Zelensky appoints new head of President's Office: Would Ukraine's politics change significantly?

Author : Natalia Lebed

Source : 112 Ukraine

Newly-appointed Andriy Yermak head of Zelensky's office has outlined his key priorities in the office
20:27, 13 February 2020

Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine

February 11, Zelensky appointed Andriy Yermak as the head of the Office of the President (OP). Prior to that, he was a president’s aide. 

What was Yermak talking about?

First of all, about peace and war. One of the main priorities of the OP was called the end of the war in Donbas. Yermak, therefore, is not going to refuse to participate in the Ukrainian-Russian (and international) negotiations. He has already proved his effectiveness to President Zelensky in organizing the Normandy Four meeting.

“We have to make Donbas, which is today associated with war, a truly flourishing region, where the economy will sustainably develop. There is such a dream. After the war, we really want to make a modern economic hub there. Start new technologies, new businesses,” said Yermak.

Related: Appointment of Yermak as Head of President’s Office not to influence political course of state

As for elections in Donbas, Yermak considers it appropriate to hold them only after the occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions return to the protectorate of Ukraine. At the same time, the head of the Office dreams that they will be held in the fall - in sync with the elections in the rest of Ukraine.

For this, the OP is ready to do everything that was stipulated during the Normandy Summit in Paris. All these are wonderful promises with a rather vague algorithm for implementation. And with vague prospects for what will happen if it is impossible to implement Norman decisions.

Yermak called regional policy and fieldwork the second important area of ​​work. According to the new head of the OP, there is already a young, ambitious, and professional team that received specific tasks. The third area of ​​work Yermak considers the creation of an "investment Mecca" in Ukraine. Work in this direction will be entrusted to the governors and the government.

Andriy Yermak also touched on the sensational media law, as well as the bill on countering disinformation. True, he has not yet read both documents. But he assured that the parliament would not accept discriminatory laws.

“I can guarantee and say on behalf of the President of Ukraine that he is the guarantor of freedom of speech and free media. Therefore, no laws that would in any way limit the rights of freedom of speech in our country will be adopted. This is the work of the Verkhovna Rada, certainly, we will follow it,” Yermak promised.

Related: Yermak replaces Bohdan as head of President's Office

The Parliament of Ukraine, an independent body, has thus received a new overseer in the person of Yermak. And the governors involved in the construction of the “investment Mecca” were not left without a “watchdog.” It is reported that Yermak will soon dictate to Zelensky a couple of names of the new ministers (and, possibly, even the prime minister). The era of supervisor Yermak has begun in Ukraine, and we are talking with our experts about why this has become possible.

Why, Kuchma, why?

We must thank Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s second president, for the fact that the importance of the post of head of the presidential administration (or Office) has inflated to a cyclopean scale. Political analyst Yevhen Bulavka recalls: Dmytro Tabachnyk was the first significant “gray cardinal” that appeared in Ukraine. Tabachnyk worked as the second chairman of the AP, which he headed from July 1994 to December 1996.

But “Kuchma needed Tabachnyk for the time being — until he figured out where he was and what he was doing. And when he figured out, he took a person with fewer complaints,” Andriy Zolotariov, head of the Third Sector center, adds. By “person with fewer complaints,” he means Yevhen Kushnaryov, the third head of the presidential administration.

Zolotariov refers to weak figures Kushnaryov and the two heads of the President’s Administration under Yushchenko - Rybachuk and Baloga. Actually, he says, Baloga was able to gain any political weight only because "Viktor Yushchenko was a lazy person."

So here we must also take into account "the psychological characteristics of the president, and how he builds relations with the head of the administration." “There is a formula that is rooted in our reality: they don’t give power, they take power. Therefore, if the head of the President’s Administration has at least some charisma, he will gradually gain power,” Zolotariov says.

Related: Zelensky, Putin could meet before Normandy format, - Yermak

One way or another, the scheme born by Kuchma lives and thrives to this day. And all because “in the presidential-parliamentary republic, which Ukraine has always been de facto, the president played a more significant role than the one assigned to him by the Constitution. And despite all his promises, Zelensky adheres to the same practices as the old-school politics," Bulavka assures.

Deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute for the Study of Extremism, Bohdan Petrenko adds: “I don’t understand such close attention to such a position as the head of the presidential administration. It’s not even mentioned in the Constitution! By and large, it’s just a tribute to a tradition. I mean the Soviet tradition, when the first secretary of the party existed, the party’s second secretary, etc. Yermak is even called the vice president. All his speech at the briefing reminds me of the vice president with his program, and not an ordinary official, who just took office."

