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Reznikov’s tenure as defense chief ends after latest corruption allegations

by Oleksiy Sorokin and Alexander Khrebet and Liliane Bivings September 5, 2023 11:27 PM 7 min read
Now-former Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov waves during the voting for his resignation in Ukraine's parliament in Kyiv on Sept. 5, 2023. (Photo by Andrii Nesterenko / AFP via Getty Images)
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Oleksii Reznikov led the defense ministry for 522 days, during the country’s toughest time. He also oversaw the ministry through two major corruption scandals that eventually led to his ousting.

Following the latest allegations of corruption, this time concerning the procurement of winter attire for soldiers, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Sept. 3 his decision to dismiss Reznikov.

On Sept. 5, the parliament approved Reznikov’s resignation with 327 votes, well over the necessary minimum of 225.

“He and his ministry have generated a lot of scandals lately,” said lawmaker Yaroslav Zhelezniak, representing the 20-member Holos faction, which is in opposition to Zelensky’s government. Zhelezniak was one of the leading voices in the latest defense procurement scandal. He supported the ousting of Reznikov. “The (soldiers’ clothing) scandal is just one of the few.”

During his tenure as defense minister, a post he held since November 2021, Reznikov played a central role in coordinating military shipments to Ukraine – while also dogging one scandal after another at home.

In January, Reznikov was able to keep his post after journalists from the news outlet published a food procurement contract with highly overpriced supplies. Reznikov’s deputy and the ministry’s head procurement took the fall as a result.

In August, a second investigation by alleged the ministry of buying overpriced winter jackets of poor quality from a low-profile Turkish company – which turned out to be connected to the family of a Ukrainian lawmaker. This time, the minister was the one out.

In both cases, Reznikov denied corruption took place, lashed out against critics, and threatened journalists with court.

Jackets for the military

An investigation published in early August by Ukrainian news outlet revealed that after failing to secure fabric imports from Asia to produce winter attire for soldiers, the Defense Ministry made a deal with Turkish company Vector Avia.

On Sept. 6, 2022, Reznikov signed a decree reducing the quality standards for items supplied to the Armed Forces. The deal between the Defense Ministry and Vector Avia was signed a few days later, journalists found.

As part of the deal, the Defense Ministry reportedly purchased over 200,000 jackets worth $20 million and over 200,000 pairs of pants worth $13 million from Vector Avia.

But as the goods made their way from Turkey to Ukraine they nearly tripled in price, reported. The quality of the jackets was also questioned, with some of them allegedly not fit to be worn in winter. The ministry denied the claims.

The Defense Ministry’s integrity council later ruled that the jackets were in fact winter attire.

However, in one document seen by, a batch of 4,900 jackets initially priced at $142,000 were bought for $421,000. Turkish invoices for the batch of clothing listed the jackets at $29 a piece, while the Defense Ministry bought them for $86.

The profit margin remained with the Turkish company Vector Avia, co-founded by Ukrainian Roman Pletniov, the journalists found. also found documents revealing that a seized batch of winter clothing was valued at $27,500 when crossing the border into Moldova but when they were declared by Ukraine’s customs office, the value had jumped to $375,000.

Now-former Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov holds up military jackets during a press conference on Aug. 28, 2023 in Kyiv. Reznikov gave the press conference after a series of scandals involving the Defense Ministry's procurement of food and clothing for the military at inflated prices. (Photo by Vitalii Nosach/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

A police investigation in October 2022 concluded the “winter windproof jackets and pants” from Vector Avia were unfit for their intended purpose as winter clothing.

The company’s Ukrainian owner, Pletniov, was arrested in absentia on April 25. Another suspect in the case is Bohdan Khmelnytsky, a former top official in the defense ministry. The investigation alleges that Pletniov and Khmelnytsky colluded to embezzle the state funds. They couldn’t be reached for comments.

