KIEV (AFP) – President Petro Poroshenko was set on Monday to name Ukraine’s fourth defence minister of the year as he positions himself for a crunch general election and high-level talks with Russia.
Poroshenko on Sunday sacked defence chief Valeriy Geletey after only three months on the job, citing a need to “seriously strengthen the security agencies and beef up defence capabilities”.
Geletey was pilloried for the August loss of more than 100 soldiers trapped near the Russian border by separatist militias who then went on to seize back lost territory with the alleged support of Moscow troops.
His dismissal highlighted a sense of failure that has enveloped the once-proud force as the six-month conflict with Russia-supported gunmen drags on and the death toll from fighting approaches 3,400.
The frontier town bloodbath soon saw Kiev agree to a Moscow-sponsored truce deal that included the rebels’ right to self-rule and exposed Poroshenko to charges of effectively ceding a vital eastern industrial region to Russia.
Poroshenko has been painstakingly polishing his defence credentials as he heads into an October 26 parliamentary ballot that could decide the success of the remaining four years of his presidential term.
Some of Ukraine’s most respected soldiers celebrated Poroshenko’s announcement as long overdue. “The dismissal of defence minister Geletey is an important signal showing that the president of Ukraine is listening to voters, and the commander in chief – to the Ukranian army,” said the volunteer Donbass Battalion chief Semen Semenchenko.
Poroshenko told the nation he was taking decisive steps to end the country’s worst crisis since its 1991 independence and defend Ukraine’s interests in the face of Russia’s “aggression”.
His message of strength and peace came as Ukraine heads into a crucial week of high-level negotiations that begins in Paris today.
“These will not be easy negotiations, but I am ready for them,” Poroshenko said in a Sunday evening television address. “My goal is our country’s unshakable independence, its territorial integrity, the inviolability of its borders, and the return of peace,” he said.