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CORONAVIRUS GOVERNMENT | Vitaliy Portnykov

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The change in the Ukrainian government was rapid. Just a few days before his dismissal, Prime Minister Alexei Honcharuk claimed that he was not going to leave office, and deputies from the ruling party told about the achievements of the "technocratic cabinet." But just 48 hours later, the situation turned upside down. From the parliamentary rostrum, President Volodymyr Zelensky acted as the real representative of the opposition and accused the government of failing to implement the state budget. The president said what both, during his election campaign and afterwards his opponents said - new faces are not enough. Deputies also criticized the prime minister and the ministers along with other representatives of the opposition and representatives of the party in power. Suddenly it turned out that the cabinet, which was not so long ago called the most reformatory in recent Ukrainian history, did not suit anyone and failed on everything.


About the real reasons for the rapid change of the government we can only guess. In the era of Volodymyr Zelensky the political climate became more behind the scenes, and we can only put forward versions that are difficult to confirm. One of these versions - a hint was expressed in closing remarks by the former prime minister in front of the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada [parlament] - is related to the conflict of Oleksiy Honcharuk and the powerful oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, a longtime partner and patron of Volodymyr Zelensky. It is about changing the management of the state-owned company “Centrenergo”. Honcharuk removed the managers associated with Kolomoyskyi and deprived the oligarch of direct control over the company's financial flows. And Kolomoisky does not forgive.


Another version is related to sociology. Recent polls have shown a steady decline in confidence in the president, parliament and government. And, while the president's rating is still very high, Zelensky could have decided to show his electorate that he is ready to change officials at any time if they do not please the "people".


The next version is related to the dismissal of the head of the office of President, Andriy Bogdan. The former lawyer of Ihor Kolomoyskyi in the first months of the presidency of Volodymyr Zelensky practically performed the functions of informal vice-president of the state. It was he who proposed both the candidature of Oleksiy Honcharuk for the post of prime minister, and the nomination of Ruslan Ryaboshapka (also expelled) for the post of prosecutor general. But now the functions of the informal vice president have shifted to the new head of presidential office, Andriy Yermak. And he hurries to get rid of the people of Bohdan.


But whatever the motives for the hasty dismissal of the Honcharuk’s government, they are another striking illustration of the blatant irresponsibility towards state structures that has emerged since the election of the country's new president. It is not even that the new government headed by Denis Shmyhal, like the Honcharuk’s government, was formed without any real consultation with the deputy corps. And the fact is that this government simply failed to form! Large segment of the ministers - despite calling their names by Zelensky at a meeting of the “Servant of the People's Party” faction - just ran away before their approval. The government, whose main problem has been called the economy, has not been replaced the economic and energy bloc. Old ministers, whom Zelensky decided to keep, and also the new appointees refuse to work. And with some of them were not even consulted before the appointment - obviously, they thought that becoming a minister was a great achievement in itself and nobody would refuse.


And this is another big mistake of the president and his entourage. Ministers could refuse for two obvious reasons. The first is that the depth of the economic problems is so severe that no qualified person wants to be held accountable for the consequences. And the second - it was easy to see how pleased Zelensky was to wipe his feet on his nominees. Who wants to work for such a president?


At the same time, the government should not have been changed for three reasons - in any case, so hastily.


The first is related to the interests of Zelensky himself. The end of the economic crisis is still very far. And it would be worth waiting at least a few more months for the Honcharuk’s government to be held accountable for the inevitable failure. If Zelensky thinks he can blame the second government in a row and stay outside, that's a big mistake. And yes, it is not in the interests of the country, because it can be a big blow to the institution of the presidency.


The second is negotiations with the IMF. Ukraine needs new loans like air. The Honcharuk government's talks with the IMF can hardly be called very successful, but they were nearing completion. The change of government - and especially the change of the finance minister - forced the IMF to pause in consultations. But if there is no IMF loan, it will bring Ukraine closer to debt default and the collapse of the national currency. Which plays in the hands of the oligarchs - first and foremost to Kolomoyskyi’s - but it will become a disaster for millions of ordinary Ukrainians who would be just robbed.


And most importantly, the change of government occurred just at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, which already approached Ukraine. And in this situation, the country does not need new ministers who are just grasping the business and not acting ministers. We need officials who have at least minimal experience in managing their own agencies. The fact that Ukraine, in the midst of one of the most serious trials in its recent history, is left with a new understaffed cabinet is a grave mistake for the president and his entourage. A mistake that will ultimately cost the head of state not the rating, but the power - if the epidemic takes unmanaged forms.


So, it is only to be hoped that this will not happen, that the measures taken by the authorities will help to contain the spread of the virus in Ukraine, will not lead to a repeat of the sad experience of Italy here, and will help to prevent great mortality and public panic. Here is a sincere wish to the Ukrainian authorities for success.