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July 4, 2014

Ukraine’s president shakes up military leadership

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko shook up his faltering military Thursday, appointing a new defense minister and top general while speaking angrily about the years of decay and corruption that left the forces unable to deal effectively with the well-armed eastern insurgency.

His tougher tone, analysts say, reflects public pressure to continue the fight against the insurgents in the regions bordering Russia— even with a rickety military that’s had little success.

Poroshenko denounced the “complete collapse” of the government’s ability to supply the armed forces in a sometimes angry, finger-wagging speech in parliament.

He won quick approval for his choice of former top police official Valery Heletey as defense minister, replacing Mikhailo Koval. He also tapped Lt. Gen. Viktor Muzhenko as chief of the military’s general staff and Yury Kosyuk, an agriculture magnate and one of Ukraine’s richest men, to oversee defense issues in the presidential administration and to help “purge the army of thieves and grafters.” Accusations of corruption have been rife as Kiev’s operation against the rebels continues.

“Today the revival of the army is starting from scratch, an army which is capable of fighting and winning,” Poroshenko said in parliament.

Poroshenko’s shakeup underscores the complex job he faces of making peace overtures and at the same time suppressing the insurgency that threatens to tear his country apart or create a permanent twilight zone beyond government control.

Other pressures come from outside: Ukraine and the West say Russia is helping arm the rebels and letting its citizens cross the border to fight, while key allies France and Germany are pushing Poroshenko to pursue talks over attacks.

President Barack Obama consulted with German Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone Thursday about how to get peace talks back on track. The White House said they discussed diplomatic efforts to bring about a lasting ceasefire and agreed that the U.S. and Europe should levy further costs on Russia if it doesn’t de-escalate the situation quickly.

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