Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has fired key commanders of Kyiv's failed so-called "anti-terrorist operation" against Russian-backed rebels in the Donbass region of East Ukraine, including defence minister Valery Heletei. "It's time to replace the Defence Ministry's chief," Poroshenko was quoted as saying on October 12.
Heletei had become the target of massive public criticism over the failure to stem corruption in the military, to boost domestic defence equipment production, or to account for strategic military losses.
"The president has accepted the defence minister's letter of resignation and will on Monday present a defence minister nominee for approval by parliament," the presidential press service announced on October 12. Heletei's firing was regarded as inevitable after he consistently defended subordinates subsequently fired by Poroshenko, and because of the overall failure of the Ukrainian campaign in the east and the significant casualties.
On October 9 journalists reported that an order had been signed to fire General Vyacheslav Nazarkin, head of Ukraine's special operations centre and deputy head of the staff of the so-called "anti-terrorist operation”.
Poroshenko fired on October 3 the long-serving head of Ukraine's state border guard service Mykola Litvin, brother of pro-Russian former parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Litvin. The failure of Ukraine's border guard to secure Ukraine's borders is regarded as a crucial factor in the success of the Russian-backed Donbass insurgency. A third Litvin brother commanded a division of the regular Ukrainian army active in the "anti-terrorist operation" against the rebels, and is alleged by volunteer battalions fighting alongside the regulars to have fled the field of battle, leaving them in the lurch.
Poroshenko's press service said that the firing of the defence minister and head of the border guards, together with the formation of an intelligence committee chaired by former head of Ukraine's security service Ihor Smeshko, will "significantly strengthen Ukraine's law enforcement agencies and enhance its defence capability," according to Interfax.
"Heletei’s appointment will be viewed as one of Poroshenko’s biggest mistakes in his first 100 days in office. Rather than appointing someone with a career in the military, Poroshenko tapped someone from his entourage who had minimal military experience. Poroshenko needs to forego his entourage for recruiting his governing team and start selecting officials who have the skills, experience and character to govern, particularly in the sensitive military matters," wrote Concorde Capital's Zenon Zawada.
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