President Zelensky’s ambitions are growing step by step. He wants to overstep his authority and to encroach on the powers of the minister, who, according to the president himself, ensured fair elections in the country. At one time, Petro Poroshenko was criticized for not wanting to share power and weakening not only opponents but also allies. Zelensky seems to be on the same road. Arsen Avakov, who under Peter Poroshenko was considered a guard against excessive power claims of the president, can now lose the control over the National Guard
Zelensky has created an initiative to remove the National Guard from subordination to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and transfer it directly to the head of state. The bill contains the provision that "the activities of the National Guard are regulated by the president through the commander of the National Guard that directly supervises the National Guard."
Thus, the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is neglected. And the National Guard, that includes 50-60,000 people, would stop being the "army of the minister", independent of the president. However, this will happen if the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine supports the corresponding bill.
Cardinal’s Guards vs. King’s Musketeers
Zelensky bill lays down the new structure of the National Guard. There is a guard itself, it has its own commander and there is a president to whom he is accountable. The explanatory note reads that its adoption will strengthen the role of the president. And this, they say, is especially relevant during the war: so that the National Guard is headed not by a power minister, but by the head of state, he is also the supreme commander in chief.
In general, the National Guard had two periods in its formation. The first lasted from 1991 to 2000. Almost immediately after independence, in the fall of 1991, Soviet internal troops were disbanded, and the National Guard was created on their basis. But in the early days of 2000, that is, shortly after Leonid Kuchma was re-elected for his second presidential term, the National Guard was dissolved. Why did it happen?
Bogdan Petrenko, the deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute for the Study of Extremism, recalls that, firstly, the then National Guard was small and did not play a big role. Secondly, he says, Kuchma had Yuriy Kravchenko, the then Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, completely loyal to him, later accused of involvement in journalist Gongadze murder. Zelensky does not have his own Kravchenko. And he clearly does not trust Avakov. And it will no longer be possible to dissolve the National Guard (which was restored in 2014) due to the war going on.
It's a poor pupil who doesn't overtake his master
Arsen Avakov is a strange figure. He does not have his own party or his own faction in the parliament, this official retains a tangible influence on the events. There is, of course, an explanation for this, which lies in Avakov’s relationship with oligarch Igor Kolomoysky and in his support for the National Front party. But now the situation has changed. "Under Poroshenko, Avakov had the majority," Vadym Karasiov, the director of the Institute for Global Strategies, recalls.
Only friendship with Kolomoysky remains unchanged, but the latter will not rush to preserve the National Guard under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The influence of this oligarch should not be called into question, but, when choosing between the president and the minister, Kolomoysky would definitely bet on the president. So Zelensky is determined to curtail Avakov’s capabilities.
Petro Poroshenko tried to do this at one time. The history of his relationship with Avakov is a separate story. Zelensky has to convince parliament to side with himself and against Avakov. This might happen in the near future. At least there is such a possibility.
Prospects for Voting
Arsen Avakov definitely “does not like the bill as it removes a huge number of people from under it. He understands that they are trying to weaken him in this way,” says Bogdan Petrenko. “But he will not protest now,” political expert Andriy Zolotariov is convinced. “The majority of votes will support this question because even if MPs, loyal to Avakov, fail, the people of Kolomoysky will join the game. And there are enough of them. Moreover, in different fractions.”
Petrenko says that the incident with Avakov might cause the first split in the Servant of the People faction. If the MPs of the presidential force, focused on Avakov, decide on the pushback, then the consequences of their position could be "ignoring of the president’s initiatives."
President Zelensky has big plans for amending the Basic Law. And in order to implement them, the head of state needs not a simple, but a constitutional majority, that is, 300 votes, about 50 of which Zelensky would be forced to find out of his faction.
However, Bogdan Petrenko assures, this bill might die in the first reading, as is often happens with the bills that no one is really going to adopt and which is used as a smokescreen. But in this case, the status quo will remain: Avakov will control the National Guard, and Zelensky will have a longing for total power. And this is hardly likely to satisfy our president.