Despite the fact that former head of the President's Office Andriy Bohdan wrote a letter of resignation a few months ago, his departure was a surprise to the president's team. More precisely, Or, rather, everyone understood that there would be a resignation, but did not expect it to be so soon.
According to our sources, Bohdan devoted almost all his recent time to work with people's deputies, he was entrusted with the task of promoting and developing unpopular bills. Therefore, his resignation was planned after the adoption, perhaps, of the most scandalous law on the launch of the land market, which the Verkhovna Rada has now begun to consider.
"Backstage negotiations, agreements, pressure on some people's deputies - that is all Andriy Bohdan, he knew how to do it and managed it. He was the supporter of consideration of the draft law on the land market according to the shortened procedure, having frightened those dissatisfied with early re-election to the Rada. But Zelensky already listened to Yermak and Razumkov (the Verkhovna Rada Speaker Dmytro Razumkov, - OstroV), who persuaded him to do everything according to the law and regulations. What will happen to the law on the land now, who will collect the votes, which are end-to-end, is an open question", - one of the people's deputies of Servant of the People told OstroV.
The conflict between head of the Presidential Office Andriy Bohdan and presidential aide Andriy Yermak has been ripening for several months. At first, Volodymyr Zelensky was satisfied with Bohdan and his "turbo mode" and thoroughgoing ideas (a complete reboot of the government, early parliamentary elections, renewal of the CEC), but after a while, he began to listen to the more calm and cold-minded Andriy Yermak. In addition, the president did not like the fact that Andriy Bohdan was associated with oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi. In general, it was a matter of time before the head of the President's Office resigned.
"In the last few weeks, when Andriy Yermak's influence on the president significantly increased, Bohdan seemed to have lost given up, he was almost neither seen nor heard. Yermak took advantage of this and began to accompany Zelensky even more actively at all meetings and negotiations, provide advices and so on. At some point, Bohdan simply could not stand it and spoke frankly with Zelensky on Monday, February 10. It is rumoured that it was a conversation in a raised voice, where the president said something like "if you want to leave – leave". But I can say for sure that this resignation was not really planned now. Bohdan had to stay at least for another month", - one of the employees of the Presidential Office told OstroV off the record.
Who is Andriy Yermak?
International lawyer and film producer Andriy Yermak received the position of Assistant to President Volodymyr Zelensky the day after his inauguration. He graduated from the Institute of International Relations of the Taras Shevchenko University, has a master's degree in international private law. He is a member of the Ukrainian Bar Association, took an active part in the development of legislative acts in the field of commercial law and intellectual property.
Andriy Yermak is founder and CEO of International Law Firm, which has been successfully working in the field of protection of intellectual property rights and copyright for more than 20 years. He is a specialist in the fields of financial and banking law, constitutional law, business law, international law and other fields.
Previously, he was an assistant to the odious people's deputy from the Party of Regions, the world champion in wrestling Elbrus Tedeyev, whose coach was now-deceased crime boss Borys Savlokhov.
In addition, Yermak is founder of the Garnet International Media Group, which produced and distributed films, and producer of the films The Fight Rules and The Line.
He became widely known in Ukrainian politics after a large exchange of prisoners of Ukraine and Russia in September 2019. He then played a key role in negotiations with the Russian party and even personally travelled to the Russian Federation for Ukrainian political prisoners. Since then, he began to be called the main informal negotiator with Russia.
He is credited with merits in organizing a Normandy format meeting in Paris and a second exchange of prisoners with Russia, as well as a meeting with the U.S. President Donald Trump.
"Andriy's peculiarity is that he never takes on more than he can cope with. He works quietly, calmly, but always with the result. Andriy initially took the goal of establishing informal negotiations with Russia upon himself, and he succeeded. Believe me, the presidential administrations did not communicate as actively and productively under Poroshenko as they do now. After the scandal with the USA, he decided to get involved, met with Trump's lawyer Rudolph Giuliani and as a result, Zelensky and Trump met. Another victory was the return of the prisoners, then Normandy summit, then another exchange. His merits and results have not gone unnoticed", - one of the president's associates told OstroV.
In addition to informal negotiations with Russia and establishment of Ukrainian-American relations, Andriy Yermak strongly opposed the dismissal of Vitali Klitschko from the post of head of the Kyiv city state administration. That is what, according to OstroV, was the beginning of the Cold War between Bohdan and Yermak. As it is known, head of the President's Office Andriy Bohdan actively advocated the dismissal of Klitschko and the holding of early local elections in Kyiv, and Volodymyr Zelensky was ready to give up at some point, but Yermak convinced the president not to touch Klitschko.
