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Ukraine gets new defence minister to strengthen army

By AFP - Nov 04,2021 - Last updated at Nov 04,2021

Participants of the war with Russia backed separatists on the east of Ukraine, activists of Right Sector, far-right movement hold placards and flags as they shout slogans during their rally called ‘Stop the creeping occupation!’ outside the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev on Thursday (AFP photo)

KIEV — Ukraine on Thursday appointed a new defence 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.

In a broader government reshuffle, three more ministers were appointed by parliament on Thursday.

A total of 273 lawmakers in the 450-seat Ukrainian chamber voted to approve the candidacy of Reznikov, who was nominated by President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Introducing Reznikov to the parliament, Zelensky said that his main task would be "to strengthen the defence 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.

A lawmaker from the Zelensky's parliamentary faction, Iryna Vereshchuk, was appointed as Reznikov's successor in the reintegration ministry later in the day.

The decision was followed by another two changes in the government, with a new strategy industries minister and economy minister approved by lawmakers.

Reznikov's predecessor, Taran, was criticised 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 the 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 Kiev's Western allies, Moscow later announced a pullback, but both Ukraine and the United States said at the time that the withdrawal was limited.

The conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives to date.

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