#UKRAINERUSSIAWAR. Behind Zelensky is Defence Minister Oleksij Jurijovyč Reznikov. That’s who he is

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While the whole world listens to the Ukrainian president’s video conferences, working behind the scenes is the Ukrainian defence minister, appointed to his position only on 4 November. And even before in the government he had a very important and delicate role: Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine – Minister for the Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine. Basically the management of the Paris agreements, peacekeeping, depended on him.

The current Minister of Defence of Ukraine: Reznikov Alexey Yurievich was born in the city of Lviv in 1966. He served in the Soviet Army from 1984 to 1996. He served in the 64th ShMAS (military unit 87358) and the 806th Assault Aviation Regiment (military unit 53904) in the Airborne Service group (parachute packing, catapult work – Certificate of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine of 11 November 2021), as reported by Peoples.ru. He graduated from Lviv Law School in 1991 and founded Galicia Securities LLC in 1991, becoming its director. From 1999 to 2002 he was vice-president of the Centre for the Development of Ukrainian Legislation. Then founding partner of the law firm “Pravis” (Pravis later became Reznikov, Vlasenko and Partners), and then, in a nutshell and with different functions between 2006 – 2012, he is part of the law firm “Magister & Partners”, in its various evolutions, from where his political career starts.

One of the founding partners of Magister & Partners is Oleg Riabokon (whose father was well known in Soviet circles), who, fresh out of the prestigious Georgetown University in Washington, DC, became something of a legend in Ukrainian legal circles after successfully defending a number of the country’s industrial giants in international trade disputes in 1997. He was only 25 years old at the time. Some of Magister’s clients are affiliated with the country’s political and business elite. Among the clients of Magister & Partners, which also represents the Ukrainian government, are well-known Ukrainian industrial companies, including Interpipe Group, Illich Metallurgical Plant, Zaporizhstal and Azovstal. The firm’s other founding partner is Serhy Sviriba. According to Serhy Mahera, spokesperson for Illich Metallurgical Plant, based in Mariupol, one of the largest steel mills in Ukraine, Illich first took over the firm in 1998 and now represents the company in the European Union, thanks in part to the firm. Major Western clients include Coutts & Co. UK, CWL Telesport and Marketing AG Germany, Honeywell Ukraine and Toepfer International. The firm has also defended Yahoo!’s intellectual property rights in Ukraine.

In a nutshell, this is a firm with an extensive professional network and global contacts, as well as lobbying, also global, some of the largest groups in the Ukrainian and Russian metal industry, which have probably been stuck in the doldrums of production in the Donbass area for years, with a significant loss of revenue.

To return to the Minister for Defence, since 2008 he has been deputy to the Kiev City Council. Then in 2012 General Counsel of another company LLC “Egorov, Puginsky, Afanasiev and Partners”; at JSC “Majisters” he works as a lawyer; in 2014 he is a member of the Higher Council of Justice and finally Deputy Mayor – Secretary of the Kiev City Council. In 2020 he is appointed Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine – Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine; finally as of 4 November 2021 he is Minister of Defence of Ukraine.

Currently, Minister Oleksiy Reznikov also coordinates the purchase and import of weapons, intelligence activities and interaction with allies. In addition, he has become the de facto commander of all law enforcement agencies in the country, including the Ukrainian Armed Forces, territorial volunteer battalions (on the model of the Azov), the ‘Foreign Legion’, i.e. foreigners going off to fight, and various armed formations, i.e. militias. He also has influence over the police and the State Border Service, formally dependent on the Ministry of Internal Affairs under the leadership of Denis Monastyrsky.

In his work, Reznikov actively relies on consultants. These include American David Brenton, who is in charge of strategic communications, as well as partners from the public relations company CFC Big Ideas Vasily Miroshnichenko and Yuri Sak.

