Last week should have been marked by the appearance of five new ministers in the Ukrainian government. At least that was the idea of the President's Office. As a result, only three passed, and even those not without scandals.
The Ministry for Veterans Affairs was headed by Yulia Laputina, the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food - by Roman Leshchenko, the Ministry of Education and Science - by Serhiy Shkarlet. At the same time, the parliament did not support the appointment of Yuriy Vitrenko as Minister of Energy. The issue of appointing a new minister for the protection of the environment and natural resources was also removed from the agenda.
At the same time, none of the appointments received the minimum required 226 votes from Servant of the People. If it were not for the support from OPFL and the Trust and For the Future groups, they would all have failed.
"All the votes were on the verge. There were uncertainty and indecision in the party chats and conversations. There was no 100% certainty that at least someone would be appointed. The work with the faction was very weak, so everyone acted according to the situation", - one of the people's deputies from Servant of the People told our agency.
OstroV figured out what the latest shakeup in the Cabinet of Ministers meant and why the appointments for which President Volodymyr Zelensky personally "asked" did not get the required number of votes.
What was achieved?
The Verkhovna Rada appointed Yulia Laputina to the post of Minister for Veterans Affairs on December 18. She replaced Serhiy Bessarab, who wrote a letter of resignation "of his own free will". According to head of the relevant committee Halyna Tretiakova, the minister asked to resign for health reasons.
"How do I see the solution to the veterans issue? This should be a systematic state work, where the efforts of the parliament, government, non-governmental organizations and, of course, the ministry are combined", - Yulia Laputina said from the parliamentary rostrum.
This was perhaps one of the calmest discussions. As a result, 248 people's deputies supported the decision, not a single one was against.
Yulia Laputina began her service in 1992 in the counterintelligence department of the SBU as an criminal investigator. After the creation of Alpha anti-terrorist center of the SBU, she was invited there as a senior officer. During her service, she participated in a number of complex operations to suppress the separatist putsch in the Crimea in 1994.
She landed at the Kramatorsk airfield in April 2014 as part of the first joint group of the SBU. Her task was to establish contacts with pro-Ukrainian activists, intelligence and information transfer to Kyiv. Laputina also had to negotiate with local supporters of the terrorists who were about to take Ukrainian checkpoints by storm. The assault was avoided.
Laputina was the commander of the SBU task force in ATO in September-December 2014, she carried out assignments to detain pro-Russian terrorists. She was appointed deputy head of the Department of counterintelligence protection of national interests in the field of information security of the SBU in the same year.
Laputina was awarded the military rank of Major General on March 25, 2020, she became the second female general in the history of independent Ukraine.
"I have always said that personnel policy is one of the main problems of Zelensky's team. But today's appointment of Yulia Laputina as Minister for Veterans Affairs indicates that something is changing in this direction. Yulia is a person who has nothing to do with either oligarchic or political groups, a real officer and a very smart woman. And the fact that this is superimposed on such human qualities as kindness, the ability to sympathize and decency, - I am sure, - will make the work of the ministry really effective", - representative of CADO in the Minsk TCG Serhiy Harmash believes.
The Verkhovna Rada appointed Roman Leshchenko Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food a day earlier.
It should be noted that the Cabinet of Ministers liquidated the Ministry of Agrarian Policy in September 2019, having joined it to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture. Later, the government decided to correct this mistake. According to Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, the restoration of work of the relevant agrarian ministry will take place in early 2021.
242 people's deputies supported the candidacy of Roman Leshchenko (193 from Servant of the People, plus For the Future, Trust and OPFL). At the same time, none of the people's deputies expressed any specific objections to Leshchenko during the issue consideration.
During his speech in the parliament, Leshchenko promised that the agricultural sector would receive a clear strategy for the next few years.
"It is obvious that the strategy for development of the agricultural sector requires a dialogue. An element of agricultural policy is that we finally answer the question of where the 5 million hectares of state land that were on the balance sheet have gone. During my six months as head of the State Service of Ukraine for Geodesy, Cartography & Cadastre, I have never seen more opposition in my life than in the similar period of work", - he said.
Roman Leshchenko began to engage in agricultural consulting since 2013, having founded the Ukrainian Agrarian Center company.
Leshchenko has been the plenipotentiary of the President of Ukraine on land issues since October 1, 2019. He lobbied for the adoption of the land market law during his tenure. He was appointed head of the State Service of Ukraine for Geodesy, Cartography & Cadastre a year later.
By the way, Roman Leshchenko is the largest sponsor of the Servant of the People party. He transferred $56 thousand to the party in 2019.
According to OstroV, Leshchenko's main task will be the preparation and implementation of the land market in Ukraine.