"He (Andriy Yermak, - OstroV) managed to convince Zelensky that removing Klitschko from the post of head of the state administration would involve the president in a conflict in which he would lose… The price of this backstage battle for Kyiv was too high. And Yermak won. Zelensky refused to join Bohdan's war with Klitschko, despite the participation of Oleksandr Tkachenko", - journalist Yuriy Butusov writes on his Facebook.
As the interlocutors at the President's Office told OstroV, this was the first serious defeat of Andriy Bohdan. Prior to that, all his ideas were accepted by the president. It was the failure with the dismissal of Klitschko that kneecapped Andriy Bohdan.
"He became more nervous, somehow jerky, apparently, realized that he was not omnipotent. Of course, he knew that it was Andriy Yermak who convinced Zelensky not to touch Klitschko. If Bohdan is in favor of radical and quick decisions, then Yermak, on the contrary, uses controlled pace, but of high quality and 100% result. Therefore, it remained only to observe whose side and whose methods Zelensky would take. The final point was good contacts of Andriy Yermak with Russia, namely Dmitry Kozak, who is now the main responsible for the Ukrainian question in the Kremlin. Zelensky appreciates it very much. Ending the war is a key question for him, so the choice was obvious. It was just a matter of time", - one of the people's deputies of the Servant of the People presidential party told OstroV.
Yermak also "earned fame" with statements about the construction of a wall with occupied Donbass. He stated on the eve of the Normandy meeting that if Russia does not agree to the agreement on ceasefire and exchange of prisoners, "we will build a wall in this case and life will go on".
"Unfortunately, we will live according to the scenario of a frozen conflict", - he added and called the Minsk agreements obsolete.
Andriy Yermak is also known for supporting the holding of elections in the occupied Donbass in the fall of 2020, simultaneously with local elections throughout Ukraine.
One of the main advantages of Andriy Yermak, in fact, for which Volodymyr Zelensky appreciates him, is his informal contacts with the Russian Federation, in particular, with the "Ukrainian curators" Vladislav Surkov and Dmitry Kozak. Obviously, communication with the Russian party will reach a different level in a new position. It is no coincidence that Andriy Yermak said in his last interview the day before his appointment that deputy head of the presidential administration of Russia Dmitry Kozak is more inclined to dialogue with Ukraine than assistant to Vladimir Putin Vladislav Surkov.
During his first briefing in the new post, Yermak emphasized several times that ending the war in the Donbass will be one of the top priorities for the Presidential Office, and he personally is not going to leave this direction.
"I will not leave the areas that I have been working on lately. Of course, one of the priorities for the President of Ukraine and the Office of the President today is and will always be the end of war in the Donbass. In the interests of Ukraine. Therefore, this area remains a priority", - he stated.
What does the new appointment mean?
The opinions of journalists, politicians and experts regarding the change of head of the Presidential Office divided, but negative assessment is in the majority.
For example, members of the European Solidarity party of ex-president Petro Poroshenko believes that Ukraine will face revenge in the "turbo mode" after the appointment of Yermak.
"If earlier, we used to talk about "creeping" or hybrid revenge, now we will have revenge in the "turbo mode", because time moves on, ratings will continue to decrease, and the "big brother" demands to clear the base", - people's deputy from ES Iryna Friz said.
According to former Minister of Infrastructure Volodymyr Omelyan, a change in the head of the President's Office means a return of the Kremlin's influence on the Presidentˈs Office.
"Well, there is a frank Russian scenario. Appointment of Andriy Yermak to the post of head of the Office of the President of Ukraine means only one - the Kremlin is returning its influence on the Bankova (street, where the Presidential Administration is located, - ed.). Let Zelensky not be offended later that the people did not understand him and asked the actors to leave", - he considers.
At the same time, journalist Yuriy Butusov believes that changing the course is out of the question, since the president has no course at all.
"In general, the decision to change the management of the Office is not a change of course for Zelensky. There is no course. Zelensky is in the coordinate system defined by Poroshenko, and is trying to be effective within a system that he did not create, and which he did not understand. But the arrival of Yermak gives yet another hope that a new political course will be determined. However, we will see everything very quickly", - he wrote on Facebook.
The Voice party believes that the appointment of Yermak could mean that the Donbass issue will be a priority for the team of Volodymyr Zelensky. But they also reminded that they advocated the revision of the Minsk Agreements "unfavorable for Ukraine".
"Andriy Yermak is not just a politician and not just a lawyer, he is a negotiator of the presidentˈs team with Moscow. This appointment may mean that the Donbass issue will be a priority for the presidentˈs team. It is very important that the key in any negotiations was to preserve the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine and it was guaranteed that not a single political issue would be discussed until security issues were resolved", - the party leader Svyatoslav Vakarchuk stated.
