Yermak replaces Bohdan as President’s Office head
Ukrainian President Zelensky accepted on Feb. 11 the resignation of Presidential Office Head Andriy Bohdan, appointing as his replacement Andriy Yermak, who has served as his aide since May. Zelensky said Bohdan’s resignation was prompted by “conflicts,” which is widely acknowledged as Yermak’s months-long rivalry with Bohdan in advising Zelensky. “There are conflicts. They interfere with work. I have always been against such conflicts, since they have no victors, nor any ties. Unfortunately. So we either lose time, or we lose people. But all those who work in the Office, they are professional people. So we will lose someone 100%. Because you can’t live in constant conflict. That’s all,” Zelensky said of the situation in an interview with the Interfax-Ukraine news agency published on Feb. 11. Among his current office staff, Zelensky said he has known two or three employees for a long time, while he became acquainted with the others only since the election campaign of early 2019.
Bohdan submitted his resignation after an “unpleasant discussion” with Zelensky on Feb. 10, the pravda.com.ua news site reported, citing an anonymous source in the President’s Office. In informing his deputies of his decision, Bohdan reportedly said, “Now everyone is for themselves,” the source said. Recall, Bohdan had served as the personal lawyer to scandalous billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky since 2015 before becoming the head of the President’s Office in May 2019. Kolomoisky is widely recognized as the main sponsor of Zelensky’s presidential campaign, having offered various resources (including Bohdan’s legal counsel) and mass media exposure.
Before his appointment as presidential aide in May 2019, the 48-year-old Yermak was a behind-the-scenes player in Ukrainian politics, having worked with both Russian-oriented and pro-Western MPs. He chaired the Association of Kyiv Entrepreneurs, founded a media company and produced several films, as well as having stakes in more than a dozen businesses. Yermak’s conflict with Bohdan intensified when Zelensky decided to take Yermak’s advice in October in dropping the attack campaign against Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitshcko, who was targeted by Bohdan for replacement immediately upon taking office. Yermak has played an instrumental role in arranging the two exchanges of prisoners with Russia, as well as handling the negotiations for resolving the war in Donbas.
Zenon Zawada: Bohdan’s departure is a turning point in the Zelensky presidency considering he was the president’s closest adviser leading up to the presidency, having been at the genesis of Zelensky’s political career years earlier. His departure is the final severance of Zelensky’s ties, and any possible obligations, to the billionaire Kolomoisky, who is widely recognized as the main sponsor of his election campaign. When Bohdan reportedly told his staff, “Now everyone is for themselves,” we interpret that as him indicating that he no longer owes Zelensky anything, and can resume his relations with Kolomoisky. Now we can expect Kolomoisky and his close allies – Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov and People’s Servant MP Oleksandr Dubinsky – to be actively challenging Zelensky and pressuring him now that all ties are severed.
Yermak is among those that Zelensky referred to as having become acquainted with only during his presidential campaign. One of the few trusted advisers, the 55-year-old Serhiy Shefir, indicated to Zelensky that he isn’t interested in leading the President’s Office, the pravda.com.ua news site said. Yermak’s advantage is that he has no obligations to any oligarch or political party, which is now Zelensky’s situation as well. This will not only benefit Zelensky in reaching the necessary decisions on Privatbank (critical for an IMF loan tranche), but also in his public image.
Ultimately, Bohdan’s departure will be positively received by the public. Besides his close ties to the highly unpopular Kolomoisky, Bohdan had served in the Yanukovych administration, recruited numerous colleagues from that period, and was the target of a lustration campaign by the EuroMaidan electorate because of that. While Yermak has demonstrated political talent, it has yet to be seen whether he can balance handling negotiations with Russia with managing the President’s Office.