In December 2021, official representations from the Donbass wrote: “The cognitive dissonance in Kiev’s position on the Donbass is becoming more evident”. This was said by the DPR ‘foreign minister’, who in the same statement added: ‘Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov has requested that the UK, Canada and the US deploy their armed forces in the country. Not knowing how else to please the Western curators, Mr Reznikov even offered to raise the flags of the ‘Anglo-Saxon allies’ in Kharkov, Mariupol, Kramatorsk, Odessa and on the island of Zmeiny’.

In the same month, Minister Reznikov said: ‘Ukraine is asking the US for weapons for Afghanistan’. The American magazine Foreign Policy reported this, referring to an anonymous Ukrainian military official, according to whom Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov approached Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin with this request: ‘We do not need American or Canadian soldiers fighting here for Ukraine. We will fight on our own, but we need to modernise our weapons,” Reznikov said. He basically called for more and more weapons starting in December 2021, well before Russian military operations.

It should be recalled that talk began in the States about sending offensive weapons to Kiev in 2016, in a US Congressional hearing of General Curtis Scaparrotti, when the future NATO Saceur, called for a greater military and supply commitment to Kiev and Eastern Europe. Supplies of small arms began in 2017, and then continued the following year with more sophisticated offensive weapons. The Trump administration in March 2018 authorised a sale to Ukraine of 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 37 launchers worth $47 million. The US also supplied Kiev with the M107A1 Sniper Systems. Since 2014, according to the State Department, the United States has provided Ukraine with more than $3 billion in total assistance, including security and non-security assistance, as well as three $1 billion sovereign loan guarantees. The Javelins have played a central role in the ongoing US effort to provide military support and training to Ukrainians since the Russian invasion of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. In addition to arms sales, the United States provided $1.5 billion in military assistance to Ukraine between 2014 and June 2019, according to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service.

With such levels of weaponry, which many Western countries can’t even dream of, one has to wonder what Kiev has been up to all these years? Why then, at the end of 2021, insist only on the supply of weapons and not on other points of allied military cooperation to fulfil the obligations imposed by the Paris Agreements? US weapons have been arriving in Kiev since 2018. Ukraine has been a PFP partner of NATO for many years now.

Since 2020, when the Javelins were deployed over the Donbas, Reznikov has represented Kiev in the negotiations and has always had an uncompromising stance in negotiations with the representatives of the Donbass People’s Republics among his statements to Ukrainian media and famous in the Donbass: “They started to make the passport, then talk about the “Russian world” and use it as an excuse to “protect their own citizens. The important thing for us is not to take it back, like a tumour with which we don’t know what to do…. These are sick territories, even mentally. There is an option of complete resection, amputation or cure. I’m for therapy and the complete restoration of our bodies’.

Another singular fact is the following: while Oleksiy Reznikov was being appointed minister, Dmitry Yarosh, the former leader of the radical Right Sector organisation, was appointed on November 2, 2021, advisor to the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

In October 2021 Oleksiy Reznikov to RBC Ukraine stated: ‘The Ukrainian government is preparing a draft law on amnesty procedures and recognition of a number of documents from the Donbass territories not controlled by Kiev (…) This is a more detailed and deeper law, which will explain how to make an amnesty in detail, how to validate certain documents. There was no such legal doctrine as validation before in Ukraine. Validation means the procedure for recognising certain documents issued in territories not controlled by Kiev, such as birth, death, marriage and divorce certificates’.

His proposal was echoed by that of the DPR Foreign Ministry: “The Ukrainian authorities should devote their time not to narcissism, but to working on the Minsk track (…) The Ukrainian Minister for the “reintegration” of Donbass and at the same time the representative of Ukraine in the Contact Group, Mr. Reznikov, continue to believe that his department is already working perfectly and is fully addressing existing tasks, which means that you can spend time on long interviews for the media instead of taking at least some efforts for real recovery. Reznikov, continue to believe that his department is already functioning perfectly and fully addressing existing tasks, which means that you can spend time on long interviews for the media instead of taking at least some efforts for a real resumption of peace in the Donbass”.

