Ukraine leader sacks defence minister ahead of Russia talks

Ukraine leader sacks defence minister ahead of Russia talks
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko delivers a speech in front of a new tank at the Malyshev factory, known for its production of military vehicles, in Kharkiv.

KIEV - President Petro Poroshenko will nominate his fourth defence minister of the year Monday, after dismissing the incumbent ahead of high-level talks with Moscow aimed at bringing peace to the Western-backed former Soviet state.

Poroshenko's official website said he would nominate a new defence chief after "accepting the resignation" of Valeriy Geletey, who was only appointed in July.

The sacking highlighted a sense of failure that has enveloped the once-proud force as the six-month conflict with pro-Russian rebels drags on and the death toll from fighting approaches 3,400.

The military's performance has humiliated Ukrainians who had been celebrating the success of a bloody popular uprising that ousted the then Kremlin-backed leader in February and propelled Kiev on its Westward course.

Geletey's removal threatens to undermine Poroshenko's position ahead of a crunch meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Milan on Friday that will also include German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Kremlin said Merkel - a vocal Poroshenko ally who helped arrange the two leaders' first meeting on the sidelines of a Normandy summit in June - called Putin on Sunday "to discuss preparations" for Milan.

Poroshenko told the nation he had "no illusions" going into his fourth meeting with Putin since rising to power in May.

"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.

Putin appeared to strengthen his hand with the order on Saturday for 17,600 Russian troops deployed near Ukraine to return to their bases - a decision analysts linked to his desire to see biting Western sanctions suspended or at least rolled back.

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