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Minister without guarantees: What fate awaits Ukraine's Defense Minister after the procurement scandal

Minister without guarantees: What fate awaits Ukraine's Defense Minister after the procurement scandal Minister of Defense of Ukraine Oleksii Reznikov (Vitalii Nosach/RBC-Ukraine)

The situation surrounding the Ministry of Defense and its head, Oleksii Reznikov, is currently the main topic on the country's political agenda. What fate awaits the defense chief - whether he indeed becomes the ambassador to the United Kingdom, or retains the position, what is hindering this, and who could replace him read in the article by RBC-Ukraine.

"The President knows for sure that I didn't seek this position. On the contrary, I refused this appointment. He knows exactly what and how much I have done, and he knows that if he assigns another important project, I will gladly accept it. Because this position is a Golgotha," said Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov at a press conference on August 28.

In front of him on the table, there were several samples of Turkish winter jackets for Ukrainian servicemen. Last year's purchase of these jackets by the ministry was the cause of another loud scandal surrounding the Ministry of Defense and revived old rumors about Reznikov's possible dismissal from office.

From eggs to jackets

Scandals have been following the Ministry of Defense and its head since the beginning of this year. It started with "eggs for 17 hryvnias (USD0.5) one." Investigative journalists claimed that the ministry had purchased several batches of food products for servicemen at inflated prices, but only the eggs remained in political folklore.

Reznikov provided explanations that did not satisfy the press, and the scandal escalated. By the beginning of February, the quick dismissal of the minister seemed imminent. The situation was further exacerbated by the story of the head of the Department of Military-Technical Policy, Oleksandr Liiev, who allegedly had a Russian passport. This information was not confirmed, and the authors of the investigation apologized.

However, the wheel had already turned too far. On February 5, Davyd Arakhamia, the head of the "Servant of the People" faction, officially announced that Reznikov would move to the position of head of the Ministry of Strategic Industries, and his place would be taken by the head of the Defense Intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov. The reason given was not corruption scandals but the need for "militarization" of the ministry.

However, in February, nothing happened, and Reznikov and Budanov remained in their positions. But a certain trail of "toxicity" persisted, at least among a part of the "active public." In the realities of Ukrainian, and not only Ukrainian, politics, obtaining a negative image does not necessarily require personal involvement in corruption or other crimes - it is enough to lose the media battle. Moreover, Reznikov, as the head of the ministry, is a public figure and bears public, and political responsibility for what is happening there, even if he is not personally involved. Even his good relations with the West and his personal contribution to Ukraine's acquisition of weapons cannot outweigh this.

In August, the current scandal with Turkish jackets began. Initially, the main accusation was that summer jackets from Türkiye turned into winter ones on their way to Ukraine. However, it soon became clear that the jackets were indeed winter ones, and other aspects of the resonant purchase came into focus: the price and the supplier company, co-owned by the nephew of the member of the "Servant of the People" Hennadii Kasai. Reznikov's response is that the jackets turned out to be winter ones, Ukrainian soldiers fought in them last winter, and the purchase was made at market prices - so there can be no claims against the Ministry of Defense.

Now the minister, his supporters, and his critics continue to fight in the media and on social networks, and the discussion goes as far as whether it is possible to remove the label from one jacket and sew it onto another unnoticed.

Міністр без гарантій. Що чекає на Резнікова після нового скандалу із закупівлями в Міноборони

Minister of Defense of Ukraine Oleksii Reznikov (Vitalii Nosach/RBC-Ukraine)

The question of the minister's resignation, despite not being officially removed from the agenda, It s still pending. According to various informed sources of RBC-Ukraine in the government team, even at the end of July, before the start of the "jacket" scandal, a decision was made to dismiss Reznikov and appoint him as ambassador to the United Kingdom. Unofficial negotiations with the British on this matter have been ongoing for a long time - an integral part of such diplomatic procedures. However, as the sources assure, no final answer has been received from London yet. It is suggested that the recent scandal may affect the situation.

