Is it right to change horses in the midstream?
    Experts comment on shuffle in Ukraine's DefMin

    INTERVIEWS  05 September 2023 - 14:38

    Vadim Mansurov

    There is a personnel change in the government of Ukraine: the post of Minister of Defence of Ukraine is being vacated by Oleksii Reznikov, who held it since the beginning of the invasion of Russian troops in Ukraine. And he leaves this post not by his own will, but by the decision of President Zelenskyy, which raises a number of questions. Against the background of active hostilities, the ongoing counter-offensive of Ukrainian troops, the reshuffle in Ukraine's Defence Ministry speaks volumes, because, as the saying goes "never change the horses in the midstream".

    "I have decided to replace the Minister of Defence of Ukraine. Oleksii Reznikov passed more than 550 days of full-scale war. I believe that the ministry needs new approaches and other formats of interaction with both the military and society as a whole. Rustem Umerov should now head the ministry. I expect parliament to support this candidate," Zelenskyy said.

    Why was the minister dismissed? Does it have anything with the counter-offensive of the AFU, which some experts believe to be insufficiently effective, or is there another reason? What is expected from Reznikov's successor?

    As Ukrainian international expert, and doctor of political sciences Petro Oleshchuk explained in a conversation with Caliber.Az, Ukraine has long been implementing a reform to move away from the Soviet principles of defence management. And the transformation is taking place quite rigidly and consistently since it is an urgent requirement of Ukraine's Western partners.

    "And in this new system, the Ministry of Defence and the General Staff are separated, each has its own functions, and the Minister of Defence is not engaged in combat operations. The Minister of Defence is tasked to provide the army and make the purchases, and tenders of military equipment and machinery, while the General Staff and the Commander-in-Chief of the AFU are engaged in the conduct of combat operations, redeployment of troops," the political analyst specified.

    So, in Oleshchuk's opinion, this has nothing to do with the counter-offensive of the Ukrainian army, but it may be related to the corruption scandals that took place in the system of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry. Serious figures of corrupt machinations in the system of procurement of uniforms and foodstuffs for the army came to light at that time. Reznikov himself, as far as we know, was not directly involved in this, but as a minister is somehow responsible for this.

    "And if we talk about the contender for the post of the new Minister of Defence Rustem Umerov, he previously held the position of the head of the State Property Fund of the country, was a member of the Verkhovna Rada from the faction 'Golos', an active participant of the Tatar Mejlis. And he has a positive reputation among Ukrainian anti-corruptionists. He is not involved in scandals, participated in negotiations on the exchange of prisoners of war, and is characterised as a very positive person. So he is suitable for resetting the department and closing all questions about large-scale corruption in the military sphere. It is also said that while he was the head of the State Property Fund, he participated in non-public negotiations on important arms purchases for the AFU. So, if Umerov is a civilian in general, he still indirectly had a connection with the army and military affairs. In general, this situation coincides with the demands of Ukraine's Western partners that a civilian manager should be in charge of the country's defence sector.

    Earlier, another well-known personality - General Budanov - was considered for the post of minister, but it turned out that due to this appointment, he would have to resign from the position of a combat commander, leave the army and move to the position of an official, albeit a military one. So this idea was abandoned - Ukraine first of all needs good commanders at the front," Oleshchuk said.

    As for the AFU counter-offensive itself and its results, the political analyst believes that no one expected a quick victory: "Talks about a crushing counter-offensive by Ukraine, which could lead to the flight of Russian troops from its territory, which frightened Moscow, were more like an element of psychological warfare, which was necessary at the time. However, sensible military experts agree on one thing: defeating Russia in a situation where armies of generally equivalent potential, despite all the military assistance from the West, have collided is a hard, painstaking task for the people and the AFU, involving a large number of casualties".

    According to another Ukrainian political analyst and columnist Pavlo Zhovnirenko, the change of the head of the defence ministry has an important subtext.

    "Rotation, fresh blood and a signal to everyone that the return of Crimea is not negotiable (the new defence minister is a Crimean Tatar)," the political analyst stressed. At the same time, the rotation itself, in his opinion, is still connected with corruption scandals in the ministry.

    "It is not officially mentioned, but they certainly influenced public opinion not in favour of Reznikov. And although the actions at the front are led not by the minister, but by the chief of the General Staff, the minister's role in ensuring these successes is considerable. However, we will judge this further, based on the results of the work," Zhovnirenko said.

    Meanwhile, the well-known Ukrainian political scientist Alexander Okhrimenko emphasizes that Ukraine has one very big problem that cannot be solved in any way: despite all the statements and promises, the Ukrainian military-industrial complex works extremely inefficiently. As a result, despite the large number of military factories, there is a catastrophic shortage of Ukrainian-made weapons. Foreign supplies save the day, but this is not always a solution.

    According to the expert, the Ukrainian president wants the Ukrainian military-industrial complex to produce the necessary quantities of goods. That is why he first changed the head of Ukroboronprom and put a young ambitious person in this position, hoping that he will succeed in launching production.

    "Because the previous heads of Ukroboronprom did nothing to have enough Ukrainian weapons. So maybe now young and energetic people like Rustem Umerov will do what the old professionals failed to do.

    Umerov will most likely get more authority from Zelenskyy and the task of restarting the Ukrainian military-industrial complex. If he does it, it will be a miracle, because the Ukrainian military-industrial complex is in a terrible state. It is actually the same as it was during the Soviet era: it works only for appearance's sake and cannot even produce old weapons normally. Russia experiences a similar problem - the military-industrial complex works badly there too, and that is why Putin buys Shaheds in Iran and shells in North Korea.

    So there are high hopes for the new minister. I would like to believe that Zelenskyy is not mistaken in him and he will really be able to change something. Maybe at least Ukraine will have enough shells," Okhrimenko summarised.


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