Kyiv, Ukraine – Two weeks after replacing its defense minister, Ukraine fired all six of its deputy ministers on Monday, deepening a clean-up effort at a ministry that had faced criticism for procurement corruption as the military budget ballooned during the war rose.
The shake-up in President Volodymyr Zelensky’s wartime leadership team came as he headed to the United States, where he was eager to demonstrate to American officials and other Western leaders that his government is not wasting the tens of billions of dollars invested in the war – due to corruption or mismanagement. aid they sent to Ukraine.
Zelenskyy will personally address the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday and meet with President Joe Biden and members of Congress in Washington later this week about his ongoing efforts to boost support for military aid. He is expected to argue that defending Europe’s borders against an expansionist Russia in Ukraine serves Western interests in preventing a wider war and the destabilization of the European Union.
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In Ukraine’s struggle to reclaim territory seized by the Russian invasion, the chain of command for battlefield decisions runs directly from Zelensky to the army’s uniformed general staff, largely bypassing civilians at the Defense Ministry. So revenue is not expected to have an immediate impact. influence on the course of the war. The ministry’s role is primarily not in tactics, but in logistics – purchasing, salaries and employment conditions – where changes may not be immediately noticeable.
Ukrainian anti-corruption groups said the dismissals, while not all from positions related to procurement, sent a positive signal about surveillance and the crackdown on wartime profiteering.
Much of Western aid to Ukraine consists of weapons, equipment and training – not cash – delivered directly to the military, and there are no documented cases of weapon diversion. Ukraine’s allies have also provided billions in financial aid, propping up a depleted government and battered economy, but that money has not gone to the Defense Ministry, whose budget comes from Ukrainian tax revenue.
Still, some U.S. critics of spending on Ukraine — particularly a faction of Republicans in Congress — have said reports of corruption were a reason to impose tighter restrictions on military aid, and some members of NATO are nervous that weapons can be illegally diverted from their intended purpose.
The decision to dismiss the deputies was taken during a cabinet meeting, according to a Ukrainian government statement posted on the Telegram messaging app on Monday. The government gave no reason for this move.
Zelenskyy and top aides have described the turnover as a search for new leadership after more than a year and a half of war. The Ukrainian army pushed back Russian forces in three successful counter-offensives, recapturing about half of the territory Russia seized during the full-scale invasion that began in February 2022. The Ukrainian army is now engaged in a bloody, slow-motion battle in the south of the country, which aims to destroy Russian supply lines to the occupied Crimean peninsula.
Earlier this month, Zelenskiy fired Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, following widespread criticism from Ukrainian news media and civil society groups over overpriced contracts and financial mismanagement. At the time, Zelenskiy, who appointed Rustem Umerov as the new minister, cited the need for “new approaches” 18 months after the start of the war.
Reznikov, who had won praise for his diplomatic efforts to coordinate a huge flow of weapons and ammunition into Ukraine, was not personally involved. However, anti-corruption groups have singled out lower-level officials for mismanagement of military contracts or for failing to tackle corruption under their watch.
The deputy defense ministers ousted on Monday were not the first to lose their jobs during the war. In January, one was fired and arrested after reports that the department was paying drastically high prices for food for the military. Another was replaced last year, and months later a Ukrainian news channel published police video of a search of the minister’s home, during which officers removed stacks of cash from a bank.
Last month, Zelenskyy fired all 24 heads of Ukraine’s regional military recruitment offices after the government acknowledged that dozens of recruitment officials were under investigation for taking bribes to mark eligible men as exempt from service. And there have been waves of anti-corruption raids and firings involving other parts of the government.
Daria Kalenyuk, executive director of the Kiev-based Anticorruption Action Center, said Monday’s dismissals were a “positive step” that showed Zelenskyy recognized the problems in the ministry and was determined to find solutions.
“The Defense Department is one of the least reformed ministries in our country and is unable to meet the challenges of war,” she said in an interview. The timing of the announcement, she added, was a signal to Ukrainian allies in Washington before Zelenskyy’s trip that his government was committed to overhauling the military bureaucracy.
Along with the deputy ministers, Kostiantyn Vashchenko was also dismissed, according to the government statement. He was State Secretary for Defense, a senior management position at the ministry. The statement did not mention any replacements.
The deputy defense ministers dismissed on Monday included Hanna Maliar, who in recent months has emerged as one of the most prominent government communicators of the daily movement of the Ukrainian counter-offensive. Hours before her resignation was announced, Maliar continued to post updates about the war on Telegram.
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