Ukraine’s presidential elections were closely followed not only by the three contenders for the second round (Volodymyr Zelensky, Petro Poroshenko, and Yulia Tymoshenko). There was also a fourth player, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. The experts agree that if Petro Poroshenko won, Avakov’s fate would be unenviable. At least, this minister would say goodbye to his cherished. But the people made a bet on Zelensky, thus leaving Avakov a chance.
At the very beginning of the presidential campaign, Arsen Avakov was involved in an open confrontation with the still acting head of state. De facto, he indirectly intimidated Poroshenko, promising to expose any attempts of the authorities to fraud the elections. Obviously, Avakov was going to act in the interests of Poroshenko’s opponents; not only of Yulia Tymoshenko but also of Volodymyr Zelensky. The most insightful commentators rightly noted that Avakov prudently makes bets on different players. A week before the second round of elections, Arsen Avakov did not rule out that President Poroshenko could be held criminally liable. Avakov then called himself a “political minister,” although the official of his rank should not have any public political preferences or be an engaged figure. Consciously or unconsciously, the head of Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs hinted that he was ready for negotiations and bargaining.
One of our sources argues that the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs has a great bunch of incriminating facts against Poroshenko. The main compromising evidence on Poroshenko concerns the events of Euromaidan 2013-2014 and backroom negotiations with Ukraine's fled ex-president Yanukovych.
Does Avakov dream of becoming a prime minister (or even a president)? Probably only he knows it. In one of his interviews, Arsen Avakov strongly rejected the premiere ambitions. “Nonsense,” he said. But at the same time, he added: “I don’t plan so far that I’ll be appointed a minister or prime minister by this or that president. You must hear me: the president does not appoint the PM but the parliament does. And we have parliamentary elections in the fall. When a parliament is elected, there will be a new coalition; only then we can talk about the composition of the government.”
President really has not promised Avakov anything. At least publicly. But it is not a secret that Avakov is connected with Zelensky. They are connected directly, through the speaker of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Anton Herashchenko, and indirectly through oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky. As for Herashchenko, he is often called a mediator between Zelensky’s headquarters and Arsen Avakov. These ties were revealed thanks to the investigation of the Our Money with Denis Bigus investigative program.
As for Avakov, he goes beyond his authority, commenting, for example, the Zelensky’s coming to power and hypothetical amendments to the Constitution. “I believe that if Zelensky wins the election, the transition to a parliamentary republic will be accelerated. Even this parliament, in my opinion, is ready to support a parliamentary republic,” the minister noted a couple of weeks before the second round.
Arguments about a parliamentary republic would be more suitable for a person who aspires to occupy a higher position than the chief police officer. However, Andriy Zolotariov, the head of the “Third Sector” analytical center, believes that Avakov is not bidding for the premiership today. “I doubt that after the October elections to the Verkhovna Rada he will become PM, but his chances of retaining the post of head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and expanding his political influence are very high,” the expert concludes.
“He might keep his position of the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. This office completely satisfies him. Although, perhaps, in order to expand his penetrating ability into the system, he would prefer leading the Security Service or Prosecutor General’s office,” Ruslan Bortnyk, political scientist, assures.
Zelensky falls into such ticks, and it does not carry anything good to the new head of state. But in terms of the absence of his own team, its niche is occupied by the deft “outsiders.” Arsen Avakov is one of them. His interaction with president Zelensky might turn for the latter as the first serious test for independence and ability to resist external influence.