The State Investigations Bureau has summoned Andriy Bohdan, former chief of staff and associate of President Volodymyr Zelensky, on Sept. 10 for questioning over his statements in an interview aired a day earlier.
It was Bohdan’s first interview since his dismissal in February.
As an informal manager of Zelensky’s successful presidential campaign, Bohdan was the most controversial figure on Zelensky’s team for his work as a lawyer to oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky and as an anti-corruption envoy under ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.
After the comedian’s historic victory, he appointed Bohdan as his chief of staff, despite the reservations of civil society and international partners.
Read Bohdan’s interview to the Kyiv Post from November 2019 and a look at this 8 months as chief of staff
But the chief of staff’s relations with the president soon went sour. Reportedly, there was a turf war between Bohdan and Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s old friend and senior presidential aide, who played a key role in talks with the United States and Russia.
Bohdan disappeared from public view at the beginning of this year and was subsequently fired from his position. He was replaced by Yermak.
In a four-hour interview with Ukrainian journalist Dmytro Gordon on Sept. 9, Bohdan reflected on his time on Zelensky’s team and their falling-out. He criticized Zelensky’s entourage and policies and warned of a looming economic crisis and loss of Western support.
Dmitry Gordon’s interview with Andriy Bohdan, the fired chief of staff of President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Here’s a brief summary of Bohdan’s interview:
Bohdan described Zelensky as an extremely charismatic person.
“He attracts people. This is his nature. But he is also a superprofessional actor. And he can turn his charisma on even with people he dislikes. It is his very strong trait, and he knows how to use it,” he said.
At the same time, Zelensky is very sensitive to criticism, despite the fact that he made a career satirizing politicians on stage.
Bohdan said he didn’t know why he was fired. He heard rumors that his dismissal was being planned and confronted Zelensky. The president told him, “I don’t know what you’re doing right or wrong. But you arouse aggression in me,” according to Bohdan.
Bohdan thinks the reason was Zelensky’s desire to be likable and the influence of his inner circle. The president’s entourage could not get what they wanted. By firing Bohdan, Zelensky satisfied his entourage, who pursued their own interests, such as trying to get their associate appointed to a government job or implementing corruption schemes.
Under his leadership, Bohdan said, there was no corruption in the President’s Office, the parliament or the Cabinet of Ministers. The parliament was rapidly passing laws in what the administration dubbed the “turbo regime” and oligarchs stayed away from the President’s Office.
Bohdan was the person most experienced in politics and bureaucracy among top officials of the administration, he said, and he coordinated the three branches of power under Zelensky’s control well.
“It’s impossible to assemble (a party) in two months and do a (background) check on everyone,” Bohdan said of the Servant of the People party, which won the majority of seats in parliament. “It’s a cross-section of society. There are many idiots. But even a big herd of idiots can be managed. You need a goal. Everyone is moving in the same direction.”
Now, the problem is that the president doesn’t have a strategy, Bohdan said. The country is moving in the wrong direction and facing an economic crisis. Zelensky can’t rely on the support of the International Monetary Fund, he added.
Bohdan called Zelensky’s staffing policy a failure.
“Zelensky believes in his talent to choose the right people. As a producer, he picked actors for 20 years. He chooses character types,” he said.
“He didn’t like (then) Defense Minister Andriy Zahorodnyuk because he didn’t look like a defense minister. That is how he reshuffled all ministers whom he didn’t like. When we selected the first ministers, they came with a team and their plans for three years. Now it is an assembly of random people who are united by a desire to steal.”
Bohdan believes that Zelensky has already failed on his promises of economic growth and peace in the Donbas. The only chance for him to go down in history as a good president is to change the constitution to make Ukraine a parliamentary republic and continue decentralization, giving more autonomy to the regions.
Bohdan said he disliked Yermak, who replaced him as chief of staff, from their very first meeting. And the feeling was mutual, he said.
“He is comfortable like Italian shoes. He doesn’t ask hard questions. He doesn’t bring bad news. He’s soft, kind, and says good words,” Bohdan said of Yermak.
If it is okay for the president to be inexperienced in state service, the chief of staff has to be a manager and know the bureaucracy, Bohdan said. Yermak is not that person, according to him.
Bohdan claimed that Yermak met with former President Petro Poroshenko several times at a restaurant in Kyiv. He hinted that the chief of staff might have some behind-the-scenes agreements with oligarchs, judging by the absence of negative coverage or criticism of him on television channels.
Why Bohdan was summoned for questioning
The State Investigations Bureau summoned Bohdan for questioning on Sept. 10, the day after his interview with Gordon aired. According to the bureau’s statement, they want to check his claims about the list of things that Yermak allegedly promised to Russia.
The former chief of staff said he had not seen the list himself, but heard about it from diplomats and special service agents, including foreign ones. He claimed there were several conditions: For instance, Russia would return Ukrainian ships in exchange for water supply to Crimea, or Russia would release Ukrainian prisoners in exchange for the resumption of direct flights between the two countries.
Bohdan said he knew for sure that the list included the firing of all pro-Western politicians. In his words, after government reshuffles and a series of appointments, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov was the last one left after the dismissal of military intelligence chief Vasyl Burba in August.
Burba was reportedly fired after a failed operation to arrest 32 Russian mercenaries of the Kremlin-linked private military company Wagner Group, some of whom were believed by the Ukrainian special services to have fought in the Donbas.
The mercenaries were arrested by Belarusian special services and sent back to Russia, allegedly after a leak about the Ukrainian special op from Zelensky’s administration. Burba claimed it amounted to state treason and demanded that everyone who knew about the operation take a polygraph test, including Yermak.
Virtually every other supposedly involved official or agency has denied that the special operation was ever planned.
In an interview with Gordon, Bohdan claimed that Zelensky’s inner circle “loves Russia.”
“The president loves Ukraine. They (his inner circle) are all pro-Ukrainian but many good events in their lives are connected with Russia,” he said.
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