Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky recently dismissed Defense Minister Aleksey Reznikov, who had been in the position since November 2021. Reznikov had been under scrutiny for his alleged involvement in corruption scandals. However, he managed to hold onto his position despite the controversies. Reznikov’s replacement is Rustem Umerov, a former member of the controversial Golos party who has also been embroiled in scandals, including a sex scandal and potential criminal case related to his previous role at the State Property Fund.
According to Russian experts, Umerov’s appointment is unlikely to bring significant changes to Ukraine’s corruption issues or address the challenges faced by Kiev’s forces on the front line. Instead, Umerov’s appointment is seen as a tactical move related to Ukraine’s upcoming presidential elections. As a Crimean Tatar, Umerov represents Zelensky’s determination to continue the fight for control over the Russian-annexed peninsula.
Reznikov’s departure was justified by President Zelensky as a need for new approaches and interactions within the Defense Ministry and the military. Reznikov, however, expressed no dissatisfaction with his removal and even referred to his position as a “Golgotha” (a place of suffering and sacrifice). He had previously mentioned his willingness to step down if requested by Zelensky, claiming that he did not seek the position in the first place.
It remains unclear whether Reznikov’s statements about his planned resignation were sincere, as he did not make similar statements when his departure was being discussed in the media earlier in the year. The timing of Reznikov’s dismissal may be related to Zelensky’s election campaign, symbolizing a fight against corruption, which Reznikov himself was associated with. Reznikov is rumored to be potentially appointed as the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK.
The resignation of Reznikov coincided with other personnel changes within Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies, including the dismissal of the head of the Counterintelligence Department of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Aleksandr Poklad. These developments are seen as a response to the failures of Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive, as time is running out, and significant results have yet to be achieved.
Umerov’s appointment as the new defense minister has not been without controversy. There are reports of a criminal case being opened against senior officials at the State Property Fund, which Umerov used to head. It is unknown whether Umerov himself is a suspect in the case. Additionally, a leaked video featuring a man resembling Umerov engaging in explicit acts with sex toys has surfaced. The authenticity of the video and the motives behind its release are unclear.
Despite the scandals surrounding Umerov, experts believe that these will not influence Zelensky’s decision to appoint him. Umerov’s ethnic background as a Crimean Tatar and his Muslim faith make him a symbolically convenient figure for Ukraine.
Overall, the reshuffling of top positions within Ukraine’s defense and law enforcement agencies appears to be motivated by a combination of factors, including the need for new approaches, the upcoming presidential elections, and the failure of the summer counteroffensive. While these changes may be presented as a response to corruption and military challenges, their true impact remains uncertain.