Monday, March 4, 2024

2013 Ukrainian Trophy Raid champion Oleksii Reznikov dismissed as Defence Minister

After nearly two years in office and being one of his country’s lead figures in the face of Russian invasion, Oleksii Reznikov formally stepped down from his position as Ukraine’s Minister of Defence on Tuesday. State Property Fund head Rustem Umerov has been named his successor.

Doubt about Reznikov’s future was cast amid an ongoing federal anti-corruption investigation. While the now-former minister has not received any specific accusations himself, various scandals concerning military equipment procurement have overshadowed the ministry’s operations, prompting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to begin making changes to further ensure corruption in the government is stamped out. Ukraine has long struggled with corruption, which Zelenskyy pledged to overturn when he was elected in 2019 while actions to do so have become stronger since Russia’s full-scale invasion began last year. With his dismissal imminent, Reznikov tendered his resignation to the Verkhovna Rada.

Despite his departure, Reznikov has become a popular individual domestically and overseas as arguably the second largest spokesperson for Ukrainian defence behind the President. Since his appointment to the post in 2021 and especially after the invasion, he has frequently met his opposite defence ministers and other major leaders from supporting countries and spearheaded the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s development into a more Western-style military. Some outlets have suggested Reznikov could remain in politics as Ukraine’s ambassador to London, though he nor the Zelenskyy administration have confirmed his future plans.

“Today I completed my tenure as the Minister of Defense of Ukraine,” he wrote on Tuesday. “I’m grateful to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who proposed my candidacy for this office, and to our Parliament, Verkhovna Rada which confirmed it 22 months ago. I’m grateful to my colleagues in the Government of Ukraine and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. I appreciate the support from the defense ministers of our partner states, as well from as my colleagues in the EU and NATO. I want to thank the team at the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine for our joint achievements. I’m proud to have worked with Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valerii Zaluzhnyi. It was an honor to work for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which are defending all of us.”

In a follow-up post on Wednesday, he issued his “heartfelt congratulations to my colleague Rustem Umerov on his appointment as the Minister of Defense of Ukraine. I’ve known Rustem for a long time and I believe he is a great fit for this position. The challenges are many, but such are the times in which we live. Through our strength and determination we will win this war. Unity is the key to our victory. Glory to Ukraine!”

Before he was travelling to military installations, Reznikov was perhaps most comfortable in the cockpit of an off-road vehicle. A longtime rally raid enthusiast, he won the 2013 Ukrainian Trophy Raid Championship in the UTV class with navigator Mykhailo Yersh in a Kawasaki Teryx after finishing runner-up in the 2011 and 2012 standings. The Teryx was donated to the Ukrainian military in June 2022 to become a reconnaissance vehicle.

In 2009, he was the co-driver for Sergeii Osadchyi at the Silk Way Rally, where their Toyota FJ Cruiser ran in the top twenty before suffering a late mechanical failure. He also competed in the Italian Baja, a current round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, calling the shots for Evgeny Chekalev in 2013.

He was a member of the Automobile Federation of Ukraine‘s off-road competition committee.

The invasion, now in its 560th day, has drawn many figures from Ukraine’s motorsport world into service. Andriy Gusev, who won the Trophy Raid TR-1 championship a year after Reznikov, was killed in action in June while former rally raid champion Igor Kalinovskaya passed in early August after serving with the military since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea began the conflict in 2014. Rally raider Viacheslav Ponomarenko was named a Hero of Ukraine by Zelenskyy in March 2022 for his actions.

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