Six of Ukraine’s deputy defense ministers were fired on Monday, September 18, a clean sweep that comes just two weeks after a new minister took office. The fight against corruption is not the only cause of this upheaval in one of Ukraine’s most strategically important ministries. FRANCE 24 takes a closer look at the factors underlying the revision.

Issued on: September 19, 2023 – 5:05 p.m

3 minutes

All six deputy defense ministers of Ukraine were fired by new Defense Minister Rustem Umerov on Monday, September 18, according to a message published on Telegram by the Secretary General of the Ukrainian Government Oleh Nemchinov. Even Hanna Maliar, the senior deputy minister who had held her post since 2021, could not escape the purge.

No official reason was given for this decision, but “a complete overhaul is underway,” media agency Oukraïnska Pravda reported, citing an anonymous government source.

Cleaning up the stables

According to the reports, the layoffs are part of Roustem Umerov’s efforts to clear out the stables following the departure of his predecessor, Oleksiy Reznikov, who is now mired in a series of corruption scandals.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has long been considered a hotbed of corruption, and Oleksiy Reznikov has been particularly accused of not doing enough to end the problem. Roustem Umerov, a loyal supporter of President Volodymyr Zelensky who was appointed to office in early September, is likely trying to make a name for himself and usher in a fresh start.

Ryhor Nizhnikau, a specialist in Ukrainian politics at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, is not entirely convinced by this justification for the purge: “This is not about fighting corruption. Some of them recently came with good reputations and were given tasks related to anti-corruption.

Others, like Hanna Maliar, have never been seriously accused of reaching into state coffers, although their every move is scrutinized due to the high profile of their positions. “Hanna Maliar was the face of the ministry and a good candidate for the role at some point,” says Nizhnikau.

Satisfy the West

“[Hanna Maliar] was seen as a possible challenge from within, which Umerov got rid of,” adds the analyst, for whom the raid was, above all, a sign of political strength. “Umerov just wants to show that Zelensky has given him carte blanche to make changes.” “And he is doing that by reshuffling the ministry,” says Nizhnikau. The new deputy ministers have not yet been officially named.

The move can also be seen as Umerov’s gift to Zelensky, who will address the United Nations in person for the first time since the Russian invasion on Tuesday, September 20, “Everything we do to fight corruption.” says Nizhnikau.

At the same time, Volodymyr Zelensky can use the reshuffle to call on Ukraine’s donors to be more patient. He “can buy more time with donors because he can say that they now have to wait for the results of the new appointments,” notes Nizhnikau.

However, the breakthrough is also a risky decision in the context of the ongoing counteroffensive in southern Ukraine. Oumerov came to the Defense Ministry with no military experience and will now be without key employees who could have explained to him how the ministry works. “Still, it’s a somewhat worrying sign: the first thing this guy with no military experience (Umerov) does is fire everyone who could have helped him learn the duties of his job,” Nizhnikau says.

There is also a need to train the new deputy ministers to be appointed. The transition period is likely to slow the decision-making process in the ministry, which is of utmost strategic importance to the war effort – in particular, it is responsible for handling the transport of ammunition and other military equipment to the front.

This article was translated from the original into French.

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