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Eastern Promises

26 February 2014

Ukraine's (Almost) New Government: Who Are All These People?

author Ievgen Vorobiov

Prior to the formal vote in parliament tomorrow, the future Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine was presented to the crowd on the Maidan tonight. Overall, the proposed cabinet is based on (Tymoshenko-led) Batkivshchyna party members with solid experience in the government, with inclusion of several Euromaidan activists and even a representative of academia. The candidates appear to have passed that Maidan stage of public scrutiny, so it seems about right to have a closer look at them before the vote is held in Rada tomorrow. Some of these names will say little to the foreign observers, so I will brief you about the most important and most interesting ones among the new "appointees".

  • Prime Minister: Arseniy Yatseniuk. A seasoned bureaucrat and a failed revolutionary leader. He used to serve as the acting Head of National Bank (in 2004), Economy Minister (2005-2006), Foreign Minister (2007), parliament's Speaker (2007-08). His current political standing is quite shaky after the release of Yulia Tymoshenko, the formal (albeit till recently in absentia)  leader of the Batkivshchyna faction in the parliament. Yatseniuk's nomination for the cabinet is a sure fire sign of his withdrawal from the presidential run in May later this year, so he will have to endure a dubious pleasure of managing the government on the tide of the unfolding economic turmoil. Importantly, his previous work experience in a cabinet includes waging two trade wars with Russia (a milk-meat one and a gas one), which is a paradoxically good background, given Russia's willingness to keep using trade restrictions as a foreign-policy tool. As an icing on the cake, being Victoria Nuland's first choice for prime minister will help shoring up relations with the West. Communicating with the voters will have to be handled by a specially trained person, though: not Arseniy's strongest trait.
Talking at public rallies is not one of Yatseniuk's fortes, let alone leading revolutions; but that's not something he is expected to do in the job that he himself described as a "suicide".
  • Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration: Borys Tarasyuk. A representative of the "old school" of Ukrainian diplomacy (not that there's a "new one", unfortunately). He was a head of mission to NATO (back in 1995-1998), Foreign Minister (1998-2000 and 2005-2006), and since 2012 served as a member of the parliamentary committee on European integration (as you might incur, nothing to boast on this front). During the Euromaidan protests, he lobbied for the cause abroad.
Tarasiuk's pick for the "Eurointegration Minister" is a sign of continuity (understood very broadly), not a "new beginning"
  • Deputy Prime Minister for Humanitarian matters: Olga Bogomolets. A doctor and an activist. One of the most respected public leaders of Euromaidan, who was in charge of managing the team of medical volunteers doing huge work at the blood-smeared Maidan. She was one of those people who had to announce the death count during the deadly attacks of Berkut on protestors on 18-20 February, and she made explicit references to that experience during her "acceptance speech" on the Maidan. Update: On 27 February, Mrs Bogomolets declared she would not join the government.
Ольга Богомолец согласилась возглавить Минздрав
Olga Bogomolets is perhaps the most trusted activist of Euromaidan, who will now have to invest her organizational skills in a government post
  • Vice Prime Minister for Regional Development: Volodymyr Groysman. A current Vinnitsa mayor, where he boasted some successful reform, he is considered a man of Petro Poroshenko, an oligarch who was mulled as a potential Prime Minister. Interestingly for us at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, Groysman's tenure as mayor was quite fruitful when it came to cross-border cooperation projects with Poland.
Groysman's legacy in Vinnytsa might be a good template for building regional cooperation links across borders
  • Finance Minister: Oleksandr Shlapak. The closest this cabinet gets to hosting a "technocrat". Mr. Shlapak has extensive experience in the banking sector in the 1990s, followed by a string of terms in the ministries. He served as Economy Minister (2001-2002), Deputy Chair of the National Bank (2003-2005), Chancellery (2005-2006). Afterwards, he worked in a number of state commissions and councils, particularly chairing the Commission on social-economic development under Yushchenko. Nota bene: Shlapak was an avid critic of Yulia Tymoshenko's policies in his previous tenure. Granted, an ability to take on a bigger authority is not a bad thing for a finance minister in Ukraine now.
Shlapak is the closest that the new government has towards a technocrat
  • Economy Minister: Pavlo Sheremeta. Previously the President of the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE), Sheremeta is an eloquent speaker with fluent English, who frequents international conferences and lectures. With no links to political parties, Sheremeta meets the expectation of an independent professional at the helm of the economics ministry that many representatives of civil society entertained ahead of this appointment.
Sheremeta is a rare example of an "academic-turned-minister" in Ukraine. Also, he is on Twitter.
  • Energy Minister: Yuriy Prodan. He used to work (2001-2005) as a Chairman of the National Commission for Electric Energy Regulation (NKRE), a state regulator. Later he served an Energy Minister in Tymoshenko government in 2007-2010, where he was closely connected to his boss Ivan Plachkov, now a member of Klychko's UDAR party. Allegedly, Prodan is a lobbyist for Igor Kolomoyskiy's Privat group.

