Budanov, Head Of Ukraine Military Intel, May Replace Reznikov As Defense Minister

If appointed, Budanov would take over Ukraine’s defense ministry at a key point in the defense against Russia’s full-on invasion.

byHoward Altman|
(Photo by Serhiy Morgunov for The Washington Post via Getty Images)


Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, currently head of his nation’s Defense Intelligence directorate (GUR), confirmed to The War Zone Sunday morning that he may replace Oleksii Reznikov as defense minister this week.

“We know information about a possible nomination for me on Thursday for the position of Minister of Defense,” Budanov told The War Zone. “It’s a huge challenge for me.” 

Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine's Defense Intelligence directorate (GUR), confirmed to The War Zone he is being considered as the next defense minister. (Teleconference screencap)

Budanov’s comments to The War Zone Sunday morning came in response to questions we asked him about reporting by Ukrainska Pravda on Sunday that he is likely to be named defense minister after Reznikov leaves that job.

"I have not had any conversations regarding my resignation from this position," Reznikov told Ukraine Pravda. "I will repeat my answer to other media: ‘Every official should realize that they are not in office for life. They have to begin a stage and finish it’."

"So, I am ready for any turn of events. I am not ashamed of what I have done at all. I will definitely have something to show [from the things] I have done. And we'll see what happens. But every time I talk to Ukrainska Pravda something really happens, it's an interesting sign."

Budanov, now 37, was appointed by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to his job running Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency on Aug. 5, 2020.

Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov attends the funeral ceremony held for the victims of a helicopter crash in the city of Brovary, on Jan. 21, 2023, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo by Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A veteran of the simmering eight-year conflict with Russia that preceded the full-scale invasion, Budanov began serving in the Donbas region shortly after Russia and its separatist allies there began attacking in 2014. He was wounded twice in that fighting, once in 2015 and again a year later while on missions for the special operations forces GUR.

Given his position and close relationship with Zelensky, Budanov has been a frequent target of assassination attempts.

In 2019, a bomb was placed under his car but detonated prematurely and there have been at least 10 assassination attempts, a source close to Budanov recently told The Washington Post.

“Being marked for death has led him to live a cautious personal existence, but risky operations are still in his wheelhouse,” the newspaper reported. “Budanov lives at his office. He rarely goes out in public. Classical music plays round-the-clock in his office — perhaps a defense against any attempts to listen in on what is said inside.”

The head of Ukraine's military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov at his office (Photo by Serhiy Morgunov for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Back in November 2021, Budanov predicted the basic nature and timing of Russia’s full-on invasion.

Moscow pushed back hard against his assessment, but then proved him right on Feb. 24 when it began what has been a devastating and deadly war on its smaller neighbor.

Since then, Budanov has provided other valuable insights into Ukraine’s efforts to fight back, including how Ukraine was striking the long, stalled column of military vehicles advancing toward Kyiv and how Ukraine hit a Russian transport ship in the port of Berdyansk with a ground-based missile.

In October 2022, Budanov spoke to The War Zone for a wide-ranging hour-long discussion about when and how the war will end, whether the Russians will use nuclear weapons, when Ukraine will attempt to retake Crimea and much, much more.

Budanov would take over at a key point in Ukraine’s year-long defense against the full-on Russian invasion and be tasked with running a bureaucracy far bigger and more complex than the GUR, which is just one piece of the MoD.

After being pushed back in the Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts, Russia is beginning to make incremental gains in the Donbas.

On Friday, Budanov’s spokesman reiterated the GUR assertion that the ongoing Russian push in the Donbas is a reaction to Vladimir Putin’s order to recapture the entire territory by March.

"We expect very active events in February-March,” GUR spokesman Adrii Yusov said Friday, according to the GUR Telegram channel. “Putin's task is to seize Donbas by March. Nothing will work. These dates have already been postponed many times. The intensity that we are currently observing in Donbas is an attempt to implement these plans.”

Meanwhile, as head of the defense ministry, Budanov would also oversee the implementation of new donated weapons systems into the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Many western allies have promised and in some cases already have delivered tanks, other armored vehicles, multiple launch rocket systems, air defense systems and a wide range of other weapons. And on Friday the U.S. announced it would send Ukraine an undisclosed number of Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs (GLSDB).

The GLSDB has a range of around 94 miles, or 150 kilometers.

That's roughly over double the range of the guided munitions fired by the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), and variants thereof, and the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). You can read more about how GBSDB will help Ukraine in our deep dive here.

Combined, these weapons could help Ukraine realize its goal of retaking Crimea, something that Budanov told The War Zone will happen this year.

But whether any of those weapons arrive in time to help with that, or even against a looming new Russian offensive the GUR has been warning about, remains to be seen. It will take months, if not a year, for Ukrainians to be trained on and provided with some of these items.

Regardless, this job would be bigger than any Budanov has undertaken before. His nomination would be another sign of the level of confidence Zelensky has in his abilities.

We will certainly keep an eye on this developing story.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com