By Max Hunder and Tom Balmforth
KYIV (Reuters) -Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov submitted his resignation on Monday in the biggest shakeup of the defence establishment in 18 months of war with Russia.
Reznikov has been at the forefront of Kyiv's lobbying for Western weapons to fight Russia's invasion, but his departure after months of corruption allegations against his ministry is not expected to have a big impact on military operations.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday he was sacking Reznikov and proposed Rustem Umerov, a Crimean Tatar and ex-lawmaker who runs the State Property Fund, to replace him.
Reznikov, who took office in 2021, has helped Kyiv secure billions of dollars worth of Western military aid since Russia's invasion in February 2022.
Ukraine has received weapons including German battle tanks, U.S. HIMARS rocket launchers and British Storm Shadow cruise missiles to push back Russian forces, and is poised to receive U.S. F-16 fighter jets soon.
"Reznikov did an amazing job building up a relationship with other ministers and other ministries," Andriy Zagorodnyuk, defence minister from 2019-20, told Reuters. "It saved the country because he was the owner of the process of arranging the shipments of weapons and so on."
A three-month-old counteroffensive against Russian forces in the south and east has been criticised by some Western officials for making slow progress, but Reznikov was not seen as involved in day-to-day military operations.
Reznikov, a 57-year-old former lawyer, was not implicated personally by corruption allegations levelled by Ukrainian media at the defence ministry, most notably over procurement. But the accusations prompted calls for him to be fired, and Reznikov portrayed himself as the victim of a smear campaign
Zelenskiy has said he has a zero tolerance line on corruption as Kyiv tries to advance its bid to join the European Union and show it is enforcing on the rule of law.
He said the defence ministry needed "other formats of interaction with both the military and society as a whole."
"The logic was to clear the heightened tension around the ministry," said Volodymyr Fesenko, a Ukrainian political analyst, referring to months of calls for Reznikov to go.
'SHIELD OF EUROPE'
Parliamentary approval is required for Reznikov's departure. This is widely expected to follow and his resignation has already been backed by the parliamentary committee for defence.
In his resignation letter, Reznikov provided an overview of his 22 months in the post, praising Ukraine's fierce wartime resistance against Russian forces and his ministry's lobbying efforts for military aid.
"Over 50% of the temporarily occupied territories by Russia have already been liberated. Every day our defenders are moving forward," he said in the letter, posted on X.
"There is an understanding that Ukraine is a shield of Europe in the east."
Reznikov, who has been tipped to become Ukraine's ambassador to London, said he saw one of Kyiv's priorities as building long-term partnerships with allies and securing "real security guarantees".
Umerov's candidacy is due to be reviewed by parliament later this week.
Fesenko said the main factors for the appointment of Umerov, 41, were his reputation as a good manager, and his successful tenure at the helm of the State Property Fund.
Fesenko said Umerov would need to fix the ministry's procurement systems, as well as work on improving its reputation.
"It won't be easy, certainly. Especially getting rid of corruption in state procurement. This is unfortunately a systemic problem not just in the Defence Ministry, but in the entire Ukrainian economy," he said.
(Reporting by Max Hunder and Olena Harmash; Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Timothy Heritage)