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Several senior Ukrainian officials, including front-line governors, lost their jobs Tuesday in a corruption scandal plaguing President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's government as it grapples with the nearly 11-month-old Russian invasion.

Ukraine's biggest government shake-up since the war began came as U.S. officials said Washington was poised to approve supplying Kyiv with M1 Abrams tanks, with international reluctance eroding toward sending tanks to the battlefront against the Russians.

Zelenskyy was elected in 2019 on an anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform in a country long gripped by graft, and the new allegations come as Western allies are channeling billions of dollars to help Kyiv fight against Moscow.

Officials in several countries, including the United States, have demanded more accountability for the aid, given Ukraine's rampant corruption. While Zelenskyy and his aides portray the resignations and firings as proof of their efforts to crack down, the wartime scandal could play into Moscow's political attacks on the leadership in Kyiv.

On the capital's streets, Serhii Bochkarev, a 28-year-old translator, welcomed the moves.

“Corruption during war is totally unacceptable because people are giving their lives to fight Russians and to defend the motherland,” he said.

The shake-up even touched Zelenskyy's office. Its deputy head, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, prominent for his frequent battlefield updates, quit as the president pledged to address allegations of graft — including some related to military spending — that embarrassed authorities and could slow Ukraine’s efforts to join the European Union and NATO.

Tymoshenko asked to be relieved of his duties, according to an online decree signed by Zelenskyy and Tymoshenko’s own social media posts. Neither cited a reason for the resignation.

Deputy Defense Minister Viacheslav Shapovalov also resigned, local media reported, alleging his departure was linked to a scandal involving the purchase of food for Ukraine's armed forces. Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko also quit.

In all, four deputy ministers and five governors of front-line provinces were set to leave their posts, the country’s cabinet secretary said on the Telegram messaging app.

Authorities did not announce any criminal charges. There was no immediate explanation.

The departures thinned government ranks already diminished by the deaths of the interior minister, who oversaw Ukraine’s police and emergency services, and others in the ministry’s leadership in a helicopter crash last week.

Tymoshenko joined the presidential office in 2019 after working on Zelenskyy’s media strategy during his presidential campaign. He was under investigation in connection with his personal use of luxury cars and was among officials a National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine investigator linked in September to the embezzlement of humanitarian aid worth more than $7 million earmarked for the southern Zaporizhzhia region. He has denied the allegations.

On Sunday, a deputy minister at the infrastructure ministry, Vasyl Lozynsky, was fired for alleged participation in a network embezzling budget funds. Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency detained him while he was receiving a $400,000 bribe for helping to fix contracts for restoring facilities battered by Russian missile strikes, according to Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov.

Meanwhile, after months of reluctance, the US and Germany reportedly plan to send tanks to Ukraine, in what Kyiv hopes will be a game-changer on the battlefield.

US President Joe Biden's administration is expected to announce plans to send at least 30 M1 Abrams tanks.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also reportedly decided to send at least 14 Leopard 2 tanks.

Russia's ambassador to the US blasted the news as "another blatant provocation".

Ukrainian officials have said such shipments could help its forces seize back territory from the Russians.

Until now, the US and Germany have resisted internal and external pressure to send their tanks to Ukraine.

Washington has cited the extensive training and maintenance required for the high-tech Abrams.

Berlin has expressed caution about Nato becoming a direct party to the war with Russia.

Citing anonymous sources, US media outlets are reporting that an announcement regarding Abrams shipments to Ukraine could come as soon as Wednesday.

Unnamed officials were cited as saying at least 30 of the vehicles could be sent.

The timeline of any potential delivery, however, remains unclear, and it could take months or even years for the US combat vehicles to reach the battlefront.

According to US media reports, German officials had privately insisted they would only agree to the transfer of Leopard 2s to Ukraine if the US also sent M1 Abrams.

"If the Germans continue to say we will only send or release Leopards on the conditions that Americans send Abrams, we should send Abrams," Democratic Senator Chris Coons, a Biden ally, told Politico on Tuesday.

Britain has already said it will send Challenger Two tanks to Ukraine.

Poland this week said it wants to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, but they are made in Germany and so Berlin needs to approve their export.

At least 16 European and Nato countries have the Leopard 2 tanks, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Not all will send tanks to Ukraine - but Mr Scholz's apparent decision now means they can, should they wish.

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25/01/2023
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