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6 Sep, 2023 10:49

Ukrainian MPs approve new defense minister

President Zelensky had announced cabinet reshuffle last Sunday
Ukrainian MPs approve new defense minister

Ukrainian MPs voted on Wednesday to confirm Rustem Umerov as the country's new defense minister. President Vladimir Zelensky announced his candidacy in the past week, while also declaring he wanted then-head of the department, Aleksey Reznikov, to step down.

The country’s lawmakers supported the nominee overwhelmingly, with no votes cast against Umerov and a just one abstention, according to Ukrainian media.

Several corruption scandals rocked the Defense Ministry under Reznikov’s leadership, though the man himself until last week had defied multiple predictions of an imminent sacking.

Umerov, who is 41 and a businessman, and who previously headed the State Property Fund, was perceived by domestic media as a safe pick for Zelensky, as the president seeks to convince Kiev’s foreign sponsors –and the Ukrainian public of the sincerity of his pledges to eradicate graft by officials.

The new defense minister previously served as an MP and was also part of the Ukrainian delegation to failed peace talks with Russia in Minsk. He is an alumnus of the US State Department’s Future Leaders Exchange program.

Kiev’s replacement of minister of defense came just as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived there on Wednesday for a two-day visit. It is the first such trip to Ukraine by a US official of this seniority since Kiev launched its counteroffensive against Russia in early June.

Ahead of his meetings with senior Ukrainian officials, Blinken praised progress made so far and pledged long-term support for Kiev. But Western media reports, citing insiders in the US government, said Washington was frustrated with the Ukrainian leadership's tactics.

Earlier this week, the Russian military updated its estimate of the price paid by the Ukrainian army in its assaults. Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said that Kiev had lost over 66,000 soldiers and more than 7,600 units of heavy weaponry while trying to breach Russian defensive lines.

Reznikov’s future career remains unclear at the moment. Sources in Ukraine have suggested that he may be appointed Kiev’s next ambassador to the UK. Zelensky sacked Vadim Pristayko as the head of the diplomatic mission in London in July, after the envoy criticized the president’s tone in responding to criticism by foreign governments.

Earlier that month, the Ukrainian leader was chastised by some Western officials for not showing gratitude to nations sponsoring Kiev in its conflict against Russia and, in an apparent response, released a video in which he said “thank you” for the aid 47 times in less than ten minutes.