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Ukraine to get its fourth defense minister so far this year

Ukraine to get its fourth defense minister so far this year
Ukrainian Defense Minister Valery Heletey, shown last month, will be replaced, President Petro Poroshenko announced Sunday. His successor, to be named Monday, will be the fourth military chief in embattled Ukraine this year. (Genya Savilov / AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko plans to replace the defense minister of his embattled country with the fourth person to hold the position this year, according to a statement posted on the presidential website on Sunday.

"The president stressed that it is time to change the leadership of the military," the terse statement said, adding only that Poroshenko would "make a presentation to the parliament" on the appointment of a new defense chief on Monday.

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"I am sure that there will be no delays with the voting for a new minister. I expect this will happen on Tuesday," Poroshenko said, without identifying his choice to run the beleaguered national defenses.

Poroshenko shook up his defense and security hierarchies just three months ago. Valery Heletey, who Russia Today television and the TASS news agency said tendered his resignation to Poroshenko on Friday, was named defense minister on July 3 to replace Mykhailo Koval, who had been appointed by the interim government to oversee defense after the toppling of Ukraine's former president, Viktor Yanukovich, and his ministers in February.

Since Yanukovich, an ally of the Kremlin, was driven into Russian exile by a popular rebellion demanding closer ties to Western Europe, pro-Russia separatists and Russian mercenary and military forces have been seizing eastern Ukrainian territory and rejecting rule from Kiev.

A belated government push against the rebels that began in April has done little to dislodge the separatists from their strongholds in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. More than 3,700 people have been killed, many of them civilians caught in the cross-fire, including 11 people killed near Donetsk on Saturday, according to a TASS report. Nearly 1,000 Ukrainian government troops have been among the dead.

A European-brokered cease-fire ordered a halt to hostilities on Sept. 5, and fighting has died down in some areas. But the Russia-backed separatists have waged nearly daily onslaughts to capture the Donetsk airport, which has been all but destroyed in the fierce artillery exchanges. Russian and separatist troop movements also have been reported by Kiev along the Sea of Azov, a land bridge from the Russian mainland to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized and annexed in March.

Poroshenko dissolved the divided and dysfunctional parliament in August and set new elections for the Supreme Rada for Oct. 26. The separatists have refused to allow voting in the areas they control and have called for an election a week or two later to seat local assemblies for what they claim are independent republics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin late Saturday ordered thousands of Russian troops deployed along the border with Ukraine to return to their bases, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Moscow. Peskov said 17,600 Russian troops have been in the Rostov region to take part in military exercises but would be leaving the area now.

Putin has claimed repeatedly during the Ukraine crisis to be helping de-escalate the conflict by moving his forces away from the volatile border region. But Ukrainian government officials and NATO and European security observers have said previous claimed Russian troop withdrawals were never completed.

Follow @cjwilliamslat for the latest international news 24/7

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