Zelenskyy names Umerov as new Ukraine defense chief

Ukrainian soldiers from the 14th Mechanized Brigade fire 122mm rockets near Kupiansk, Ukraine, on Sept. 3, 2023. (David Guttenfelder/The New York Times)
Ukrainian soldiers from the 14th Mechanized Brigade fire 122mm rockets near Kupiansk, Ukraine, on Sept. 3, 2023. (David Guttenfelder/The New York Times)

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday that defense minister Oleksii Reznikov will be replaced this week with Rust-em Umerov, a Crimean Tatar lawmaker.

Zelenskyy made the announcement on his official Telegram account, writing that new leadership was needed after Reznikov went through “more than 550 days of full-scale war.” Later in his nightly address, Zelenskyy said he believes “that the Ministry needs new approaches and different formats of interaction both with the military and with society.” “The Verkhovna Rada (parliament] of Ukraine is {ell acquainted with this person, and Umerov does not require additional introductions. I expect support for this candidacy from parliament,” the president told the nation.

Umerov, 41, a politician with the opposition Holos party, has served as head of the State Property Fund of Ukraine since September 2022. He was involved in the exchange of prisoners of war, political prisoners, children and civilians, as well as the evacuation of civilians from occupied territories. Umerov was also part of the Ukrainian delegation in negotiations with Russia over the U.N.-backed grain deal.

In August, a scandal arose around the Ministry of Defense’s procurement of military jackets. Ukrainian investigative journalists reported that the materials were purchased at a price three times higher than normal and that instead of winter jackets, summer ones were ordered. In the customs documents from the supplier, the jackets were priced at $29 per unit, but the Ministry of Defense paid $86 per unit. Reznikov denied the allegations during a news conference last month.

U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters in Delaware on Sunday that he’s aware Zelenskyy had replaced his defense chief. Asked if he had any comment, Biden said, “not publicly.”

ATTACKS ON PORTS

Russian forces launched waves of drones at the Odesa region of southern Ukraine in an hours-long overnight assault, officials said Sunday, the latest bombardment to target port infrastructure since Moscow pulled out of a deal allowing safe passage for Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.

Serhii Bratchuk, a spokesperson for the Odesa military administration, said that port facilities on the Danube River had been hit and that two workers were injured in the attack, which lasted more than three hours and involved more than two dozen drones. Ukraine’s air force said it shot down 22 out of 25 attack drones and the State Emergency Service posted photos of firefighters in the region trying to extinguish a blaze.

Bratchuk did not specify where exactly the strikes landed, but local Ukrainian media reported explosions in the port city of Reni on the Danube, just across the water from Romania. Russia’s ministry of defense claimed that its drones had struck fuel storage facilities there; the claim could not be independently verified.

Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, condemned the overnight attack. In a statement on the Telegram messaging app, he accused Russian forces of targeting ports “in the hope they will be able to provoke a food crisis and hunger around the world.” Ukraine’s main Danube ports represent a potentially perilous tripwire, because they lie so close to Romania, a member of NATO, and therefore to territory covered by the alliance’s commitment to collective security. On Sunday, Romania’s defense ministry said it had been monitoring the overnight drone attacks in real time and denounced what it called “unjustified” assaults on infrastructure in Ukraine.

For years, Ukraine’s Danube ports played a secondary role, with the primary conduit for the country’s grain exports being Black Sea ports such as the one in the city of Odesa. But that changed when Russia pulled out of the Black Sea grain agreement in July, threatening all ships moving to and from Ukraine.

The Danube delta became an immediate alternative waterway for grain ships. But then Russia began attacking the smaller ports on the river as well, bombing Ukrainian grain-loading facilities there. In mid-August, granaries and warehouses in Reni and Izmail, another port on the river, were damaged as a result of Russian attacks.

In an attempt to get exports of grain and other goods moving again, Ukraine established a temporary corridor through the mines it has deployed along the coast, allowing ships to reach the territorial waters of Romania and then Bulgaria and Turkey, NATO members all. That has begun to allow civilian ships that have been stuck in Ukrainian ports since before Russia’s full-scale invasion to finally depart the country.

A handful of vessels have used the corridor in recent weeks, and Zelenskyy said Saturday that two more ships had successfully navigated passage. He later hailed Odesa as “a port on which the lives of various nations depends” in his overnight address, just hours before the latest strikes.

The attacks in the Odesa region came amid international efforts to revive the grain deal. Russia has been touting what it casts as an alternative to the agreement, which was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in July of 2022 and helped stabilize food prices across the world but which Moscow complained was carried out unfairly.

The deal had allowed nearly 36 million tons of grain and other commodities to leave three Ukrainian ports safely despite Russia’s war.

However, Russia broke away from the agreement after claiming that a parallel deal promising to remove obstacles to Russian exports of food and fertilizer hadn’t been honored.

Moscow complained that restrictions on shipping and insurance hampered its agricultural trade, even though it has shipped record amounts of wheat since last year.

The Sochi summit follows talks between the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers on Thursday, during which Russia handed over a list of actions that the West would have to take in order for Ukraine’s Black Sea exports to resume.

Precise details of the Russian proposal remain scant, but it is expected to be on the agenda when Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for bilateral talks today in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

Elsewhere in Ukraine: m Ukrainian officials said a Russian strike had hit a residential building in the eastern town of Vuhledar on Saturday, killing a man and his wife. The prosecutor general’s office said on Telegram that the couple’s 19-year-old daughter and another resident of the town were injured.

m Russian shelling in the Donetsk region Sunday killed an 84-year-old man in his home and injured his 85-year-old wife, the regional prosecutor’s office said on Facebook. Four other civilians were also injured.

m A 36-year-old resident of the Mykolaiv region in southern Ukraine died in a mine explosion off the Black Sea coast Sunday after he ignored signs warning people to stay out of the water, Ukraine’s southern operational command said on Telegram.

m Ukrainian prosecutors announced Sunday that they had opened a war crimes investigation into the death of a police officer killed by Russian shelling on the town of Seredyna-Buda on Saturday afternoon.

m Two other police officers and one civilian were wounded during the attack, which hit Ukraine’s north-eastern Sumy region.

Information for this article was contributed by staff writers of The Associated Press and by Vivek Shankar and Constant Méheut of The New York Times.


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