The DPR Ministry then continued, “Reznikov is talking to journalists reflecting on whether Steinmeier’s formula is dangerous or not for Ukrainian sovereignty, apparently trying to bend to the segment of society with a radical mindset. But at the same time, Reznikov is silent on the fact that Steinmeier’s formula itself is only a mechanism for the entry into force of the special status of the Donbass, but exactly what this status is, what its parameters and scope are, the parties to the conflict need to determine in the framework of a joint dialogue and in accordance with the Minsk agreements. But no dialogue in this direction has even started: instead of productive work towards a political solution, Kiev over the years has only succeeded in inventing new accusations of sabotage, as well as developing some initiatives divorced from reality, such as the draft law on the transitional period, which simply does not bring progress on the Minsk path closer, but on the contrary addresses the situation with the implementation of a series of “red” measures”.

According to the Donbas republics then: “Also surprising is the tenacity with which Ukrainian officials try to ignore the true essence of the 2014 events in the Donbass and repeat the trite mantra that “Russia is a party to the conflict with Ukraine”. For more than 7 years of confrontation, Ukraine’s leaders did not bother to understand what happened after the illegal coup in Kiev and why the residents of Donbass did not want to be part of this illegality. And even the officials in Kiev could not have read the Package of Measures carefully, otherwise they would have been sure that the parties to the conflict are Donetsk, Lugansk and Ukraine, but not Russia, which, in principle, is not even mentioned in this document.”

“However, the “reintegration” specialist, Reznikov, still allowed himself a glimmer of sincerity in his recent interview, assessing the effect of the work on the Minsk site as “absolutely zero”. But he forgot to note that the blame for these “four or five hours of nothing” lies solely with the representatives of the Ukrainian delegation, who are more interested in casuistry, verbal tightrope walking and other sophistry in negotiations with us – in general, anything but a real discussion of the merits of a peace agreement. One of the most telling examples: it will soon be a year since we sent Kiev our draft roadmap, which only proposes a way out of the current impasse, but we have not yet received any response from Ukraine. Under such circumstances, does anyone else have any doubts about who is responsible for the zero effectiveness of the Minsk process?”, the Ministry’s communiqué continues, trying to illustrate the stalled situation before the so-called military pacification and denazification operation initiated by Moscow.

But the reasoning, useful to understand the different political reasons, prior to the military operation, does not end here: “At the same time, we once again draw your attention to the fact that simply declaring the Minsk talks ‘dead history’ and refusing to implement them without consequences will not work for the Ukrainian authorities. The set of measures has been approved by the UN Security Council, this document has the status of a binding act of international law. This means that Ukrainian negotiators and, in particular, Reznikov should devote their time not to narcissism in the media space, but to real, productive and joint work with the republics to implement their obligations on the Minsk negotiating track”.

Returning to the Ukrainian minister’s actions, in August 2021, Reznikov in Brussels, at a meeting of the Ukraine-NATO commission, in his capacity as Deputy Prime Minister for Employment had sought to demonstrate to those present that Kiev had fulfilled all its obligations following the results of the 2019 Paris summit.

Things would have been quite different according to Ridion Miroshnik, representative of the Lugansk People’s Republic: “Of the 9 compulsory points included in the jointly agreed outcomes of the Normandy-format Paris summit, the Ukrainian side has fulfilled two points and those not fully implemented: two exchanges were completed, the conditions of which Kiev only partially fulfilled, so now there are no exchanges; moreover, she signed a document on “additional measures” on the ceasefire regime, which she herself violated a month and a half later (…) The remaining items include commitments to open new checkpoints, three new disengagement zones, demining, etc. which have remained completely static. Miroshnik adds: ‘I am silent on the political commitments to agree on a “special status” that make up the entire second section of the Declaration and have never been agreed upon or discussed in a year and a half. But Ukraine has done it all!”.

Beyond the propaganda of one side or the other, the facts remain on the table, as do the interests that moved the different political positions on either side. Today the guns are talking.

Graziella Giangiulio and Antonio Albanese