Ukraine live briefing: Ukraine expects leadership shake-up, with defense minister replaced by military intel chief

A woman is helped out of a residential building hit by a strike in the city center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday. (Andrii Marienko/AP)
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Ukraine is expected to shake up top ministerial positions, including replacing Oleksii Reznikov as defense minister with Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the country’s current military intelligence chief. Parliament members still have to vote on the proposed changes.

“War dictates personnel policy. Time and circumstances call for strengthening and regrouping. This is happening now and will continue to happen in the future,” David Arakhamia, leader of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s party in parliament, said on his Telegram channel Sunday.

Reznikov, a politician who has been defense minister since November 2021, is expected to become the minister for strategic industries, where he will be charged with strengthening military-industrial cooperation, Arakhamia said. Budanov’s elevation to defense minister would be “absolutely logical for wartime,” given that he is a career military officer, Arakhamia added.

The reshuffling comes amid a midwinter surge in fighting and warnings of a new Russian offensive preparing in the east. The changes also come amid a wider crackdown on corruption. Although Reznikov was not implicated in the misappropriation of funds, the defense ministry did come under scrutiny after Ukrainian journalists reported that the country’s military had paid inflated prices for food for its troops.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Key developments

  • Ukraine’s acting minister of internal affairs, Ihor Klymenko, and the acting director of the Security Service of Ukraine, Vasyl Malyuk, are expected to become permanent positions. “The logic is the same,” Arakhamia said. “Law enforcement agencies at this stage should be headed not by politicians, but by cadre law enforcement officers. The enemy is preparing to advance. We are preparing to defend ourselves and return our own.”
  • While still defense minister, Reznikov said at a news conference Sunday that Ukraine will receive fighter jets from the West eventually, but that what kind they’ll be is yet to be decided. He did not specify why he was confident that the aid would arrive. President Biden last week said the United States would not send F-16s to Ukraine, but that comment elicited skepticism from the Pentagon.
  • Reznikov also hinted at his potential resignation at the news conference, but said that would be Zelensky’s decision. “No authority sits in the same chair for their entire life, so you have to be prepared for this fate,” Reznikov said. “As a former lawyer, I’m optimistic that even if I’m not in this role, I’ll have a role that will allow me to punish the Russians.” Zelensky has recently dismissed several top officials in a shake-up; Reznikov has not been implicated in alleged corruption.
  • Crews expect to finish their work by Friday on Odessa’s electrical substation, where an accident this weekend caused a severe fire, said Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the Ukrenergo utility’s chairman. About 300,000 people had limited electricity Sunday, down from almost 500,000 who lost power initially. Kudrytskyi blamed the accident on recent Russian attacks on Ukrainian electricity infrastructure, but he did not specify an exact cause.
  • A strike in Kharkiv injured five people and damaged a university and a residential building, local officials said. Those injured were a security guard who was working at an educational institution, a 54-year-old woman and three middle-aged men, according to the regional governor. Oleh Synyehubov said rescue efforts are ongoing. Photos from the scene show residents being evacuated and emergency personnel working amid the rubble.

2. The battle for Bakhmut

  • Zelensky said Saturday that the situation was “very difficult” in eastern Ukraine, especially around Bakhmut, Vuhledar and Lyman. Ukraine has said it will keep fighting for Bakhmut, even as Russia is tightening its grip on the city. Ukrainian losses are mounting in Bakhmut, where a U.S. citizen, Pete Reed, was killed this month while working as a volunteer paramedic with an outreach group.
  • Russian forces made small advances toward Bakhmut, and the city “is increasingly isolated,” according to the British Defense Ministry. Last week, forces from the Wagner mercenary group “highly likely seized” a road connecting Bakhmut with the town of Siversk roughly 23 miles northeast, the ministry said. Now, the two main roads to Bakhmut available to Ukrainian forces are probably “both threatened by direct fire,” it added.
  • The Russian tycoon behind the Wagner Group denied rumors circulating in Russian media that Ukrainian forces are retreating from the area around Bakhmut. “Ukrainian forces are not retreating anywhere. They are fighting to the last,” Yevgeniy Prigozhin said on Telegram, according to Reuters. “Fierce battles are going on in the northern quarters for every street, every house, every stairwell.”
  • “Russia is concentrating troops and military equipment to stage a decisive offensive” around Bakhmut and the Luhansk region, the Institute for the Study of War think tank said. ISW analysts said the sustained military effort to encircle Bakhmut has prevented Russia from assembling the troops needed to attack Zaporizhzhia from the east.

3. Global impact

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin assured former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett before the war that he would not kill Zelensky, Bennett said in an interview published Saturday. Bennett told interviewer Hanoch Daum that he offered to mediate between the two while tensions were rising in 2021, and that Zelensky had requested that the then-prime minister set up a meeting. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba denounced Bennett’s comments on Twitter, calling him an “expert liar.” The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment.
  • China is sending technology such as navigation equipment and fighter jet parts to Russia, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing records provided by the D.C.-based research group C4ADS. The United States previously accused several Chinese companies and research institutes of aiding Russia’s military. Mao Ning, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing’s relationship with Moscow is “based on non-alliance, non-confrontation and non-targeting of any third party.”

4. From our correspondents

Attacking Vuhledar, Russia previews new push to seize southeastern Ukraine: About 70 miles southwest of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s embattled Donetsk region, a Russian offensive is unfolding in the city of Vuhledar. The Post’s Steve Hendrix and Serhii Korolchuk report that Vuhledar holds geographical significance: The deserted coal-mining city lies where the eastern front of the war meets Russia’s line of control to the south.

Russian fighters have made near-daily attempts to overwhelm Ukrainian forces defending the city, who have staved off the attacks with artillery, much of it donated by Western allies.

“We are more in a defensive position,” said Andrii, a machine-gunner who had just come off a five-day stint outside Vuhledar, where he slept in a log-covered trench. “We are not making gains from here.”