zelensky about replacing Reznikov, a former lawyer who became defense minister in November 2021, months before Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022.
Reznikov helped secure Western weapons to support Ukrainian forces, and his removal as defense minister would be the highest-profile change in the government in a series of resignations and dismissals following a corruption scandal late last month and Zelensky’s pledge that Ukraine meet Western standards of clean governance.
The scandal involved food contracts that provided for the payment of vastly inflated prices. Amid the public outcry, one of Reznikov’s deputy ministers was fired, while two other high-ranking officials also left their posts in the meantime.
Arakhamia said Ukraine’s “forces” agencies – such as the defense ministry – should not be led by politicians during wartime, but by people with defense or security experience.
“Kyrylo Budanov will be the head of the Ministry of Defense, which is absolutely logical in wartime conditions,” the lawmaker said.
With the rank of major general, Budanov has been the head of the military intelligence service since August 2020.
“Time and circumstances require reinforcement and regrouping. This is happening now and will continue to happen in the future,” Arakhamia said. “The enemy is preparing to advance. We are preparing to defend ourselves,” he added, referring to Ukrainian fears that Russia is planning another large-scale offensive this month.
Ukraine is planning its own counter-offensive, but is awaiting the arrival of battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles from its Western allies.
Arakhamia added that Reznikov will become Minister of Strategic Industries, but did not say when these moves would be formalized.
Reznikov said earlier on Sunday that the decision on the reorganization was at Zelenski’s and that an internal review of the procurement procedures at the Ministry of Defense was underway. The ministry’s anti-corruption department “failed” to do its job, he told reporters, and needed to be “completely restarted.”
Later in the evening, he told Ukrainian online media Fakty ICTV that moving to a new ministry was new for him.
“If I suddenly received such an offer from the president of Ukraine or the prime minister, I would refuse it because I don’t have the expertise,” Reznikov said.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, asked about the reshuffle on national television Sunday night, said: “Reznikov has been extremely effective in communicating with our partners. And this is a very important component in this case.”
Podolyak said Reznikov’s “wonderful” personal relationships with allies helped Ukraine secure billions of dollars in military aid to defend against a Russian invasion.
“Negotiations are not only mathematical formulas but also personal relationships. And trust. Unfortunately, today we are losing confidence in us a little bit,” said Podolyak.
Analysts say any decision to replace the defense minister will not affect Ukraine’s military operations.
“Time is not that important,” said William Courtney, a senior fellow at the Rand Corporation, a US-based think tank.
“The main thing is that the new defense minister is capable,” Courtney told Al Jazeera. “The new Minister of Defense would have to be a representative of the MOD in Parliament, in the Presidency, and to many in the West. Oleksiy Reznikov enjoyed a good reputation in the West as an effective defense minister who understood the broad political implications of what was happening. We hope that the new minister will perform the same role and will not seek to duplicate the functions of the military strategy.”