"The law on land reform will soon come into force, so everything needs to be prepared for a smooth start. According to the president, he will be able to implement it like as no one else, since he is familiar with all the nuances. In addition, he is supported by the owners of large agricultural holdings - I do not know what he had promised them, but it is told that the For the Future and Trust parliamentary groups unanimously supported all the other ministers thanks to this appointment", - a source in the Servant of the People faction told OstroV.
The appointment of Serhiy Shkarlet as Minister of Education and Science turned out to be the most scandalous. People's deputies from the Voice and European Solidarity parties were categorically opposed to this appointment and constantly shouted "Shame". He was reminded of the plagiarism found in his scientific works and membership in the Party of Regions.
The minimum required number of people's deputies voted for the appointment of Serhiy Shkarlet - 226 (171 from Servant of the People plus the For the Future, Trust and OPFL groups). 39 deputies abstained from vote (including speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Dmytro Razumkov).
"No one believed till the last that it would be possible to appoint Shkarlet minister. His biography and reputation are too muddy. But Volodymyr Zelensky personally insisted on his candidacy. He once persuaded him to go to the government and continues to promote. It is rumored that that the Office of the President has the least questions and complaints about him", - one of the people's deputies from Servant of the People told OstroV.
Later, people's deputy from Voice Inna Sovsun stated that some people's deputies from OPFL, who were not physically present in the parliament's session hall, voted during the vote for the appointment of Serhiy Shkarlet as Minister of Education. She said that she would demand a repeat voting from speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Dmytro Razumkov. He, in turn, has already instructed the relevant committee to sort out the probable piano voting.
Serhiy Shkarlet was the rector of the Chernihiv National University of Technology from 2010 to 2020.
In 2004 and 2010, he supported Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions in the presidential elections. In addition, Shkarlet ran for the Chernihiv Regional Council from the Party of Regions.
However, he ran for the Chernihiv Regional Council as a representative of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc already in 2015 (lost the election).
The Cabinet of Ministers appointed Serhiy Shkarlet Deputy Minister of Education and Science in June 2020 and entrusted him with the duties of Minister.
The Ethics Committee of the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance discovered plagiarism in the scientific works of Serhiy Shkarlet in September 2020. Despite this, the official insists that there is no plagiarism in his works, and even filed a lawsuit.
The relevant committee of the Verkhovna Rada has repeatedly rejected the candidacy of Serhiy Shkarlet for the post of Minister of Education.
What was not achieved?
But the main personnel decision, on which the Office of the President and Volodymyr Zelensky personally insisted, was nevertheless failed by the Verkhovna Rada. We are talking about the appointment of Yuriy Vitrenko as First Deputy Prime Minister - Minister of Energy of Ukraine.
"In fact, this entire personnel week was started for the sake of this appointment alone. We have no proper minister of energy already for nine months now, but only acting ones who cannot work normally and make decisions. Therefore, the failure of this vote was taken hard in the President's Office. Zelensky and Yermak thought they had convinced the faction to support Vitrenko's candidacy. Believe me, they very actively convinced the deputies at the meeting of the faction that this is a good appointment", - an interlocutor in the president's team told our agency.
There was indeed a heated and lively discussion at the meeting of the Servant of the People faction, where President Volodymyr Zelensky and head of the Presidential Office Andriy Yermak came personally, regarding the appointment of Yuriy Vitrenko as Minister of Energy. The main stumbling block was multimillion bonuses that were awarded to Vitrenko during his work at NJSC Naftogaz of Ukraine for the victory over Gazprom in the Stockholm arbitration.
It should be noted that Yuriy Vitrenko is an experienced energy worker. He has worked in various positions in the structure of Naftogaz since the 2000s. In particular, it was his team that was responsible for the trial with Gazprom in 2015. The Russian company was ordered to pay Naftogaz $4.6 billion in compensation.
He was appointed executive director of NJSC Naftogaz of Ukraine on November 13, 2018. Later, he was elected head of the supervisory board of PJSC Ukrnafta. Volodymyr Zelensky appointed Yuriy Vitrenko a member of the supervisory board of the Ukroboronprom state concern in October 2019.
Yuriy Vitrenko left the post of executive director of NJSC Naftogaz of Ukraine on July 17, 2020.
Yuriy Vitrenko was called one of the candidates for the post of Prime Minister of Ukraine in 2019. In particular, oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi spoke about this in his interviews.
As for the story with the scandalous awards, it began in May 2018. It was then that the Supervisory Board of Naftogaz decided to award 41 employees of the company for their contribution to the victory over Gazprom in the Stockholm arbitration. The amount of remuneration was assumed at the level of 1% of the winning amount - $46.3 million.
