Who wants his seat forever? Military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov is rumored to be Ukraine’s next defense minister
Earlier this month, Ukrainian media started foreshadowing the likely resignation of Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov. Amid rumors and speculation about Reznikov’s next appointment and who might take his seat as defense minister, military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov emerged as Reznikov’s most likely (though perhaps less than enthusiastic) successor. Here’s what we currently know about upcoming staffing changes in the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.
Update: On February 15, 2023, Oleksiy Reznikov said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had asked him to stay on as Minister of Defense.
Verkhovna Rada lawmaker Oleksiy Honcharenko said on February 1 that there were “active discussions” about the possibility that Oleksiy Reznikov might soon be appointed justice minister. Several days later, deputy Yaroslav Zheleznyak wrote on Telegram that Verkhovna Rada Chairman Ruslan Stefanchuk had indicated that Reznikov would become strategic industries minister, while military intelligence head Kyrylo Budanov would, in turn, assume Reznikov’s current post as defense minister.
On February 5, Ukrainska Pravda and RBC Ukraine both reported on the expected changes in the government. Ukrainska Pravda also pointed out that no one in the Zelensky administration had any doubt that Reznikov “should remain on the team” in some capacity. By evening, Davyd Arakhamia, leader of the Servant of the People Verkhovna Rada faction, confirmed that Reznikov would be appointed minister for strategic industries.
But the following day, Arakhamia said that Reznikov wasn’t resigning from his position as defense minister just yet. Another Servant of the People deputy, Mariana Bezuhla, explained on Facebook that Reznikov’s resignation from the Defense Ministry was being postponed in connection with a possibly impending Russian offensive, as well as other risks Ukraine faces ahead of the critical Ramstein Air Base meeting slated to take place later this month.
Commenting on the expected changes, Reznikov remarked on Sunday evening that “no official can be eternal in his seat.” “I must be prepared for this stage to end,” he said, noting that only President Zelensky could make the decision about removing him from his post: “After the president’s decision, I will make specific decisions too. And I shall do whatever Zelensky proposes to me.” “My profession as a lawyer,” he added, “makes me optimistic about finding an interesting new project, not just to win this war, but also to punish the Russian military.”
Asked about being appointed minister for strategic industries, Reznikov told journalists that he had no expertise in that area and would probably decline such an appointment. “This is why I think it’s a mistake,” he said, referring to the speculation.
In an interview with Ukrainska Pravda on Monday, Reznikov said that he managed to obtain everything the Ukrainian military had needed except aircraft, and that he was satisfied with what he had accomplished.
Oleksiy Reznikov is an attorney with 30 years of experience. He has been Ukraine’s defense minister since November 2021. Before then, he was a deputy prime minister in charge of the reintegration of temporarily occupied territories.
Kyrylo Budanov, who many have named as the likeliest candidate for the defense minister post, has headed Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate since August 2020. According to Ukrainska Pravda, the 37-year-old is now looking for a successor, while struggling with the prospect of taking the helm of the “bureaucratic machine” that is the Defense Ministry.
According to RBC Ukraine, Budanov was educated at the Odesa Army Institute and joined the Main Intelligence Directorate’s Special Forces in 2007. In spring 2014, he took part in combat in eastern Ukraine, where he was seriously wounded. Budanov became the head of Ukraine’s defense intelligence in 2020. In 2021, he was promoted to brigadier, and then to major general in April 2022.
RBC Ukraine points out that Budanov was one of the few people to alert Ukraine to the impending invasion. In November 2021, Budanov predicted that Russia would invade Ukraine by late January or early February.
In September 2022, Budanov assisted with the prisoner exchange that returned 215 defenders to Ukraine, and sent Putin associate Victor Medvedchuk and 55 Russian POWs back to Russia.
Budanov thinks that Ukraine can regain the annexed Crimean Peninsula by military means. In a January interview with The Washington Post, Budanov said that Kyiv must do everything to “bring the Crimea home by summer.” Budanov doesn’t believe that Russia will resort to nuclear weapons in this war, since this could only lead to its own collapse. Also last month, Budanov foreshadowed an intensification of combat in March, indicating that Ukraine was preparing a major offensive across the country, “from the Crimea to the Donbas.”