Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that he is replacing Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov with 41-year-old Rustem Umerov, who is currently in charge of Ukraine’s main privatization fund.
Zelenskyy’s announcement during his nightly video address Sunday, signals a greater shakeup in Ukraine’s wartime military defense establishment.
“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,” he said.
Reznikov has played a pivotal role in securing billions of dollars’ worth of Western military aid to help the war effort. However, during his appointment, the defense ministry has been tarnished by graft allegations Reznikov described as smears.
The nomination of Umerov, a Crimean Tatar and a former lawmaker, must be approved by Parliament.
Meanwhile, Zelenskyy has made it a priority to crush graft and illicit financial dealings among officials and well-connected businesspeople, equating wartime corruption with treason.
On Saturday, Ihor Kolomoisky — one of Ukraine’s richest men — was taken into custody on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.
A court set Kolomoisky’s bail at $14 million, but his defense lawyers said he would not post bail, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Instead, he will remain in custody for two months while he appeals the ruling, RFE/RL reported. Kolomoisky has denied any wrongdoing.
In 2021, the United States sanctioned Kolomoisky “due to his involvement in significant corruption.” The U.S. suspects that Kolomoisky and a partner laundered money through the U.S., an allegation Kolomoisky denies.
The White House has hailed the progress Ukraine has made in combatting graft and in safeguarding the autonomy of crucial government institutions.
A nonresidential building in the western Russian city of Kurchatov — home to one of Russia’s biggest nuclear plants — caught fire Sunday after an attack by a Ukrainian drone, the building reportedly belonged to the Russian security service, FSB.
There were no casualties and emergency services put out the fire, said Roman Starovoit, governor of the Kursk region, via the Telegram messaging app.
Ukraine is intensifying its drone attacks inside Russian territories while Ukraine plans to increase its drone production as early as this autumn, Reznikov was quoted as saying Sunday in an interview with the state-run news agency Ukrinform.
Kyiv is using only domestically produced weapons, primarily drones, to attack Russian territory. It has pledged not to use Western weapons inside Russian territory.
On some days, dozens of Ukrainian drones are striking inside Russia at once, reaching as far as the western city of Pskov, 600 kilometers (373 miles) from Ukraine.
Ukraine has attacked several airfields deep inside Russia, the center of Moscow and military bases both in occupied Crimea and in regions close to the Ukrainian border.
Ukrainian officials say that destroying Russian infrastructure is vital to the country’s war effort.
Russia’s defense ministry said Friday it had destroyed 281 Ukrainian drones over the past week, including 29 over the western regions of Russia, indicating the scale of the drone war has now increased significantly between the two countries.
Russian drones have hit Danube River port infrastructure, critical to Ukraine’s grain exports.
At least two people were injured Sunday in the attack on southern parts of the Odesa region, Ukrainian officials said.
The Danube has become Ukraine’s main grain export route since the collapse last July of a U.N.-brokered deal that allowed cargo vessels to safely carry nearly 33 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain and other commodities through the Black Sea corridor.
The attack comes a day before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin are to meet in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to discuss a possible revival of the grain deal.
“The current status (of the grain deal) will be discussed at the summit on Monday. We are cautious, but we hope to achieve success because this is a situation that affects the entire world,” Erdogan’s chief foreign policy and security adviser, Akif Cagatay Kilic, said in an interview on the A Haber television channel.
Russia pulled out of the deal alleging that its terms were not honored. Moscow says the U.N. has not removed obstacles to Russian exports of food and fertilizer, saying that restrictions on shipping and insurance have hampered its agricultural trade.
On the battlefield
The Russian military is making a fierce push in northeastern Ukraine trying to distract, fracture and derail the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south.
The Ukrainian military sees Russia’s main offensive widening near the town of Kupiansk, in the northern Kharkiv region, and in the forests near Lyman.
While aiming to keep Ukrainian troops busy along the mostly static northeast front, Russia has also had time to reinforce its defenses in the south, including setting widespread mines Ukrainian officials said. These deep fortifications have slowed Kyiv’s advances in that direction, they say.
Ukrainians deal with limitations in manpower, air power and artillery and are making slow progress, far slower than the western allies had hoped for.
Ukraine has advanced 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, overcoming dense Russian fortifications last week to retake the village of Robotyne — Ukraine’s first tactically significant victory in that part of the country.
Ukrainian fighters are hoping to reach the shores of the Sea of Azov in an apparent bid to cut the land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014. Doing this would split in two the Russian-occupied land in southern Ukraine, undermining Moscow’s supply lines.
However, time is running short for Ukrainian troops, who must try to make the most of the last few weeks of the summer fighting season as the muddy ground during the fall rainy season would hinder Kyiv’s infantry and heavy machinery.