Sep 5, 2023

Zelenskyy Replaces Ukraine’s Defense Minister Amid Corruption Probe Transcript

Zelenskyy Replaces Ukraine's Defense Minister Amid Corruption Probe Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsCorruptionZelenskyy Replaces Ukraine’s Defense Minister Amid Corruption Probe Transcript

The move comes amid Zelesnkyy’s efforts to fight corruption in his government and inside the military. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

In the middle of war, a shakeup at Ukraine’s highest levels of government. Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov submitted his resignation letter today after President Zelenskyy yesterday announced plans to replace him. His successor is Rustem Umierov, a lawmaker whose family is from Crimea, the region that Russia illegally annexed back in 2014. The move comes in the midst of President Zelenskyy’s efforts to fight corruption in his government and inside the military.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy (00:28):

I believe that the ministry needs new approaches and other formats of interaction with both the military and society at large. Now, Rustem Umierov should lead the ministry.

Speaker 1 (00:41):

For more on this, we turn to Kateryna Ryzhenko. She focuses on anti-corruption and is deputy executive director of the Ukrainian branch at Transparency International, a global network aiming to fight corruption. Thank you for being with us.

So Reznikov’s removal comes in the wake of a number of corruption scandals involving Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense. Earlier this year, the ministry faced blowback for allegedly purchasing food for soldiers at inflated prices. What more can you tell us about the Ministry of Defense, how it’s been mismanaged and how it’s overpaid for basic supplies?

Kateryna Ryzhenko (01:17):

The scandal that you basically mentioned just now about the food, this is one of the scandals. The more recent one is about the clothing for the soldier, more specifically the winter jackets. And I think this was one of those last drops in order to push for the dismissal of the current defense minister. This is not a one-day event. It’s been leading to this and the current minister haven’t mentioned any nice enough arguments to convince the president and other state officials and the citizens that he actually managed the ministry well enough. His dismissal and his resignation is basically very much expected. And even though he achieved a number of success stories during his time at the ministry chair, obviously these scandals were just a little bit too much.

Speaker 1 (02:12):

How much of this change in leadership at the Defense Ministry has to do with President Zelenskyy’s desire to join the European Union and as a part of that, eliminate corruption within the ranks?

Kateryna Ryzhenko (02:25):

That’s a very good question because I think that joining the European Union has been the biggest topic on the highest priority list for Ukrainians. And these type of scandals, especially corruption-related, they do not help the agenda and the efforts of Ukraine to move towards European values. So President Zelenskyy reaction to this scandal’s dismissal of Reznikov and possibly appointing Umierov, I think, attempt to address the concerns that everyone around him has as to the corruption related scandals and the Ministry of Defense.

Speaker 1 (03:09):

Tell us more about the defense minister who set to take over. Rustem Umierov, he’s a Crimean lawmaker. He’s been closely involved in prisoner of war exchanges. He was part of the team that negotiated the Black Sea grain deal. What skills, what background does he bring to the role?

Kateryna Ryzhenko (03:22):

So he, for the last year, was the head of State Property Fund, which is a pretty important and big institution in Ukraine. Before the State Property Fund, he was also the member of the parliament, but not of the ruling party. And he was quite successful in his position during the last year. As a head of State Property Fund, he managed to revive the privatization function. He started selling the Russian-related asset that was confiscated by the state. So basically, there is this cautious optimism as to his nomination on the Ministry of Defense position. But obviously, the role of the Ministry of Defense, Minister of Defense, is definitely more important and consists of a more functions that he was fulfilling at any position before today. So only time will show us, especially after the situation with all this corruption scandal and the resignation of Resnikov from his current post.

Speaker 1 (04:26):

So what’s this all mean for the war?

Kateryna Ryzhenko (04:28):

Even though all the current scandals do not relate specifically to the arms, you need soldiers. You need Army to actually handle all those arms. You need them to be well-fed. You need them well-equipped. And that is what the current scandal, the current unhappiness with Reznikov is related to. So if the Ministry of Defense will work properly as a clock and there will be proper procurement systems in place that will help to spend the money that, for example, international partners and United States of America provide us to use in effective manner and to get the progress on the front lines as soon as possible.

Speaker 1 (05:19):

Kateryna Ryzhenko is the deputy executive director of the Ukrainian branch at Transparency International. Thank you for being with us.

Kateryna Ryzhenko (05:26):

Thank you for the opportunity.

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