Ukraine has dismissed several senior officials in a bid to freshen up its wartime leadership and quash corruption allegations, as Berlin said it would decide “very soon” whether to allow German-made Leopard tanks to be supplied to Kyiv’s military.
The Ukrainian government announced that four deputy ministers and the governors of five regions had been removed from their posts on Tuesday – including some at their own request – in the biggest political shake-up of the country’s 11-month defence against Russia’s full-scale invasion.
A deputy prosecutor general and the deputy chief of staff of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s administration were also dismissed – though some of those who lost their jobs were expected to be appointed to other positions of power and influence.
In a swirl of scandal in recent days, a deputy infrastructure minister was arrested and accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from contracts for generators; the defence ministry was accused of massively overpaying on food for the army; and the deputy prosecutor general who was sacked on Tuesday was criticised in the media for taking a holiday in Spain.
“Zelenskiy’s personnel decisions testify to the key priorities of the state. No ‘blind eyes’. During the war, everyone should understand their responsibility. The president sees and hears society. And he directly responds to a key public demand – justice for all,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to the head of state.
Mr Zelenskiy announced on Monday night that he had signed a decree stating that many officials could now leave the country solely for work trips.
“It applies to law enforcers, deputies, prosecutors and all those who are supposed to work for the state and in the state. If they want to rest now, they will rest outside the civil service,” he said.
“Ukraine will not show weakness. The state will not show weakness,” he added, calling on all Ukrainians to work together “for the victory of our entire country” and not for “someone’s victory over someone else in our own ranks.”
Fears of internecine power struggles were fuelled by claims this week from Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, that members of Ukraine’s SBU security service shot dead banker Denys Kireyev in central Kyiv last March.
Mr Budanov said Mr Kireyev had worked undercover for his agency and was a member of Ukraine’s negotiating team at talks with Russia in the early days of the full-scale war; at the time of his death, Ukrainian media cited security sources as saying Mr Kireyev was killed as the SBU tried to detain him on suspicion of leaking information to Russia.
Ukraine has long been dogged by crime and corruption scandals, and wants to avoid any such cases that could dissuade allies from continuing to provide military, financial and other support during the war.
Poland said it had asked Berlin to grant it permission to send a squadron of its own German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine’s military. A German defence source told Reuters that Warsaw’s request was for the transfer of up to 14 Leopard 2 A4 tanks to Kyiv.
“We are preparing our decision, which will come very soon,” German defence minister Boris Pistorius said of the Leopard tanks after talks in Berlin with Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.
Mr Stoltenberg said that “at this pivotal moment in the war, we must provide heavier and more advanced systems to Ukraine, and we must do it faster.”
Russia claims to be slowly gaining ground in eastern and southeastern Ukraine, but Kyiv says its troops are holding their positions, in advance of what is expected to be a major escalation in fighting in spring.