On September 27, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDC), Oleksandr Danylyuk, announced his resignation, which was confirmed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. According to Danylyuk, he stepped down in protest against the actions of oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky and his former lawyer, Andriy Bohdan, who presently heads the Office of the President of Ukraine and is a member of the NSDC. For Danylyuk, whose conflict with Bohdan has dragged on for months, the last straw was the situation around Privatbank, which was nationalized in 2016 during Petro Poroshenko’s presidency. Now, with Zelenskyy in power, Kolomoysky is said to be expressing more determination to obtain a handsome compensation for Privatbank, which the Ukrainian billionaire owned until the state took it over. And Andriy Bohdan may be the key person in Kyiv to implement such a plan.
The main tasks carried out by the Office of the President (OP) of Ukraine essentially boil down to rendering legal, organizational, advisory, informational, and expert analytical assistance to the president, as well as preparing proposals on the formation and implementation of the state’s domestic and foreign policies. Apart from that, this body is also responsible for arranging communication between the president and the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian parliament), the Cabinet of Ministers, the Constitutional Court, local government bodies and other institutions. Thus, taking into account the relative power of this mainly administrative entity, it is important to point out that prior to Bohdan’s appointment as the head of the OP, President Zelenskyy and his team reportedly hoped to secure this position for their own people. Early candidates for the post included, for example, Ivan Bakanov and Sergiy Shefir—long-time associates and close business partners of Zelenskyy’s. Nevertheless, despite the incoming president’s initial staffing plans and in spite of the United States’ and the European Union’s strong criticism of individuals close to Kolomoysky, Bohdan was appointed to this post on May 22. Notably, Kolomoysky publicly “predicted” this appointment two weeks earlier, on May 10.
The level of Bohdan’s influence on President Zelenskyy and the wider Ukrainian political landscape is difficult to overstate. Aside from his direct responsibilities in the OP, he has earned a reputation as one of Ukraine’s most famous and influential politicians. Bohdan was ranked second (after Zelenskyy) in the “Top 100 Ukraine’s most powerful and influential people” rating, surpassing all of Ukraine’s richest oligarchs. Furthermore, it is hard to overlook Bohdan’s nearly constant proximity to the sitting Ukrainian head of state: rarely does Zelenskyy go on a business trip or even on vacation without Bohdan present—be it going swimming in Odesa, a weekend lunch at a restaurant, watching a soccer match, or participating in a working meeting with the director of aerospace manufacturer Yuzhmash or with Kolomoysky. On September 24, Bohdan accompanied Zelenskyy during his trip to the US and was present at the United Nations General Assembly.
According to one Ukrainian journalist, Ukraine has never had such an influential head of the Presidential Office (previously, this administrative body was officially called the Presidential Administration): “It seems that he [Bohdan] does not notice that it is Zelenskyy who is the president of Ukraine, and with all his appearances he demonstrates [his] impact on Ukrainian politics”. Apart from that, Bohdan is responsible for all communication as well as legal and political issues. Members of his office completely rely on his expertise and decisions. According to Ukrainian sources, Bohdan is behind many of the president’s major decisions—he controls virtually all processes, looks at every document that goes to Zelenskyy’s desk and controls key personnel appointments. For example, Bohdan introduced Oleksiy Honcharuk, the future prime minister of Ukraine, to Zelenskyy’s team.
Bohdan’s experience in policymaking and ties within Ukrainian political circles explain why and how he has been able to accumulate such substantial authority and power. Previously, he worked with a number of top politicians, judges and businessmen. In 2007, Bohdan tried to enter the Verkhovna Rada with the Our Ukraine–People’s Self-Defense Bloc, an electoral alliance associated with former president Viktor Yushchenko. However, he was able to work in the parliament not as a deputy but as an assistant to a Rada deputy with the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc. Under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, Bohdan worked in the government of Mykola Azarov. Immediately after the EuroMaidan Revolution, he became an advisor to and later a lawyer of the then-head of the Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration, Ihor Kolomoysky.
According to a journalist investigation, Bohdan was directly involved in the Ukrainian government’s negotiations with Russia, arguing for joining the Moscow-led Eurasian Customs Union (which became the Eurasian Economic Union, in 2015). On November 19, 2013, Bohdan (at the time, the government commissioner for anti-corruption policy), together with Mykola Azarov and Yuriy Boyko, traveled to Russia. This trip was proceeded by Azarov’s sudden decision to suspend plans to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which sparked the public upheaval that quickly transformed into the EuroMaidan. Bohdan refuses to comment on his involvement in these negotiations, but it is known that already in the midst of the mass protests in Kyiv, Mykola Azarov awarded him an honorary diploma. Critics of Bohdan’s appointment have also accused Zelenskyy of violating the lustration law that forbids individuals implicated in Viktor Yanukovych’s corrupt business practices to assume top positions in government.
The skyrocketing growth of Bohdan’s political influence within the Zelenskyy administration, combined with the already-visible scandals, suggest the growth of Kolomoysky’s power beyond the business domain. This also suggests that the private interests of powerful individuals continue to have a major impact on Ukraine’s political landscape—a phenomenon that was (it now seems, unsuccessfully) targeted by the EuroMaidan Revolution, and was attacked by Zelenskyy himself within the scope of his presidential campaign to win public support.
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