KYIV, Ukraine – Ukraine’s president shook up the leadership of his poorly performing military on Thursday, appointing a new defence minister and top general tasked with stamping out the corruption that has left the country’s armed forces faltering before a pro-Russian insurgency.
Petro Poroshenko denounced the “complete collapse” of the government’s ability to supply the armed forces in a sometimes angry speech in parliament.
He won approval for his choice of Col. Gen. Valery Heletey as defence minister, replacing Mikhailo Koval. Lt. Gen. Viktor Muzhenko was appointe as chief of the military’s general staff.
Poroshenko additionally named Yury Kosyuk, an agriculture magnate and one of Ukraine’s richest men, to oversee defence issues in the presidential administration, and promised to “purge the army of thieves and grafters.” Accusations of corruption have been rife as Kyiv’s operation against the rebels continues.
Kyiv has struggled to assert control over the country’s industrial east, where fighting between government troops and pro-Russia separatists has claimed more than 400 lives since April. The army has been unable to prevent rebels from occasionally cruising the countryside in armoured vehicles or to dislodge them from the occupied town of Slovyansk.
At one point, Poroshenko was interrupted by a woman in the hall shouting that the Ukrainian army was killing children. After a moment’s pause he answered forcefully that “we will not tolerate any attempt to humiliate and dishonour our army,” winning loud applause from the deputies.
Ukraine’s UNIAN news agency identified the woman as a deputy from a party with support among Russian speakers. This could not immediately be confirmed.