2019-09-02
Daniel Szeligowski

A New Government in Ukraine

On 29 August, Ukraine’s parliament approved the composition of the new government. The Cabinet of Ministers obtained support from the parliamentary faction Servant of the People (a party linked to President Volodymyr Zelensky) and some non-faction deputies. A stable majority in parliament, as well as the technocratic composition of the new government, pave the way for quick reforms in Ukraine.

What is the character of the new government and what will its priorities be?

The new Cabinet is technocratic in character and consists predominantly of experts, mainly lawyers and economists, many of whom have not yet worked in government. The average age of its members is 39, which means it is also the youngest Cabinet in Ukraine’s history. The government’s priority is a series of economic reforms, such as changing the tax system, deregulation, privatisation, and freeing the agricultural land market. This will require maintaining cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, although a new long-term credit agreement will probably be negotiated. The government can count on support from the president as well as the stable, single-party parliamentary majority of the ruling party, Servant of the People.

Who is the new prime minister?

The head of government is 35-year-old lawyer Oleksiy Honcharuk, who had previously cooperated with the state administration but not in any government position. Since the end of May, Honcharuk had been the deputy head of the President’s Office, responsible for economic affairs and reforms. In 2015-2019, he headed the Better Regulation Delivery Office, a small expert centre cooperating closely with the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. The new prime minister favours Ukraine’s integration with the EU and NATO and is a person with unambiguously liberal economic views. Yet, he does not have a strong political position and as head of government, he will be dependent on President Zelensky.

Who will be in charge of diplomacy?

Vadym Prystayko, an experienced diplomat and strong supporter of Ukraine’s integration with the EU and NATO, is the new minister of foreign affairs. In the past, he was a deputy foreign minister, ambassador to Canada, and deputy head of mission of the Ukrainian embassy to the U.S. Recently, he was the head of the Ukrainian mission to NATO and then as one of the deputy heads of the President’s Office, he was the main advisor to Zelensky on foreign affairs. Prystayko’s nomination proves the president’s intention to continue the pro-European foreign policy direction. However, it is not clear how much influence Prystayko will have on Zelensky’s decisions because, according to the Ukrainian constitution, it is the head of state that administers foreign political activity.

Why has Interior Minister Arsen Avakov remained in the government?

The fact that Arsen Avakov, an experienced politician who in the past has been accused of involvement in corruption, has maintained his position as interior minister in the new government has sparked controversy. Avakov is to remain in his position “on a temporary basis” and “at the personal responsibility” of President Zelensky but it is not clear why the president made this decision. It is possible that he is paying off a political debt (during the presidential campaign, Avakov informally took the side of Zelensky) or left him in place after lobbying by oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, with whom Avakov has been in close contact recently. Zelensky will strive to weaken Avakov’s currently strong position by limiting his control over the internal security sector. A bill has already been submitted to parliament that provides for authority over the National Guard to be removed from the interior minister.

What will be the new government’s attitude to cooperation with Poland?

Although Prime Minister Honcharuk’s views on cooperation with Poland are not publicly known, it can be expected that his government will seek to intensify bilateral cooperation. During the parliamentary debate preceding his approval as foreign minister, Prystayko pointed to a need to improve relations with Poland. A new opening in relations with Ukraine’s western neighbours—including Poland—was also mentioned in Servant of the People’s election programme. Among others, one can expect the new government to appoint a new head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, which should reduce tensions in mutual relations. However, due to the technocratic nature of the government, strategic decisions regarding Polish-Ukrainian relations will be made at the level of the president.