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17 Jan, 2023 10:07

Top Zelensky aide resigns amid apartment-block blast uproar

Aleksey Arestovich apologized for disclosing that Ukrainian defenses brought down a Russian missile that caused a deadly explosion in Dnepr
Top Zelensky aide resigns amid apartment-block blast uproar

A high-profile adviser to President Vladimir Zelensky has tendered his resignation, having admitted live on air that Ukrainian forces had shot down a Russian missile over the city of Dnepr before it reportedly landed on an apartment block, killing dozens. The remark has landed Aleksey Arestovich in hot water, as commenters claimed he was blaming the Ukrainian military for the deaths.

Arestovich shared his handwritten letter of resignation, addressed to Andrey Yermak, Zelensky’s chief-of-staff, on Tuesday morning. He claimed he was showing “an example of civilized behavior” by leaving his position in the Ukrainian government. Later in the day, Zelensky’s office confirmed that Arestovich’s request had been accepted.

The presidential aide previously described his remark as “a serious mistake, made during a live broadcast.”

“The level of hate directed at me is incomparable with the consequences of the on-air mistake,” Arestovich said. He offered apologies to those “deeply hurt” by his words, but not “to the people who are spinning this issue.”

Arestovich previously claimed that he'd received a tip from an acquaintance, an experienced military expert, who said he'd heard a blast from an interceptor missile before the Russian missile hit the residential building in Dnepr on Saturday. He reported it during a YouTube interview the same day.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry denied having engaged the projectile and claimed that, in the first place, it didn’t have the capability to intercept Kh-22 air-launched cruise missiles. It claimed that its previous statements that some missiles of that model had been intercepted were “inaccurate.”

Ukrainian officials reported on Tuesday that the incident in Dnepr claimed at least 40 lives and injured 79 people, while 25 were listed as missing. The Russian Defense Ministry said it was targeting military sites and elements of Ukraine's energy infrastructure during the Saturday barrage. The Kremlin blamed Kiev for the deaths of civilians, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov stating that “this tragedy was the result of the actions of the air defense missiles.”

Yermak appointed Arestovich as a freelance aide in early 2020, which boosted his profile as a frequent commenter on all things related to the conflict with Russia. For years before that he had been a popular figure with Ukrainian media outlets.

The veracity of his own messages was called into question by Arestovich himself. In December 2017, he came out as a self-described propagandist, who had “lied a lot” since 2014 to boost the morale of Ukrainians and damage the image of Russia.

Arestovich's resignation may signal the launch of a political career, Russian political expert Marat Bashirov suggested on his Telegram feed. Zelensky’s office may find it “difficult to shut him up,” he suggested, alleging that Arestovich has patrons among the British intelligence fold. But he may also face violence from radical nationalists with a wish to “take revenge,” Bashirov predicted.