BREAKING: Leaked memo from Presidential Office outlines targets for Cabinet shuffle
As President Volodymyr Zelensky prepares for a major government shakeup, a leaked memo allegedly sent from his office appears to prompt party lawmakers with specific arguments in favor of replacing the prime minister and other ministers.
The memo, first published on March 3 by Ukrainian magazine Novoye Vremya, also criticizes Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka and the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, Artem Sytnyk, for failures to prosecute corruption, despite conclusions from civil society and international partners that both are independent and principled corruption fighters.
Both Riaboshapka and Sytnyk have been targeted by lawmakers allied with billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. They even registered a draft bill to hold a vote of no confidence in Riaboshapka.
Rumors of an imminent reshuffle in the Cabinet of Ministers have been flying for a week now. Zelensky admitted to interviewing candidates and has convened an emergency parliamentary session on March 4.
The political moves send an alarming signal to investors and international partners, particularly the International Monetary Fund.
One of the key laws proposed by Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk would prevent the return of PrivatBank, the largest lender in the country, to its former owners, Kolomoisky and his partner Gennadiy Bogolyubov. It was nationalized in 2016 after an investigation revealed it had been used for large-scale fraud, part of the bank’s spectacular collapse that led the government to take over and recapitalize it at a cost of at least $5.5 billion to taxpayers.
The file’s properties show it was drafted on the computer of Denis Semenov, a political consultant identified by Ukrainian media as an aide to Mykyta Poturayev, a lawmaker with Zelensky’s ruling Servant of the People party.
In a phone call, Poturayev told the Kyiv Post that he was the author of the memo but denied it was intended as instructions from the Presidential Office. He put his personal thoughts in writing, he said.
However, Ukrainian media have named Semenov and Poturayev, along with another lawmaker, Yevgeniya Kravchuk, as regular authors of talking points for the ruling party. They are reportedly part of the unofficial team in the Presidential Office that shapes the communication strategy for the president, the Cabinet of Ministers and the presidential faction in parliament.
Failures of Honcharuk’s government
In 2019, Zelensky came to power on the promise to bring new faces into politics. He, in turn, endorsed political novice Honcharuk, 35, as the head of a completely renewed Cabinet in late August 2019.
But after six months in office, Honcharuk seems to not have lived up to the expectations.
The document calls his Cabinet’s policies “faulty and unbalanced.” The government, it reads, failed to address falling industrial production, falling exports and low budget revenue.
Moreover, the government hasn’t launched state mechanisms to attract investment, the memo reads. The only positive development mentioned was the opening of a state office to fight illegal raids and seizures of businesses.
The memo also says that Honcharuk has prioritized the interests of foreign lenders over those of the Ukrainian people.
“The government policies should be people-centric and Ukraine-centric, aimed at not only paying off debts but at the development of Ukraine’s economy too,” it reads.
When Honcharuk took office, he reorganized the Cabinet, abolishing or merging ministries and cutting the number of ministers from 25 to 17 in an effort to increase efficiency and accelerate reforms.
The ministry of culture and information policy was fused with the ministry of youth and sports. The ecology ministry and the ministry for energy and coal production became a single entity for energy and environmental protection.
However, the memo concludes that the mergers didn’t yield the expected results.
Entire industries have been left unattended because ministers don’t have time to oversee their many areas of responsibility, it reads.
Moreover, it states that heads of some agencies that are critically important to budget revenue have not delivered the desired results, specifically mentioning the head of the State Customs Service, Maksym Nefyodov.
Nefyodov took charge of the agency last July after the notoriously corrupt State Fiscal Service was divided into two separate authorities for taxes and customs.
Besides sharp criticism, the memo also admitted that Honcharuk’s government has lowered inflation and national interest rates, conducted successful gas negotiations with Russia’s Gazprom, and fought against shadow markets, particularly gambling.
The memo also lambasts Prosecutor General Riaboshapka and National Anti-Corruption Bureau head Sytnyk for inefficiency.
While Ukrainians are hungry for the prosecution of corrupt officials, “neither NABU nor the Prosecutor General’s Office act according to the public demand for justice,” it reads.
The memo’s language seems to mirror the calls to dismiss Sytnyk and Riaboshapka issued by their opponents.
In a recent interview with the Kyiv Post, Sytnyk said the campaign to drive him from office is led by his powerful enemies: billionaire oligarch Kolomoisky and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.
On March 3, the parliament’s anti-corruption committee voted against recognizing a draft bill to fire Sytnyk as unlawful.
As for Riaboshapka, lawmakers have collected signatures calling for his dismissal. Among the first signatories were Oleksandr Dubinsky and Maksym Buzhansky, both closely aligned with Kolomoisky.
On March 3, the parliament registered a draft bill on a vote of no confidence in Riaboshapka submitted by Dubinsky and Buzhansky and 156 other lawmakers.
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