However, this is not the main problem. The main reason why the change of the Minister of Defense has not occurred is typical for Zelensky's team - the inability to find a replacement.

In the Ukrainian media, among possible candidates for the position of Minister of Defense, two names have been mentioned, among others: Minister for Strategic Industries Oleksandr Kamyshyn and Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Infrastructure and Development of Territories Oleksandr Kubrakov.

But sources of RBC-Ukraine claim that Kamyshyn, although respected by the country's senior leadership and considered effective in his current position, is not yet experienced enough to lead such a complex organization as the Ministry of Defense. It is better for him to continue with his projects in the Ministry of Strategic Industries for now.

As for Kubrakov, he allegedly didn't object to transferring to the Ministry of Defense. His main motivation is that the topic of "Ukraine's recovery" that he is involved in is too challenging to organize and a very ungrateful process. Furthermore, Ukraine's Western allies, to put it mildly, are not currently queuing up with bags of money to spend on our recovery. However, even in Kubrakov's case, nothing has been decided.

"So, can we cross Kamyshyn and Kubrakov off the list of candidates for the Ministry of Defense?" RBC-Ukraine asked a source in the presidential circle.

"For now, we can't cross anyone out. Anything can happen," he replied.

Tournament of candidates

The desperate search for a candidate for the position of Minister of Defense continues. One particular problem is that, according to the law, the minister must be a civilian, not a military officer. Therefore, to appoint, for example, Resnikov's First Deputy, Lieutenant General Oleksandr Pavliuk (whose name has also been mentioned in the corridors), the legislation would have to be changed, potentially conflicting with NATO principles. However, with a final decision and political will, this may not be an insurmountable problem.

Among the candidates for the Ministry of Defense, the candidacy of the Head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Vasyl Maliuk, has emerged. At the same time, they would like to make him the Vice Prime Minister for the security bloc to present his transition to the Ministry of Defense not just as a routine personnel rotation but as a systemic government reorganization in military conditions. However, several problems arose immediately. In Ukraine, as in other countries, there is always some competition or even dislike between the military and intelligence agencies, so his "outsider" status might not be well-received by his new subordinates. Moreover, his current work as the Head of the SSU is appreciated by the presidential administration.

Міністр без гарантій. Що чекає на Резнікова після нового скандалу із закупівлями в Міноборони

Head of the Security Service of Ukraine Vasyl Maliuk (Photo:

Furthermore, as a conversation partner in parliament revealed, the personnel shuffle around the Ministry of Defense should be considered in a broader context. For a long time, the presidential administration has wanted to take a portion of the income tax from individuals away from local authorities, which provides a significant portion of the budget to many communities and is often used for infrastructure. These funds are planned to be accumulated in a certain fund and redirected to defense needs.

Even if the fund is managed not by the Ministry of Defense but by the Ministry of Strategic Industries, and if defense procurements are soon separated from the Ministry into separate agencies, many deputies may still refuse to vote for "anti-infrastructure" measures under the current leadership of the Ministry of Defense, although such motivation seems to be populist.

The situation surrounding the Ministry of Defense remains in limbo. The Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament - Ed.) will return to plenary work next week, but it's not certain that they will immediately address this issue - it is quite likely that they won't find a new minister by that time. Although some kind of shortlist of candidates supposedly emerged midway through this week. Among them is Rustem Umerov, the head of the State Property Fund.

Of course, there are plenty of willing candidates for this position, as evident from the flurry of names circulating on social media. However, these individuals do not pass and will not pass the selection process. And those whom the highest office would like to see in this position generally understand themselves: anyone who takes up the role of the head of the ministry is bound to be embroiled in new scandals, as it is simply impossible to monitor all the processes. Opponents can always replace real anti-corruption efforts with political hype.

One cannot rule out the possibility that Reznikov will remain in his position. There are many examples of top officials, whom everyone confidently expects to leave, staying in their posts for months or even years in the current government team.