First steps of Volodymyr Zelenskyi: analysis of risks and opportunities for the development of the political situation

Inauguration of Volodymyr Zelenskyi took place on May 20. Now, the newly elected President officially began to fulfil his duties. The key tasks of the new President should include personnel decisions, adoption of first state decisions, dialogue with the Parliament and development of parameters for cooperation with oligarchs.

Personnel policy of Volodymyr Zelenskyi

There are at least 6 competing informal groups of influence formed around the President Zelenskyi.

Group 1 – the group of Ihor Kolomoiskyi (Andrii Bohdan, Yevhen Heller and Valerii Pysarenko – “Revival” group, Ihor Palytsia and Oleksandr Shevchenko – “UKROP”, Vitalii Kuprii, Oleksandr Tkachenko – general producer of the “1+1” holding  and others).

Group 2 – the “95th quarter” group, includes Shefir brothers being the main business investors of Volodymyr Zelenskyi.

Group 3 – “Zelenskyi’s friends”, includes lawyers Ivan Bakanov and Serhii Nyzhnii (Hilmont partners) providing legal advice to LLC “95th quarter”.

Group 4 – “Portnov-Lyovochkin group”, includes Ivan Aparshyn, Serhii Leshchenko, Olexandr Danyliuk, Ruslan Riaboshapka, Maryna Bardina and others.

Group 5 – “group of Surkis brothers “, represented by Dmytro Razumkov (father of Dmytro Razumkov, Olexandr Razumkov, worked as an assistant to Kuchma and was a client of Surkis brothers).

Group 6 – “Arsen Avakov’s group” (representatives of the Institute for the Future – Viktor Andrusiv, Halyna Yanchenko, Yurii Romanenko etc.).

In addition, the environment of Zelenskyi includes people of the mayor of Kharkiv Hennadii Kernes, Hryhorii Kaletnyk, oligarchs Valerii Khoroshkovskyi and Viktor Pinchuk, as well as representatives of regional elites.

According to information of sources in the surrounding of Zelenskyi, so far, no decision on personnel appointments has been made. However, the candidacy of Vladyslav Bukharev (MP from the “Batkivshchyna”) is discussed for the position of the SSU head; Ivan Aparshyn (the representative of Anatolii Hrytsenko and the client of Serhii Lyovochkin) may become the Defence Minister; Vadym Prystaiko and Olexandr Shcherba (client of Andrii Portnov) are after the position of the Minister for Foreign Affairs; Ivan Bakanov, Serhii Shefir and Serhii Nyzhnii are discussed for the position of the head of the Presidential Administration.

Dmytro Razumkov (internal policy) and Andrii Bohdan (legal issues), with high probability, will be appointed Presidential advisers. Zelenskyi’s team still has no chief adviser on Foreign Policy. The team of Zelenskyi has a large personnel gap. Various groups of political influence are trying to fill it with their own (often quite toxic) people. Zelenskyi himself does not want to stick to old cadres, and therefore proposes to recruit personnel with the help of international recruiting agencies.

Development of government decisions

In order to fill his presidential quotas in the government and structures of the regional government, Zelenskyi needs to conduct a dialogue within the Parliament, secure the situational support of groups of MPs and the Prime Vinister Hroisman.

In this regard, there are several scenarios for the development of the political situation.

Scenario 1 – a deep crisis of authority, early elections in late August.

The withdrawal of the “People’s Front” from the coalition is the result of the secret agreements of the “Yatsenyuk-Avakov” group with Ihor Kolomoiskyi who is not interested in early elections. In simple words, oligarch Kolomoiskyi does not want Zelenskyi to gain 30-40% and become independent.

The move of the “People’s Front” makes it difficult for Volodymyr Zelenskyi to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada. A new coalition must be formed within 30 days (by June 17), and according to electoral legislation, it is impossible to dissolve the Parliament six months prior to the elections.

However, everything is possible in Ukraine, because the power of law does not work in a situation where political institutions are weak, and the degree of informal politics and oligarchic influence is decisive.

Therefore, the resolution of this political issue of “dissolution/non-dissolution” of the Parliament is transferred to the judicial plane. Thus, officially, the coalition “European Ukraine” ceased to exist in 2016, when “Batkivshchyna”, “Samopomich” and “Radical party” withdrew. Legally, only parliamentary factions, and not groups, can form a new coalition. Therefore, formally, the court may support the decision to hold early parliamentary elections in late August 2019.

If there is no coalition by mid-June (and it is impossible to legally create a new coalition), an early parliamentary elections shall be held in 60 days, meaning, at the end of August. The “Portnov-Lyovochkin” group pushes the scenario of early parliamentary elections. Portnov publicly stated that he was preparing lawsuits for the court to admit the lack of a coalition and schedule early elections for the summer.

The closest environment of Zelenskyi is for this scenario believing that his ratings may fall by the end of the fall. Now, while there is a high wave of support for Zelenskyi, it is necessary to convert it to a 30-40% result in the elections. Secondly, the summer election campaign does not require high financial costs. Thirdly, the main competitors would not be able to mobilize all the resources against Zelenskyi, and the new President would not have image losses.

It is worth noting that Petro Poroshenko is also for the early elections. His party “BPP-Solidarity” has a rating of 10%, according to the latest surveys.

Scenario 2 – creation of a new informal majority, reformatting the government and scheduling elections on October 28, 2019.

Ihor Kolomoiskyi, Yuliia Tymoshenko, Volodymyr Hroisman, Arsenii Yatsenyuk are for this scenario.  Pre-term elections are not profitable for most players, and therefore key players will try to “stick together” a new informal coalition to fill Zelenskyi’s quotas and throw people of Poroshenko out of government.

According to available information, the formation of a new situational coalition is personally dealt with by Ihor Kolomoiskyi who calls the deputies, appoints meetings, promises “candies” and negotiates. According to information available, Kolomoiskyi is ready to mobilize 180 MPs for Zelenskyi. Kolomoiskyi convinces Zelenskyi that in the case of early elections, “Servant of the People” would not be able to pick adequate majoritarian candidates who would be both loyal and professional. Secondly, the electoral structure of the “Servant of the People” is neither deployed nor properly constructed. Parliamentary elections are being a much more aggressive competition than presidential one, so the results may significantly differ from sociological surveys.

The new situational coalition can be joined by “Batkivshchyna”, “People’s Front”, groups “Revival” and “People’s will”, part of the Samopomich, part of the BPP, majoritarian MPs.

Kolomoiskyi does not want early elections so that Zelenskyi would not become too independent and lose the need in his protection, financial and media resources. Kolomoiskyi wants Zelenskyi to sink in a bureaucratic bog, and get involved in a political battle with the rest of the political players. In the autumn, Zelenskyi will be much more dependent on the oligarch than now. Secondly, in autumn, Tymoshenko’s rating are expected to grow, who is clearer for Kolomoiskyi. Kolomoiskyi is now guided by resentment against Poroshenko, he wants revenge and constantly speaks of money and assets. It is important for Kolomoiskyi to restore the influence over the lost assets.

Zelenskyi’s team is also actively discussing the first bills on the abolition of immunity for the President and the MPs, on referendums and direct democracy, and most importantly – the change of electoral legislation (return of election blocs, reduction of the passage barrier, and ,if can be done, abolition of the majoritarian system in exchange for closed party lists).