Ukraine on Thursday appointed a new defense minister with a mandate to strengthen the army, as the country remains locked in conflict with pro-Russia separatists.
Oleksiy Reznikov, a lawyer with limited military experience, replaces Andriy Taran, who resigned earlier this week reportedly for health reasons.
A total of 273 lawmakers in the 450-seat Ukrainian parliament voted to approve the candidacy of Reznikov, who was nominated by President Volodymyr Zelensky. Introducing Reznikov to lawmakers in parliament, Zelensky said that his main task would be “to strengthen the defense capacity of the army.”
The Ukrainian army is locked in a simmering conflict with pro-Russia separatists in the country’s east that erupted after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.
“The cost of temporary occupation must constantly increase” for the separatists, Reznikov, 55, told lawmakers ahead of the vote. He added that a strong army is “one of the most powerful diplomatic” tools, vowing “to improve military compatibility with NATO countries.”
Reznikov had been working as the minister for reintegration of separatist-held areas from March 2020, and represented Ukraine in peace talks with Russia and OSCE monitors.
His predecessor Taran was criticized for insufficient reform of the country’s under-resourced military.
The appointment comes after Ukraine on Monday denied reports of a Russian military build-up near its eastern border that raised fears of a new escalation in fighting with the separatists.
After a spike in violence early this year, Russia in March amassed around 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders.
Under pressure from Kyiv’s Western allies, Moscow later announced a pullback, but both Ukraine and the United States said at the time the withdrawal was limited.
The conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives to date.