Ukraine pledges sweeping personnel changes as allies jostle over tanks
[1/5] Ukrainian servicemen are seen near the frontline, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near Soledar in Donetsk region, Ukraine January 23, 2023. REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak
- Zelenskiy promises changes amid corruption scandal
- Poland says it is planning to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine
- Germany hints at tank export approval as allies apply pressure
- Russia says tank debate shows NATO split
KYIV, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said personnel changes were being carried out at senior and lower levels, a move that follows the most high-profile graft allegations since Russia's invasion nearly a year ago.
Ukraine has a long history of corruption and shaky governance.
On Sunday, anti-corruption police said they had detained the deputy infrastructure minister on suspicion of receiving a $400,000 kickback over the import of generators last September, an allegation the minister denies.
Separately, a newspaper investigation accused the Defence Ministry of overpaying suppliers for soldiers' food. The supplier has said it made a technical mistake and no money had changed hands.
"There are already personnel decisions - some today, some tomorrow - regarding officials at various levels in ministries and other central government structures, as well as in the regions and in law enforcement," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on Monday.
The corruption scandal could dampen Western enthusiasm for his government just as European countries bicker over sending German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
One of the most widely used Western tanks, Ukraine says it needs them to break through Russian lines and recapture territory this year.
Ukraine and Russia are both believed to be planning spring offensives to break the deadlock in what has become a war of attrition in eastern and southern Ukraine as the first anniversary of the Russian invasion nears.
Germany, which must approve re-exports of the Leopard, has held back, wary of moves that could cause Moscow to escalate. But under strong pressure from some of its partners, Berlin has said it is willing to act quickly if there is a consensus among allies.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, whose country borders Ukraine, said on Monday that Warsaw would seek permission to send the tanks to Kyiv and was trying to get others on board. That could mean any transfer was some way off.
Germany is not blocking the re-export of Leopard tanks to Ukraine, the European Union's top diplomat said on Monday.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price at a press briefing on Monday dodged repeated questions about Germany's wariness over the supply of tanks and whether the United States would support other countries supplying Leopards without Germany's approval.
"We may be hearing more from our German allies in the coming hours, in the coming days," he told reporters.
The Kremlin said the splits in Europe over whether to provide tanks to Kyiv showed there was increasing "nervousness" within the NATO military alliance.
Before last year's invasion, fighting corruption was the principal theme for Zelenskiy, a political novice swept into power in 2019 on a promise to clean up crooked institutions.
Several Ukrainian media outlets have reported that a number of cabinet ministers and senior officials could be sacked imminently as Zelenskiy tries to make the government more effective and streamlined.
On the battlefield, following Ukrainian advances in the second half of 2022 , front lines have been largely frozen in place for two months, despite heavy losses on both sides.
Russian forces are shelling and attacking Ukrainian positions on the front lines of the conflict around the clock, Zelenskiy said in his address.
Ukraine says Western tanks would give its ground troops the mobility, protection and firepower to break through Russian defensive lines and resume their advance.
American lawmakers have pressed their government to export M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, saying even a symbolic number would help push European allies to do the same.
Britain has said it will supply 14 Challenger 2 tanks. French President Emmanuel Macron said he did not rule out the possibility of sending Leclerc tanks.
Moscow sought to apply its own pressure.
"All countries which take part, directly or indirectly, in pumping weapons into Ukraine and in raising its technological level bear responsibility" for continuing the conflict, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Russia says it is waging a "special military operation" in Ukraine to rid it of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West describe Russia's actions as an unprovoked war of aggression.