The first part of the award was paid out immediately. The remaining payments were stopped by President Volodymyr Zelensky, who opposed such large bonuses. Vitrenko filed a lawsuit in the Pechersky Court of Kyiv in connection with non-payment of the premium in full.
In December 2020, it became known about the conclusion of a "settlement" between NJSC Naftogaz of Ukraine and Yuriy Vitrenko, who will receive internal government bonds for $4 million for a period of 5 years.
The fact that the "servants of the people" did not support Vitrenko precisely because of the history with his awards was directly stated by speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Dmytro Razumkov, who did not vote for his appointment.
"There was a very lively discussion at the faction. Someone supported Mr. Vitrenko, others opposed, questions related to 94 million, and then 170 million payments as bonuses for his previous activities, which he organized in Naftogaz, sounded as well. Part of the faction expressed a different position and did not support this candidacy even then", - he said.
As a result, 186 out of 226 necessary prople's deputies supported the appointment of Yuriy Vitrenko as Minister of Energy. At the same time, the "servants of the people" gave only 153 votes. The voting was stably supported by the For the Future and Trust groups, close to Kolomoyskyi, but this was not enough.
Basically, Vitrenko's appointment was initially doomed to failure. Firstly, the relevant committee of the Verkhovna Rada did not support his candidacy. Secondly, there was no unified position regarding the support of Yuriy Vitrenko in Servant of the People on the day of voting. Thirdly, according to OstroV's information, Verkhovna Rada Speaker Dmytro Razumkov spoke out against this appointment.
"There was a roll call in the party chats an hour before the vote, and it was clear that there might not be enough votes. Why then the question was put to a vote is not clear. In addition, Dmytro Razumkov made it clear in private conversations that the candidacy of Yuriy Vitrenko was controversial, so he would abstain from voting. This is Razumkov whole over - he is not against the president's initiatives publicly, he just abstains. But do not forget that there are already 10-15 people's deputies from Servant of the People behind the speaker, who also abstained or "accidentally" left the hall during the voting. Here is the result", - one of the people's deputies from Servant of the People told OstroV.
How important this appointment is for the president's team can be judged by the subsequent appointment of Yuriy Vitrenko as acting minister of energy. The Cabinet of Ministers entered into direct and open confrontation with the parliament with this decision at an extraordinary session on December 21.
In addition, there may be a new attempt to appoint Yuriy Vitrenko in January 2021. This was stated by head of the Servant of the People faction Davyd Arakhamia.
"We can meet and communicate during this period. And, I think, we can bring it to a vote again", - he said.
The president's team will have to hurry to convince the parliament to support Yuriy Vitrenko. Firstly, the powers of the acting are restricted (for example, he cannot vote at a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers). Secondly, the Verkhovna Rada has recently reduced the opportunity to hold temporary positions (be acting) to 30 days.
Another personnel decision, which was expected from the parliament by the Office of the President last week, is the replacement of the Minister of Environment. The fact that current head of the department Roman Abramovsky wrote a letter of resignation was stated by speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Dmytro Razumkov, who announced a vote on December 16. But the parliament removed this issue from the agenda at the last moment. As Razumkov explained, "at the request of the relevant committee".
According to OstroV, the President's Office initially insisted on the resignation of Roman Abramovsky due to the low speed of reforms in the environmental sphere. This despite the fact that he did not work in his position even for six months.
"The situation with the Minister of Ecology looks very strange. We support this decision at the faction at first. We are motivated by the fact that the President's Office does not see reforms. Well, we do not see any reforms either. Come on. We receive messages in the party chat a few hours before the vote that the President's Office changed its mind and decided to give him another chance and time for reforms. This is some kind of nonsense, agony. You cannot approach the problems like that. We have already discussed and agreed on a new candidate, but no", - a source in Servant of the People told OstroV.
According to him, head of the State Service of Geology and Mineral Resources Roman Opimakh was supposed to head the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine.
Roman Opimakh won the competition for the post of Chairman of the State Service of Geology and Subsoil in October 2019. Prior to that, he worked as executive director of the Association of Gas Producers of Ukraine and advisor to the Minister of Energy and Coal Industry. He was also the head of the oil and gas business in the coordination center for relations with the Cabinet of Ministers in the Administration of the President of Ukraine (2014-2015).
"Roman Opimakh did not raise any questions from the faction. Most likely, the Verkhovna Rada would support his appointment in case of voting", - a source in Servant of the People told OstroV.
Recent personnel appointments and failures show a tendency of growing confrontation between the Office of the President and the Verkhovna Rada. Servant of the People (formal mono-majority) is no longer able to make important decisions without the support of other factions and groups. What is significant - even at the personal request of Volodymyr Zelensky. This means that the President is becoming increasingly dependent on oligarchic groups that have their own factions and groups in the parliament.
Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV