The anti-ratings of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov are off the charts - about 74% of Ukrainians do not trust him, and rallies for his resignation are held with enviable regularity. Nevertheless, for seven years he was at the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, outlived one president and several prime ministers, and Volodymyr Zelensky called him an "effective minister."
But the mutual sympathy in this "alliance" was only in words: the Minister of Internal Affairs made repeated attempts to increase his influence, while Zelensky struggled to maintain a monocentric model of government. Avakov was called the strongest minister in the Cabinet of Ministers, and neither Petro Poroshenko nor Volodymyr Zelensky was able to fire him. But today Avakov stunned everyone by writing a letter of resignation.
However, a statement is not yet a resignation. The decision is up to the Rada. Although the president has already found a candidate to replace the eternal minister.
Possible reasons for resignation
Arsen Avakov served as Minister of Internal Affairs for 7 years. During this time, he managed to be remembered for the creation of volunteer battalions, the reformatting of the internal troops into the National Guard, the ups and downs of the police reform under the auspices of Georgian experts, as well as a series of high-profile scandals. It was they who undermined the minister's ratings - the level of mistrust was growing rapidly. But the paradox is that this did not in any way affect Avakov's position in the Cabinet.
The public advocated Avakov's resignation more than once: after the murder of a 5-year-old child in Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky, violence in a police station in Kagarlyk and a shootout in Knyazhichi. Avakov was also accused of inactivity in the investigation of the attempt on the life of activists and journalists, in particular on the Kherson activist Kateryna Handzyuk, as well as after a hitch in the case of journalist Pavlo Sheremet. The guarantor himself made public the lack of confidence in the latest investigation.
At a press conference for the two years of his presidency, Zelensky admitted that he was in correspondence with the person involved in the investigation, Yana Dugar, and also said:
"I will seriously talk with the Prime Minister about whether he (Avakov - ed.) can stay in such a situation."
But even despite the fact that every time the minister still managed to withstand the "storm", all these events merged for him into a single point of no return - Avakov became almost the "most important evil" in Ukrainian politics.
Too strong minister
Avakov was useful to Zelensky at least because he was one of the few guarantors of the cleanliness of the elections in 2019. However, Zelensky attempts to expand his powers were broken against Avakov's stubbornness.
Even after coming to power, Zelensky wanted to withdraw the National Guard from the system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and subordinate it personally to the president. He planned to change the heads of regional police departments. But Avakov did not go to such drastic measures.
Sources in the president's team said that Arsen Borysovych often argued with him. Zelensky's fatigue from Avakov was noted. Among other things, he was initially perceived as a stranger in the president's team.
"With all due respect to Avakov, 95 Kvartal will not perceive him as one of their own," said Police Lieutenant General Gennady Moskal.
Arsen Avakov's political partner is the oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, who has long been in favor with the Ukrainian authorities. However, after the start of an investigation into the corruption case in the United States and the scandal with Kolomoisky's attempt to help Rudy Giuliani's people sink Joe Biden in the elections, Kolomoisky was sent to the background under pressure from Washington. And the new head of the Administration, Andriy Yermak, launched a covert struggle against Avakov.
In addition to quite serious resistance to the president, Avakov, as a member of the National Security Council, ignored a number of NSDC decisions that Zelensky was so proud of.
At the meeting of the Defence Council on March 19, they discussed sanctions against legal entities holding licenses for the development of subsoil. And Avakov was one of those who opposed them, along with Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, Deputy Prime Minister for the Temporarily Occupied Territories Olexiy Reznikov and Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Dmytro Razumkov.
With all this, one should not forget that Avakov, as the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, can collect data on anyone in the state.
His dismissal would remove the only counterweight to Zelensky and, in fact, would turn the President’s Office into the sole decision-making body in the state.
Nevertheless, the topic of Avakov's resignation for a long time was limited to only a number of insiders, which in the end were never confirmed. Insiders in the president's team attributed this to the fact that no replacement was ever found for him.
The "calm before the storm" lasted long enough. The tense relationship between Zelensky and Avakov did not prevent the Cabinet of Ministers from allocating money from the "Covid fund" for additional payments to security officials for work during quarantine. Meanwhile, the president was preparing the legislative ground for the resignation of Avakov, which was supposed to pacify Avakov's "watchdogs" - radicals whose protests Zelensky was openly afraid of.
Subduing the radicals
Not so long ago, the President submitted to the Rada Initiatives 5557 and 5558 on the National Resistance. The essence of the bills is to normalize the activities of territorial defense brigades, outline the principles for the formation of volunteer brigades, and most importantly, to legally define that they will live according to the laws of the army, and they will be personally led by the president of Ukraine as the supreme commander-in-chief.
Experts, in particular political strategist Olexander Teplyuk, are convinced that Zelensky is trying to create a forceful counterbalance to other influential political and financial structures with these bills. By the way, the MPs have already voted for these initiatives in the first reading.
"Zelensky has very little control over the Interior Ministry and law enforcement agencies," the expert says.
The political strategist Kyrylo Molchanov spoke about the same motives. He is confident that the bill on "mini-armies" was supposed to make Zelensky hedge against the protests of the radicals, who could well have been taken to the street if authorities tried to remove him from office.
“The hidden context is to gradually take the reins of power of the security forces from Avakov,” he says. “This happened in the crisis year of 2007, when Yushchenko reassigned internal troops to himself. Zelensky decided to take a slightly longer path, but thereby - to insure himself against protests by radicals or nationalists, when he wants to dismiss Avakov, "says Molchanov.
Despite the fact that the second reading of the bills has not yet happened, a few weeks ago, journalists again started talking about the minister's resignation. According to Mirror of the Week, Avakov wrote a statement because their relationship with Zelensky was at an impasse.
Although Avakov has a strong lobby in the Verkhovna Rada, including in Servant of the People, serious ties with the old elite and a fairly large group of ultra-right organizations subordinate to, for sure, no troubles will happen after the vote in the Rada and the sky will not collapse on the ground. Sources say that the dismissal of the minister will take place "by agreement of the parties."
They have already found a replacement for the minister. Zelensky offered the chair of the Interior Minister to Denys Monastyrsky, the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada's law enforcement committee.
As for the future of Arsen Borysovych himself, political strategists agree that Avakov does not intend to say goodbye to his political career. There are different versions: from Avakov's desire to take part in the elections for the mayor of Kharkiv and ending with Avakov's preparation of a new political project for future elections.