  • Foreign Minister: Andriy Deshchytsa. A career diplomat who studied in Canada, he served in Ukraine's Embassies in Poland, Finland and Iceland. Till recently, he worked as a Special Representative of the OSCE Chairmain-in-Office for Conflicts during Ukraine's Presidency in OSCE in 2013. He appears to have earned his post now not least because he was one of the first Ukrainian diplomats who publicly supported the Euromaidan protest. 
  • Anti-Corruption Office: Tetiana Chornovol. A well-known investigative journalist and an activist of the "Stop Censorship" initiative, she was daring enough to sneak around the Mezhygirya residence of Yanukovych (now open to public) to report on his lavish lifestyle. Being a very direct person, she was the closest the Euromaidan could get to a street leader amid the complete lack of leadership from the three "talking faces" on the stage. Perhaps due to that huge exposure, she was brutally attacked around Kyiv by a gang of thugs, who beat her up (I reported about that assault from Kyiv back in December). Her inborn inquisitiveness and rather blunt demeanor are good precursors for the job, which has yet to be shaped by a proper legislative framework. 

  • Lustration Committee (which has yet to be properly established): Mr. Yegor Sobolev. A former journalist and an activist of the public initiative "Volya" ("Freedom" in a typically Ukrainian sense, to do whatever one wills), focusing on local activism in Kyiv. The Euromaidan brought him to a wider exposure, which seemed quite unsought after on his part. Yegor appears to have been starkly apolitical when it comes to affiliations with political parties, which might be seen as a "sine qua non" for such a position. His willingness to work from a clean slate will definitely help in starting the ball rolling. A cynicist, however, might say that putting anyone in charge of such a position in today's Ukraine is guaranteeing the person a desperate tenure.

  • Health Minister: Oleg Musiy, a professional doctor and an activist who worked as a medical coordinator on the Euromaidan. He authored several bills pertaining to healthcare and served as the Head of Public Council at the Health Ministry and an assistant to an MP. A charismatic man and an experienced communicator, he appears to have potential to start reforms in his tricky ministry, if given sufficient freedom and if he manages to resist its pressure. . Мусій Олег
  • Interior Minister: Arsen Avakov. A Kharkiv-origin businessman and an old ally of Yushchenko since the times of the Orange Revolution, Avakov has experience ruling the Kharkiv region as a "governor" despite rather narrow public support (actually, a head of regional state administration in Ukraine). Avakov turned out to be quite loyal to Batkivshchyna party even after attempts to jail him under the charges of corrupt land purchases ahead of the 2012 parliamentary election (made by then ruling Party of Regions). He is traditionally considered a nemesis of the Kharkiv thuggish duo, Gennadiy Kernes and Myhailo Dobkin, which adds a curious twist on their drastic change of rhetoric since Yanukovych's ousting from power. It is, however, precisely this history of struggle that casts doubts on his impartiality as the head of the Interior, coupled with his party allegiance. Last but not least, the expectation of deep-cutting reforms in Ukraine's corrupt and unjust police system will be key to his success as the Minister of the Interior, yet the first allegations of his inability to do that due to lack of expertise and political bias have already surfaced.
Avakov's stint as a deputy head of the Maidan's Self-Defence propelled him into the tarnished chair of the country's Interior Minister.

  • Secretary of the National Council of Security and Defence: Andriy Parubiy. Although not a very prominent MP in the Batkivshchyna faction, Parubiy proved to be a capable organizer at the Euromaidan. He was the head of the Maidan's Self-Defence from the very first days of the protest. While lacking political ambition one would expect from such role, Parubiy succeded in earning trust of different groups inhabiting (and guarding) the Maidan. These coordination skills will come in handy for the job of the NCSD secretary, particularly if the previously voiced idea of including Self-Defence Units into Ukraine's police structures will go beyond mere lip-service to the Maidan.
Mild-mannered Parubiy

Overall, it is hard to treat this government as a "technocratic" one. On the one hand, because of the clear domination of Batkivshchyna reps (given Klychko's allegedly refusal to partake in the division of portfolios). On the other hand, because of a populist-driven inclusion of many Euromaidan activists aimed to assure the "green light" to this cabinet. The new authorities have succeeded in avoiding any unnecessarily divisive candidates for these posts in a time when the appointment of the new government is urgent. Now that the Scylla of the Maidan appeared to have been overcome, it is the Charybdis of the parliamentary votes that awaits the first post-Euromaidan government.

To get more commentary about political developments in Ukraine, follow me on Twitter: @vorobyov
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