Bohdan, Zelensky, Yermak

Here we should be grateful to President Zelensky. First of all, he strives to “make him comfortable. And Yermak is a comfortable person for him,” Zolotariov emphasizes. Poroshenko, he continues, had a different view of comfort. "Poroshenko was inclined to micro-management. He was approached by Igor Rainin, who took under his peak and did not show any personal ambitions," the expert notes.

Obviously, Zelensky does not need either fresh Rainin or Tabachnyk charged with power. He needs someone like Yermak. But who is he?

Related: No phone rule or intrigues: Yermak spoke about principles of President’s Office

Alter ego of Zelensky

He is a reflection of Zelensky, Bogdan Petrenko insists. "Yermak says the right things. So right that one wonders how he was going to make politics in this country on this populism? It seems to me that Yermak becomes like Zelensky in this regard. That is, he is generally afraid to voice unpopular things. This is for sure not Bogdan who would “sparkle” with his statements and would draw attention to himself in every possible way,” the expert notes.

“By and large,” Petrenko says, “we will get Zelensky's continuation in the person of Yermak. He is determined to avoid negative things, as well as responsibility for certain events, in every way.”

“Significant strategic changes are not predicted here,” Zolotariov insists.

And his colleague Kyrylo Sazonov explains why this is so. “Russia perceives Ukraine as its colony, and this is a common share and a common misfortune of Ukraine and Belarus. Therefore, the replacement of Bogdan with Yermak does not matter at all. Even the replacement of the president of Ukraine does not matter. The general course of Russia remains unchanged - the colonization of Ukraine, and the general course of Ukraine also remains unchanged - its independent state. That is, a change in the curators does not affect anything here,” he notes.

Related: Bohdan out, Yermak in: What next for Ukraine?

And Bogdan Petrenko says the following in this regard: “Little will change in the implementation of the pro-Russian policy, because Yermak led the foreign policy direction before that, and Bogdan had nothing to do with him. But Yermak will be careful in his statements. That is, he will not present itself not as a nationalist nor a pro-Russian figure. Rather, will adhere to the golden mean.”

But Yevhen Bulavka is still seriously wary of Yermak’s position on the conduct of elections. “Yermak’s statements about the October elections are worrying. There is too little time left to conduct them in accordance with the Ukrainian legal field. The mood for the elections in October may indicate a willingness to make concessions to Russia,” he says.

“There are many questions about Yermak. He is only a couple of handshakes from Putin,” Bulavka reminds.

By the way, about Yermak’s hands. Bogdan Petrenko notes that he is not a specialist in body language, but draws attention to how Yermak covered his mouth at certain points in the press conference. Namely, when he spoke about the principles of his work and promised transparency and openness. “Usually a person who allows himself such gestures, lies,” Petrenko assures.

And we have already encountered a lie, and more than once. “We were promised during the election campaign that the President’s Office will perform purely technical functions, and this office will differ from its predecessors. But we saw a political speech on many pressing issues, where Yermak acts as the bearer of ideas: he produces ideas, he articulates them”  Bulavka notes.

Related: What to expect from Yermak as head of President's Office?

The only thing that pleases him is that “Bogdan denied the importance of journalists, Yermak, on the contrary, says that freedom of speech is important and that the media are important. We might hope that at least words will not go wrong with this, because the danger to the media space today really exists.”

Meanwhile, Bogdan Petrenko recalls: formally, the speaker of BP plays the role of the second person in the state, because it is he - in cases of force majeure - who becomes the acting president until the next election. But the speaker is not visible to us and not heard, except at meetings of the Verkhovna Rada. On the other hand, “the rating of confidence in parliament has fallen, and that of the president, too. But the rating of confidence to speaker Razumkov is growing,” said Kyrylo Sazonov.

Although a lot of things in our country still look ridiculous, “because we have a parliamentary-presidential republic, but the Cabinet of Ministers has been fully elected president,” Sazonov says.

This absurdity has only one plus: it is rather unstable. The puzzle of those in power is being reassembled too quickly, and “the heads of the presidential administration are changed quite often. And Yermak is also connected with Russia, therefore he will be constantly criticized. At some point when Zelensky will be forced to rely on pro-Ukrainian forces, he’ll get rid of Yermak. I believe that he would stay in the OP for a year,” says Sazonov.

Related: Zelensky includes Yermak in Defense Council, expels Bohdan

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