A follow-up joint investigation published in late August by the Ukrainska Pravda media outlet and the Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC), a watchdog, revealed that Oleksii Kasai, nephew of lawmaker Hennadii Kasai from the parliamentary defense committee that oversees military procurement, is also a co-founder of the Turkish company.

Speaking to Ukrainska Pravda, Hennadii Kasai denied his connection to the company. He confirmed that his nephew was its co-founder, but said that he didn’t know about it at the time when the company got the contract.

Vitaliy Shabunin, head of AntAC, told the Kyiv Independent, however, that after receiving funds from the deal, Kasai’s nephew was removed from the beneficiaries list of the company to prevent any trace of his involvement.

Overpriced eggs

The August corruption scandal is the second major graft allegation that tainted Reznikov’s ministry during the full-scale war.

In January 2023, reported that it had obtained a 2023 Defense Ministry contract for food procurement from its sources in the military.

The news outlet said a contract for a total of Hr 13.16 billion ($35 million) was concluded on Dec. 23 and envisagesd food deliveries to Ukrainian soldiers stationed in Poltava, Sumy, Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv, and Cherkasy oblasts – all far from the front line.

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The contract didn’t stipulate food supply to the front-line areas where “the delivery alone can make any purchase more expensive,” wrote.

The most famous overpriced item in the contract was eggs – according to the report, the Defense Ministry agreed to pay Hr 17 per egg, while its price at Kyiv’s stores was about Hr 7. Potatoes were to be ordered for Ukrainian soldiers for Hr 22 per kilogram, while the price in Kyiv grocery stores was about Hr 9, reported.

Reznikov’s failed attack

After the food procurement scandal broke in mid-January, Reznikov fired back at journalists and critics.

Reznikov denied the existence of a corruption scheme, claiming the leak was manipulation specially timed to undermine the Jan. 20 Ramstein meeting, where Ukraine's allies deliberated on further weapons assistance to Ukraine.

Reznikov also lashed out against those who leaked the procurement contract, calling it a crime. He claimed that the inflated prices were a technical error by the supplier. After the scandal, a new contract was signed, where prices were amended.

Still, Deputy Defense Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov and the ministry’s procurement department head, Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, were forced to resign. Both were later charged with embezzlement.

“The illegal activities of the participants cost the state budget over Hr 1 billion ($27 million) in losses," Ukraine’s Security Service wrote in an official statement.

Despite rumors of Reznikov being next in line to lose his post, he survived the scandal.

In August, after a new procurement scandal broke out, Reznikov once again attacked journalists.

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Denying wrongdoing, Reznikov accused journalists of defamation and claimed that the discrepancy in prices of the jackets could be a sign that the supplier was displaying lowered prices in Turkey in order to pay less in taxes.

Instead of calling for a probe into potential corruption, Reznikov proposed to two of his high-profile critics – a lawmaker and a journalist – a wager: if he proved there was no problem with the jackets purchased for soldiers, they would quit parliament and journalism, respectively. They didn’t take the bet and criticized the minister for offering it.

A week later, Zelensky said Reznikov would be replaced.

“I believe that the ministry needs new approaches and other formats of interaction both with the military and with society as a whole,” Zelensky said on Sept. 3.

According to lawmaker Zhelezniak, Reznikov wasn’t ousted specifically for the latest corruption scandal, adding that the minister was on his way out since January.

According to him, the question was how Reznikov would leave – and whether he would get a good appointment after his tenure. A rumor has circulated for a while that Reznikov was considered for the position of Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.K. This post has been vacant since July after Vadym Prystaiko was recalled for publicly criticizing Zelensky’s comments regarding Western military aid.  

“I have a strong sense that when Reznikov was on the defensive in the winter jacket case, he was also defending the political future of other high-rank officials,” Zhelezniak said. “And for his silence, for taking the whole scandal upon himself, he will get the ambassadorship.”

The Kyiv Independent has reached out to the President’s Office for comment about Reznikov’s possible appointment.

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