Rustem Umerov named Ukraine’s new defence minister as Zelensky fires Reznikov over alleged corruption


Rustem Umerov became Ukraine’s new defence minister after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the dismissal of his predecessor Oleksiy Reznikov, saying “new approaches” were needed in the defence ministry.

The 41-year-old is a prominent official of the Crimean Tatar community who has represented Kyiv in sensitive negotiations with Moscow, including peace talks at the start of the war.

Umerov was allegedly poisoned during negotiations on ending the Russian invasion in March 2022. However, he later denied the reports, urging people not to trust “unverified information”.

The ex-MP told the BBC at the time he was determined to bring about a “political and diplomatic resolution” to Russia’s “brutal” war, suggesting working out a solution required courage.

Umerov was born in what was then the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan, where his family had been exiled under Stalin. As a child, his family resettled in Crimea when the Tatars were allowed to return during the 80s and 90s.

He began his career in the telecom industry in 2004 and has been an MP since 2019.

Umerov takes over a defence ministry blighted by accusations of corruption, with several scandals surrounding the procurement of goods and equipment for the army at inflated prices hitting the headlines recently, AFP reported.

Several arrests have also rocked regional recruitment offices, where officers have been accused of taking bribes to allow men to avoid Ukraine’s military draft.

Zelenskyy has vowed to weed out corruption, seeing it as vital to the continuation of crucial Western support and Ukraine’s desire to join the EU and NATO.

As an MP, Umerov co-chaired the Crimean Platform, which coordinated international diplomatic efforts to reverse Russia’s 2014 annexation of the peninsula.

He was also an adviser to the historical leader of the Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Dzhemilev, for many years.

Thanks to these roles, Umerov became a central pillar of Zelenskyy’s international outreach efforts, focussing on promoting ties in the Islamic world.

Making up 12-15% of Crimea’s population, Tatars largely boycotted Russia’s referendum, which cemented its control over the Black Sea peninsula.

As a result, Moscow outlawed the Mejlis, the traditional assembly of the Tatar Muslim minority, branding it an extremist organisation with many members imprisoned.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Umerov participated in discreet negotiations with Moscow on several occasions, in particular on exchanges of prisoners and evacuations of civilians.

He was part of the Ukrainian delegation that under the aegis of Turkey and the UN brokered the grain deal, lifting a Russian blockade so Ukraine could export its grain over the Black Sea.

Russia recently backed out of the agreement, arguing Kyiv and the West were not allowing enough Russian exports through.

In September 2022, Umerov was appointed head of the State Property Fund, a prominent position in a country where the privatisation process is plagued by corruption.

According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine ranks 116th out of 180, but efforts in recent years have seen its position improve significantly.

Experts have observed that Umerov’s appointment to defence minister is unlikely to lead to any change on the battlefield.

General Valery Zaluzhny, who is overseeing the campaign, remains the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces.

Kyiv’s counteroffensive has encountered stiff Russian resistance, but top Ukrainian generals said on Sunday their army has broken through a key line of Russian defences in the southern front.

Announcing he wanted to make him defence minister, Zelenskyy indicated on Sunday he would formally present Umerov’s nomination to parliament this week.

“Parliament knows this person well and Umerov does not need an additional introduction,” said the Ukrainian president.__The News