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Ukraine's MoD reshuffle: How the new defense minister was chosen and what to expect

Ukraine's MoD reshuffle: How the new defense minister was chosen and what to expect Rustem Umerov and Oleksii Reznikov (collage by RBС-Ukraine)

Quite unexpectedly, the position of the new Minister of Defense of Ukraine will be occupied by the head of the State Property Fund, Rustem Umerov. Why Zelenskyy ultimately settled on this candidate and what he brings to the new position - more details in the material by RBC-Ukraine.

The months-long saga of replacing the Minister of Defense has finally come to an end. The Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament - Ed.), with 327 votes, approved the resignation of Oleksii Reznikov. A significant portion of the session hall applauded him, but some later confessed to RBC-Ukraine that there were still lingering questions, primarily related to questionable procurement for the army's needs.

RBC-Ukraine has previously reported on the reasons for Reznikov's resignation and the main problem with this rotation (as with most other personnel changes) - the absence of a suitable successor.

"As you understand, there was no queue for the ministry. And those who wanted to get there for various reasons did not fit," said a source in the "Servant of the People" party.

After the option to transfer the Chief of the Defense Intelligence Kyrylo Budanov to the Ministry of Defense was ruled out in the winter, a casting call for the position of defense minister, which lasted several weeks, was conducted. For various reasons, internal government reshuffles to move either the head of the Ministry of Strategic Industries, Oleksandr Kamyshyn, or the Vice Prime Minister responsible for Ukraine's recovery, Oleksandr Kubrakov, to the Ministry of Defense did not work out.

"We decided not to go into the issue of appointing military personnel (including the First Deputy General Pavliuk) in the end. Firstly, it would require changes in the law, and secondly, it would go against NATO principles. So, we searched and finally found," said a government source.

Rustem Umerov, the former head of the State Property Fund, will now take over Reznikov's position. His candidacy was not mentioned until the end of August. Interestingly, contrary to the personnel policy of the past four years, Umerov entered the government not as part of the "Servant of the People" party but as a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada from the "Holos" party.

However, even before his appointment as the head of the State Property Fund (exactly a year ago, in September 2022), Umerov began working closely with the government, especially with the onset of the full-scale Russian invasion. He participated in negotiations with Russia and the large prisoner exchange last autumn.

RBC-Ukraine's sources evaluated his candidacy positively as a potential defense minister. "I know Rustem personally; he's a good negotiator. He speaks fluent English and Turkish, has good connections with Türkiye and Saudi Arabia, played a role in exchanges, and has done a lot for the Ministry of Defense, which is not openly discussed. He's very resilient, valuable, and a good manager," said Yevheniya Kravchuk, the deputy head of the "Servant of the People" faction.

Умєров замість Резнікова. Як шукали нового міністра оборони і чого від нього чекають

The first day of the Verkhovna Rada's fall session (photo:

Umerov's Crimean Tatar heritage, plus his experience in legally protecting the indigenous people of Crimea, will undoubtedly play in his favor, especially as the de-occupation of the peninsula has become a more realistic scenario. Having a Crimean Tatar in this position is a definite advantage.

Furthermore, Umerov's good relations and contacts with the Head of the Office of the President, Andriy Yermak, are even more advantageous in Ukrainian political realities. Even before the appointment as the head of the State Property Fund, there was much talk that he was closely connected to the head of the Office of the President. Considering how closely the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the President need to cooperate regarding the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine, this can also be seen as an objective advantage.

Notably, the "anti-corruption activist" community, which is usually in latent opposition to the Office of the President, is publicly supporting Umerov. Many of those who criticized Reznikov vigorously in recent weeks are now actively promoting Umerov for the position. Umerov established good relations with them even before joining the "Holos" party, which is often referred to as the "activist party."

"I hope they won't target him on Facebook as much as they did Reznikov. Maybe they'll even give him more than a hundred days in office," a source in the presidential team said.

Umerov can also boast of good relations and contacts with both the Arab-Muslim world and Americans. For the latter, the Minister of Defense is a mandatory participant in all Ramstein negotiations and more, making him one of the key contacts in the entire Ukrainian government.

However, it would be incorrect to say that the Americans pushed for Umerov's rotation to the Ministry of Defense. According to the sources, much softer rhetoric is usually used: "It's your business who to appoint, of course, but all these corruption stories create a bad atmosphere in which it will be more difficult for us to help you."

Umerov's active involvement in issues unrelated to managing state property, such as weapons and prisoner exchanges, while he held the position of the head of the State Property Fund, is also a vivid example of the "project approach" that is highly favored in the Office of the President. If the top office believes someone is better suited for a specific task, they entrust it to them, regardless of their formal position in the government structure. Sometimes, this approach yields good results, and sometimes it leads to chaos and confusion about who is responsible for what.

In addition to the obvious task of continuing to ensure Ukraine receives modern Western weapons, Umerov will also need to address the vulnerabilities in state procurement that plagued his predecessor. In particular, he needs to establish the Resource Supply Agency for the army, which is supposed to take over all rear-area procurement from the Ministry itself.

Rustem Umerov also plans to change some of his deputies. Many RBС-Ukraine sources referred to their excessive orientation toward the Office of the President as one of the key problems during Reznikov's tenure. However, the feasibility of this task remains open. Effective management of the ministry is impossible without a team of deputies.

As for Reznikov, according to recent reports, he will remain in the government team and may take on the position of the Ambassador of Ukraine to the United Kingdom, which has been vacant for one and a half months - an unacceptably long term for one of Ukraine's key partners.