By Tom Balmforth
KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine is set to replace Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov with the chief of its military spy agency, a close ally of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday, in a reshuffle at the forefront of Ukraine’s war campaign.
Reznikov would be transferred to another ministerial job and replaced by Kyrylo Budanov, head of the GUR military intelligence agency, said David Arakhamia, a senior lawmaker and chief of Servant of the People parliamentary bloc.
“War dictates changes in personnel policy,” Arakhamia said on the Telegram messaging app.
Reznikov’s reshuffle would be the highest profile government change in a slew of resignations and sackings following a corruption scandal late last month and Zelenskiy’s pledge for Ukraine to meet Western standards of clean governance.
Arakhamia said that Ukraine’s “force” agencies – like the defence ministry – should not be headed by politicians during wartime, but people with a background in defence or security.
He added that Reznikov would be made minister of strategic industries.
Reznikov, who had said earlier on Sunday that any decision on a reshuffle was up to Zelenskiy, told the Ukrainian Fakty ICTV online media later in the evening that the transfer to the new ministry was news to him.
“If I suddenly received such an offer from the president of Ukraine or the prime minister, I would refuse it, because I do not have the expertise,” Reznikov was cited as saying.
There was no immediate statement from Zelenskiy on replacing Reznikov, a former lawyer who became defence minister in November 2021, a few months before Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.
Arakhamia did not say when the move would be formalised.
Budanov, 37, is an enigmatic intelligence operative decorated for his role in classified operations who rapidly rose through the ranks to head up Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence.
The shakeup coincides with Ukrainian fears that Russia is planning a major new offensive this month. Ukraine is planning its own counter-offensive but is waiting on Western supplies of battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.
MILITARY AID OVERSEER
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, when asked on national television Sunday night how likely was a reshuffle, said: “Reznikov was extremely efficient in terms of communication with our partners. And this is a very important component in this case.”
As a wartime defence minister, Reznikov, 56, fostered ties with Western defence officials and helped oversee the receipt of billions of dollars of military aid to help Kyiv fend off the Russian invasion.
Podolyak said that Reznikov’s “wonderful” personal relations with allies have helped with the military supplies.
“Negotiations are not just mathematical formulae but also personal relationships. And trust. Unfortunately, today we are losing a measure of trust in us,” Podolyak said.
Reznikov singled out Ukraine’s “de facto” integration into the NATO military alliance as a top priority, even if joining the bloc was not immediately possible de jure.
During his tenure as defence minister, he spoke out strongly about wartime corruption, which he said was akin to “marauding”.
But in recent weeks his own defence ministry became embroiled in a corruption scandal over an army food contract that envisaged paying vastly inflated prices. It caused a public outcry.
One of his deputy ministers has been fired, and two other senior officials have also since left their posts.
The scandal prompted Zelenskiy to embark on a major reshuffle that saw the exit of an array of regional governors, deputy ministers and other officials.
Reznikov hosted a news conference on Sunday afternoon, in which he said Ukraine expected a possible major Russian offensive this month, but that Kyiv had the resources at hand to hold them at bay.
He also said that his ministry’s anti-corruption department needed to be overhauled and that it had not done what it was supposed to do.
(Reporting by Ron Popeski, Tom Balmforth, Nick Starkov and Lidia Kelly; Writing by Tom Balmforth and Lidia Kelly; Editing by Grant McCool and Michael Perry)