Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he will ask parliament this week to sack Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and replace him with Rustem Umerov, head of Ukraine’s main privatization fund.

Sunday’s announcement, made by Zelenskyy in his late-night video address to the nation, sets the stage for the biggest convulsion to Ukraine’s defense apparatus of the war.

Reznikov, who was appointed defense minister in November 2021, has helped secure billions of dollars in Western military aid for the war effort but is dogged by allegations of corruption surrounding his ministry, which he described as libel.

“I decided to replace the Minister of Defense of Ukraine. Oleksii Reznikov endured more than 550 days of full-scale war,” Zelenskyi said.

“I believe that the ministry needs new approaches and different formats of interaction with both the military and society at large.”

The change of defense minister has to be approved by parliament but should be supported by a majority of lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada. Zelenskyi said he expected parliament to approve Umerov’s appointment.

Umerov, a 41-year-old former MP and Crimean Tatar, has headed Ukraine’s State Property Fund since September 2022 and played a role in delicate wartime negotiations, including the Black Sea Grains Agreement.

Zelenskyy’s announcement came after Reznikov claimed in an interview with Ukraine’s state news agency Ukrinform that F-16 fighter jets supplied by Ukraine’s allies would be deployed by next spring and boasted about the country’s plans to increase drone production had.

“I think that this fall there will be a boom in the production of various Ukrainian drones: flying, hovering, crawling, etc., and the volume will continue to increase,” Reznikov said.

Maritime corridor in focus

Earlier on Sunday, Zelenskyy spoke with his counterpart, French President Emmanuel Macron, about the “working” of a maritime corridor set up by Kiev for safe shipping following Moscow’s exit from a landmark grain deal.

The call came on the eve of a summit in Russia between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan looking to revive the grain deal, and as Moscow struck Ukraine’s Odessa region with drones.

“We also discussed ways to ensure the functioning of the grain corridor and increase the security of the Odessa region,” Zelenskyy said on social media after a phone call with Macron.

Ukraine said this week that four more ships had passed through its temporary Black Sea maritime corridor, established last month to ensure safe navigation.

South African inquiry rejects US claims about guns

Meanwhile, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has denied US allegations that a Russian ship took up arms in South Africa late last year.

Ramaphosa said an investigation into the allegation found no evidence the ship transported weapons to Russia.

“None of the allegations about the supply of arms to Russia have been proven true,” Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation on Sunday.

“No arms export license was issued and no arms were exported,” he said.

US Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety told local journalists in a May briefing that the Russian cargo ship Lady R loaded weapons onto a naval base near Cape Town in December, sparking a diplomatic row.

The US allegations raise questions about South Africa’s declared non-aligned and neutral stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine and raise concerns about possible Western sanctions.

South African officials quickly dismissed the claims and the Ramaphosa government launched an independent investigation led by a retired judge.

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