Political analyst Mykhailo Basarab saw the end of influence of oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi on Volodymyr Zelensky in the change of head of the Presidentˈs Office.
"This is not so much the resignation of Bohdan as a symbol of the rapid end of the Kolomoyskyi era. Naturally, I must admit. The great war between Kolomoyskyi and Zelensky is a matter of time. Yermak came for a long time, with very good rear and abilities. He will remain in this post until the end of the presidency of Zelensky. If he does not become prime minister", - he wrote.
Political analyst Serhiy Harmash criticized the appointment of Yermak as head of the Presidential Office. According to the expert, if earlier Zelensky was undeservedly considered a puppet of Kolomoyskyi, now he will be called a puppet of the Kremlin.
"If the purpose of appointing Yermak is Zelenskyˈs desire to "warm up" relations with Russia (namely, this was his main function under Ze), then this is the beginning of his end. Revolutions in Ukraine have a 10-year cycle… Understanding nothing in the nature of the "Donbass conflict" and the reasons for the Russian-Ukrainian war, trying to "resolve" them, Yermak willy nilly became an agent of the Kremlinˈs influence. He surpassed even Medvedchuk in this. A person with such a backing in public opinion cannot be officially brought close to such an extent. Non-staff advisor is one thing and head of the Presidential Office is another. If Zelensky was previously considered a puppet of Kolomoyskyi (in my opinion, undeservedly), now he will be called a puppet of the Kremlin. Our opposition media and experts will do everything to create such an image for him. And not the fact that it will be untrue. In general, it is a bad choice. A signal addressed to the East and the West, but completely ignoring its own voter. And voters do not forgive this, especially if they have so many weapons on hand. If this continues, Marusia Zvirobiy will be the next president", - he believes.
The protest Movement of the Resistance to Capitulation, which demanded resignation of Andriy Bohdan, called the appointment of Yermak consolidation of the course on surrender in the war with Russia.
"Having established the corruption flows by the efforts of Bohdan, Zelensky and his team, having appointed Yermak as new head of the Presidential Office, proceeded to the second stage of dismantling the state - consolidating the course for surrender in the war with Russia. There is no doubt that Yermakˈs key task will be to "sell" CADLO to Ukraine on Russian terms - with all these elections, special statuses and amnesties of collaborator-killers. Well, it seems that we will soon have to communicate with the authorities using the methods of 2013-2014", - the statement said.
Who is next?
At once several sources in the presidential team confirmed to OstroV that Andriy Yermak intends to initiate several personnel changes after his appointment as head of the President's Office. In particular, there are rumors about the dismissal of several prominent Presidential Officeˈs employees (for example, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy of Andriy Bohdan, responsible for media communication), as well as about the changes in composition of the Trilateral Contact Group on the situation in Donbass.
It is no coincidence that representative of Ukraine in the humanitarian subgroup of the Trilateral Contact Group on the situation in Donbass Valeriya Lutkovska was fired on the day of Andriy Yermak's appointment. Major General of the SBU, special operations soldier and former head of the Special Operations Center for Combating Terrorism of the SBU Hennadiy Kuznetsov was appointed in her place.
"This was Yermak's idea. There will be other changes. The team is going to be strengthened. And, first of all, it concerns the international sphere", - a source in the Presidentˈs Office told OstroV.
According to OstroV, the Ministry for Veterans Affairs, Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons will be divided into two departments in the near future: one will be for veterans, the other – for occupied territories and displaced persons. The last will be headed by lawyer, opponent of the Minsk agreements and ex-representative of Ukraine in the political subgroup of the Minsk TCG Oleksii Reznikov.
"It can be said that the idea of the ministriesˈ division was suggested by Yermak. He actively promoted Reznikov to this post. It is no coincidence that his interview took place in the presence of the Prime Minister, the president and at that point in time his assistant Yermak. The latter actively promoted Reznikov to the president. The main idea is to make a really working ministry that quickly make decisions, and not what it was before. They plan to expand its powers, to connect activities with the Minsk process", - a source in Zelenskyˈs team told.
There are also rumors of the resignation of Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko at the President's Office. According to several interlocutors, Volodymyr Zelensky is generally satisfied with the MFA head, but it is unlikely that he will fall into step with Andriy Yermak, who wants to appoint his man.
"Perhaps there will be other personnel switches in the power block. The question is not to dismiss, but to find a replacement. If there were worthy candidates, the government would be updated by 80% tomorrow. But we are waiting for the replacement of 2-3 ministers in the near future", - the source said.
In addition, Volodymyr Zelensky is going to "tackle" the regions and dismiss the most ineffective heads of regional state administrations in the near future.
Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV