On Aug. 24, Ukrainians celebrated Independence Day for the first time under the cloud of a full-scale war waged by Russia. It was a day of poignant reflection and hope, but also one muted by pain, anxiety and air raid sirens.
At the same time, the rumor mill has become very active again. Under-the-carpet political games have intensified and society and journalists have received signals about the possibility of drastic changes in the upper echelons of Ukraine’s political hierarchy.
Are Prime Minister Shmyhal’s days numbered?
President Volodymyr Zelensky appears to be fully satisfied with Denys Shmyhal as Prime Minister. But it could be said that the current head of the government owes his political career only to the current head of state. And the fact that Ukraine’s lawmakers formally appointed him to the position of “third person in the country” was the result of Zelensky’s authority and nothing to do with the influence of those same parliamentarians.
Zelensky has been the ideas man – sometimes coming up with hard-to-implement actions – and Shmyhal has tried to faithfully implement them in a country of (usually) some 40 million people. Apparently, this political union has withstood the test of the war.
However, Ukrainian politicians have always been noted for their lust for power. And now, some politicians close to the president’s office appear to have decided that the prime minister and the government, despite the war, must be changed.
Who might Shmyhal’s successor be?
Several potential candidates for the post of Prime Minister have been mentioned in expert and media circles. These include Oleksandr Kubrakov, Iryna Vereschuk, Mykhailo Fedorov and other well-known individuals. They have either been propelled by political groups close to them or have put themselves up for government casting.
I have no doubt that some of these names have been “used” to divert attention from the real candidates. Independence Day in Ukraine is traditionally followed by the new political season. This year is unlikely to be an exception and the ruling class is ready for new power battles for government seats.
However, there are differences this year, and these differences are fundamental nature in nature. Ukrainian authorities should not forget that there is a war going on and any changes on the political scene could significantly worsen the situation. It is also noteworthy that the issue of changing the government has not been raised by opposition political forces.
A figurative “test fire” from the president’s office sought to get a sense from society, journalists and experts on the possible resignation of the prime minister. The reaction was rather negative. Ukrainian society is not ready for such drastic changes. In a wartime situation, the human psyche focuses on islands of stability – the president, the government, Parliament and politicians. The proverb “horses at the crossing cannot be changed” stands true.
In the end, the fate of the government and the prime minister will depend on the position of Zelensky. So far, it looks like Shmyhal is not in danger, but serious changes are possible in the structure of the Cabinet of Ministers.
Changes among those people responsible for the government defense bloc are looking increasingly likely. According to insider information, Oleksii Reznikov is poised to be appointed to the position of minister of justice and deputy prime minister – responsible for the defense of the state. The current Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi, looks set to be appointed as minister of defense, while Oleksandr Syrskyi, who commanded the defense of Kyiv at the beginning of the full-scale Russian aggression, is likely to be appointed in his place.
Everything looks set, but the devil – as always – is in the detail.
The minister of defense neither commands the troops, plans military operations nor engages in combat training. His responsibility is to develop a defense policy to provide the armed forces with everything they need. How Zaluzhnyi would take to such a role so new to him is another question.
There is also a question as to why move Reznikov, who fulfills his duties of the minister of defense with dignity. Let the readers not be confused by the alleged increase in the status of Reznikov. In fact, the powers of the deputy prime minister are less than those of an ordinary minister. The deputy prime minister performs a coordinating role and cannot give direct orders to his fellow ministers, which can greatly complicate his role as the curator of the entire defense bloc.
A difficult fate also awaits the undoubtedly talented Syrskyi, who would be constantly compared to Zaluzhnyi.
So why is it necessary to start all this complicated intrigue that could yield unpredictable and ambiguous consequences, when there is already stable contact cooperation between the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the minister of defense and the president?
The answer can be explained by sociology, or rather by the data from research that demonstrates the growing popularity and ratings of Zaluzhnyi. The president’s office is simply afraid that a popular military man will run for office in the next presidential election and win it.
By the way, Zaluzhnyi made his career choice a long time ago, which is far from Ukrainian politics. As far as I know, Zaluzhnyi has a dream. It is a dream shared by millions of Ukrainians – victory in this war. And he does everything possible to make that a reality.
I also want to disappoint analysts from the president’s office. Any changes that threaten the balance and the management system, could also very easily ricochet on Zelensky’s ratings.
And finally, a few words about the responsibilities of the government: it should understand that this is not a game, and this is no time for intrigue. There is a war in Ukraine, and any mistake by the authorities would be very costly not only for individual politicians, but for the entire country.
Political “wars” should be forgotten at least until we finish the war. This fully applies to the Ukrainian opposition as well.
Ihor Zhdanov is a co-founder of the Open Policy Foundation, a National Government Organization (NGO) in Ukraine.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Kyiv Post.
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