Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense is confused as Russia prepares to attack

KIEV—Ukraine sent a mixed message on Monday about the fate of its defense minister, preparing for another Russian attack while leaving key posts in the war effort questionable.

The question left hanging for Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov was the first public sign of serious turmoil in Ukraine’s wartime leadership.

A day after Reznikov announced he was stepping down, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s best allies appeared to be backing off for now, saying no personnel changes in the defense sector would take place this week.

David Alakamia, chief of staff for the parliamentary bloc of the Zelenskiy Party, said Reznikov would become minister of strategic industries while director of military intelligence Kirilo Budanov would take over the defense ministry.

But while Zelensky remained silent on the matter, Reznikov said on Sunday he had not been informed of any moves and would refuse strategic industry jobs if offered.

The turmoil caps a two-week crackdown on alleged official misconduct in Ukraine that has led to the biggest unrest since Russia’s aggression.

Central and local officials have been fired or resigned, security forces have raided billionaires’ homes, and investigations have been launched into suspected fraud at major oil companies and refineries. Although Reznikov was not personally accused of wrongdoing, the Ministry of Defense was embroiled in accusations of undertaking food overpayments.

Zelensky claims these actions are meant to show that Kyiv can become a safe custodian of billions of dollars of Western aid. But they run the risk of destabilizing the political class that has united against Russian aggression.

Meanwhile, Russian forces are advancing for the first time in six months in relentless fighting in the east. The regional governor said Moscow is pouring in reinforcements for a new offensive that could come as early as next week.

Russia Ukraine
Ukrainian forces of the 43rd Heavy Artillery Brigade fire a German howitzer Panzerhaubitze 2000, called Tina by its units, near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, February 5, 2023. (Marko Djurica TPX Images of the Day/Reuters)

“I will solve everything”

Reznikov, a 56-year-old lawyer who became Ukraine’s face at an international conference where allies pledged billions of dollars in weapons, was warmly welcomed last week in Western capitals, including Paris.

Budanov’s replacement is a mysterious, burgeoning 37-year-old military intelligence officer with rules requiring the defense minister to be a civilian.

Volodymyr Fesenko, a political analyst at Penta Think Tank, expects Budanov to demand his retirement from the army before his appointment, but Reznikov has used his position abroad to claim the post of envoy. Said it could be given.

“Everything will be resolved,” Fesenko told Reuters.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on Reznikov, and Reuters was unable to contact Reznikov or Budanov directly.

In announcing plans for the change, Alakamia said Ukraine’s armed forces should be overseen by people with a wartime defense or security background.

However, Zelenskyy’s adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, says that Reznikov was respected by his allies. In this case this is a very important component. ”

Reznikov said on Sunday that the decision to move would be up to Zelensky, but the planned transfer was news for him. If offered a job in a typical industry, they would refuse it.

always aggressive

As the one-year anniversary nears, the war has reached a critical point, with Ukraine no longer as profitable as it was in late 2022, and Russia now advancing with hundreds of thousands of mobilized reserves.

Ukraine plans its own counterattack, but is waiting for the promised Western tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.

Russia is sending more stockpiles and equipment to eastern Ukraine, Eastern Luhansk region governor Serhiy Hayday said on television, artillery bombardment no longer around the clock as Russian troops prepare for a full-scale offensive. He added that it was no longer a regime.

“You can expect[this attack]anytime after February 15,” he said.

According to state media, the Russian Defense Ministry said Russian forces had captured Mykolaivka, a small village in the neighboring Donetsk region. There was no immediate response from Ukraine disputing other Russian battlefield reports.

The main Russian target is the town of Bakhmut, where state media said Wagner’s mercenary group had gained a foothold.

Wagner chief Evgeny Prigozhin, accused by Ukraine of killing thousands of Russian ex-prisoners around Bakhmut, has released a video showing him in a tactical bomber that had just bombed the town. . He said he would fly a fighter jet on Tuesday and challenge Zelensky to an aerial duel.