The dismissal of Defense Minister Reznikov: this is how the political 'soap opera' of the war in Ukraine ended | International

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The until now head of Defense, Oleksii Reznikov, shows his resignation letter in an image provided by the Ukrainian Parliament.AP

The most followed political soap opera of the war in Ukraine has lasted half a year. The dismissal of Oleksii Reznikov, still acting Minister of Defense, was an open secret since last February, when members of the president's party, Volodymyr Zelensky, assumed that his replacement would take place at that time. Since then there has not been a month in which the media—and the person affected himself—did not speculate about the timing of his departure. Preparations for the counteroffensive postponed a decision that Zelensky had already made, according to his followers, to demonstrate that the fight against corruption is as important as that fought on the battlefield.

Zelensky announced this Sunday that he would propose to the Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament, the dismissal of Reznikov (57 years old). The reason, according to the head of state, is that the Ministry of Defense needs a new direction. Reznikov has been a key asset in Ukraine's strategy for negotiating foreign military aid. A lawyer and career military man during the Soviet Union, his ability to establish strong personal relationships with his counterparts in NATO member states has been key in the defense of his country. Reznikov, like Zelensky, has not missed the opportunity to meet with Western politicians and senior military commanders. With the head of Defense of Spain, Margarita Robles, he visited the city of Odesa in December 2022, and last April he went to Madrid to meet with her. “It is an honor and a satisfaction to receive my dear friend Oleksii,” Robles stressed.

In his farewell letter, in which he confirmed his dismissal before the Rada, Reznikov stressed that in the year and a half of war that he has been at the head of Defense, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have managed to expel the invaders from 50% of the territories they had occupied, from the failed Russian offensive on Kiev, to the liberation of the province of Kharkiv or half of the province of Kherson. But this has not been enough to save him in office.

betrayal of the country

A priority for Zelensky is to send signals to his citizens and Europe that he is combating the systemic corruption that the country suffers. Ukraine is a candidate to join the European Union from June 2022. The European Commission has stressed that improving levels of corruption, especially by senior state officials, is an inevitable priority for entry. Since last year, Zelensky has approved dozens of dismissals linked to wartime corruption cases, and has also strengthened the independence of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office and given greater powers to the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption. Embezzlement scandals are constant, in all areas of public administration, but those linked to the Armed Forces, and the country's defense budget, carry a significance that the president himself admitted this August when proposing to the Rada that equate to treason.

In a year and a half, the United States and the countries of the European Union have provided Ukraine with aid valued at more than 165 billion euros, most of it to its Armed Forces. kyiv's allies are increasingly demanding more transparency and the accumulation of information about corruption in the Ministry of Defense was unsustainable. Reznikov is not accused of any irregularity, but he himself has conceded that he is ultimately responsible for what has happened in his ministry. And what has happened has unnerved Ukrainian public opinion.

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First it was a million-dollar contract, investigated by justice, for the purchase of food rations for the troops. The contract was signed with inflated prices and with fewer quantities than stipulated. Then there was another scandal over the purchase, supposedly at prices well above the average market cost, of uniforms for the army. Zelensky also dismissed all those responsible for the provincial recruitment offices of the Armed Forces in August due to the succession of evidence of bribes paid by thousands of Ukrainian men not to be enlisted.

At the beginning of this year, when more voices were calling for his dismissal, Reznikov was focused on negotiations with Ukraine's allied countries to provide a new phase of weapons that would allow the current counteroffensive against Russian defenses to be launched with guarantees. His relief would then have meant a major setback for the Ukrainian military options on the front.

The Ministry of Defense and the Ukrainian Armed Forces are not the only sources of corruption linked to the money that the country must invest to defend itself from the Russian invasion. Last February, Zelensky relieved the leadership of the border control department for the irregularities detected in the customs service. “The situation has only gotten worse during the war,” said Danilo Hermantsev, deputy of the Servant of the People, Zelensky's party, and head of the parliamentary committee on finance, taxes and tariffs. In the last year, EL PAÍS has received several complaints from aid donors to the army about alleged demands for bribes at the border to accelerate the process of importing material that must be used for the defense of the country, be it off-road vehicles or non-standard equipment. lethal.

Sources from the United States Government and a Foreign Ministry of a Member State of the European Union have explained to this newspaper in recent days that they are strengthening their alternative information network to the official one in Kiev to monitor the destination of the aid that They supply Ukraine.

Zelensky has confirmed that his hard core is studying calling presidential and legislative elections in 2024. The president's term ends next March and the elections for the Rada should be held this October. The Constitution and martial law prohibit elections in time of war, but Zelensky's trusted men, such as the speaker of parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, have assumed that a legal reform will be proposed to make the election possible. Ukrainian reference media such as Pravda and Telegraph, In addition to experts consulted this August by EL PAÍS, they have indicated that the main reason for calling Ukrainians to the polls is the progressive loss of popularity of Zelensky and his party. This loss of support has largely to do, as explained by Mark Savchuk, advisor to the National Anti-Corruption Office, with the fact that the population does not detect that the profound reforms that the president promised to democratize and cleanse the country of corruption are being implemented. materializing.

Reznikov's fall is understood in this context. Several Ukrainian media outlets have suggested that he could be appointed Ukraine's ambassador to the United Kingdom. Half a year ago, when it was reported from Zelensky's party that Reznikov's days were numbered, there was speculation that he would be put in charge of a new Ministry of Arms Industry.

His successor as head of Defense is Rustem Umerov, a Muslim Tatar from Crimea, until now head of the State Property Fund of Ukraine and one of the main negotiators of the exchange of prisoners of war with Russia. In addition to Umerov's proximity to Zelensky, his election has to do with the defense of the Crimean Tatars, a native ethnic group, by the Ukrainian political power, as opponents of the Russian occupation of the Black Sea peninsula and as an example of respect for the diversity of nationalities living in Ukraine required by the EU to begin accession negotiations.

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