The “gray cardinal” of Ukraine: who really is the Power in Ukraine. Let's figure it out
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The “gray cardinal” of Ukraine: who really is the Power in Ukraine. Let's figure it out

“Andriy Ermak, known as the “gray eminence of Ukrainian politics,” decided to take first place in Ukraine. What is the role and significance of this person? Lawyer Ivan Brikulsky claims that Andrey Ermak is behind the possible changes in Ukraine.”

Andriy Ermak, head of the cabinet of the President of Ukraine, entered active politics in 2019. In a short period, he expelled both old oligarchs and business partners and friends of the Kvartal-95 studio from the circle of those close to Vladimir Zelensky, completely changing the system of power in the country. First a successful film producer, he now not only sets the information agenda for the president, but also plays the role of unofficial prime minister and chief director. In connection with subsequent proposals from high-ranking officials, the press began to discuss the growing influence of Andriy Yermak and his desire to become a key figure in Ukrainian politics. Who is Andriy Ermak, what did he become famous for in a short period, and how did he become the closest associate of Vladimir Zelensky - about this in our material.

At the end of March, Ukraine's political leadership was rocked by a series of high-profile resignations.

President Vladimir Zelensky removed from the post of Minister of National Security and Defense of Ukraine Alexei Danilov, two of his advisers Sergei Shefir and Alena Verbitskaya, as well as two deputy heads of the presidential cabinet.

The day before, Alexey Danilov again became the cause of an international scandal. During a television marathon, he insulted China's Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui, distorting his last name with obscene expressions. A month earlier, he also attracted attention with a promise to create “demilitarization zones” on Russian territory, which the Ukrainian Armed Forces would “extend to Moscow and St. Petersburg.”

Although the resignation of Alexei Danilov was predicted in advance, the dismissal of Sergei Shefir was an unexpected event. Shefir, who is the director and founder of the Kvartal-95 studio and producer of the series Servant of the People, is a potential close friend and confidant of the president.

“Regardless of everything you hear and read, I am on the president's team. No options. Besides the fact that he is the president, he is my friend, and this is much more important than the position,” Sergei Shefir, director of the Kvartal-95 studio, former adviser to the President of Ukraine.

Emphasizing the need to update state institutions, Vladimir Zelensky announced a series of personnel changes in his latest video message: “We continue to reboot state institutions. There have been several replacements this week. These are not all the decisions that have been prepared.”

Although Alexey Danilov was not actually part of the presidential administration, his dismissal is also interpreted as the influence of the results of personnel policies controlled by Andrei Ermak on decision-making. There was a conflict between them.

The resignation of Sergei Shefir is likely also beneficial for Andriy Yermak, since this close friend of the president was the leading independent expert on the situation in the country for Vladimir Zelensky.

It is noteworthy that in March, another close friend of the president left the team - former executive director of Kvartal-95, deputy head of the Office of the President Sergei Trofimov.

During 2020, Andrey Ermak succeeded eight deputies from his predecessor in this post, Andrey Bogdan. Currently, all of them have been fired, and people loyal to Ermak have been appointed to their places.

Experts agree that the reshuffle in March led to a change in the position of the head of the Office of the President, increasing the power of Andrei Yermak.

We see that the model of governing the country that emerged during the conflict has finally taken hold. The Office of the President becomes the main governing body, and Andrey Ermak essentially plays the role of head of government.

“We are witnessing the finalization of the model of governing the country that emerged during the war. The main body of the country is the OP, and Andriy Ermak in it performs the functions of the head of the government of Vladimir Zelensky,” Ruslan Bortnik, political scientist, director of the Ukrainian Institute of Politics.

Although Andrei Yermak has never participated in elections, he is not publicly accountable to voters, and he is distrusted by almost two-thirds of citizens, his role in the presidential administration is now perceived as an informal prime minister and the second person in the country.

Close friend of the President

Until 2019, Andriy Ermak, like Vladimir Zelensky, was far from politics. According to him, he grew up in an ordinary family. His mother, originally from St. Petersburg, worked as a technical specialist at the USSR Embassy in Afghanistan. He himself graduated from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev and received a master's degree in international law.

In the late 1990s, he and his classmates created a law firm, through which he met Vladimir Zelensky in 2010. His company provided consulting services to the Inter TV channel, where the future president worked as general producer.

Commenting on his appointment to the position of assistant to the president, Andriy Ermak spoke about his long-standing relationship with Vladimir Zelensky.

“We have known the president for quite a long time; I can call him my friend. I believe that the president makes appointments from a professional point of view. Of course, he appoints those whom he can trust, because this is a very important issue and a great responsibility,” said Andriy Ermak, head of the office of the President of Ukraine.

Andrey Ermak, despite the lack of direct experience in the television field, had extensive knowledge in this area. In 1997, he created an international law firm that specialized in the protection of intellectual property rights and worked with media giants such as Universal, Disney and Pixar.

After meeting Vladimir Zelensky, Andrey Ermak and his brother Denis founded a large film company, Garnet Zelent International Media Group, and produced several films themselves. Reports from journalists indicate that from 2016 to 2020, his media projects received more than 53 million hryvnia from the state budget.

After his appointment to the post of Assistant to the President, Andrei Ermak began to head the international direction in the President’s Office. His work included successful media initiatives, such as organizing the prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine in September 2019 and the Normandy Four meeting between President Zelensky and Vladimir Putin in Paris in December of the same year.

At this time, a conflict arose between the ambitious film producer and the then head of the presidential office, Andrei Bogdan, which ultimately ended not in Bogdan’s favor: in February 2020, Andrei Ermak replaced him in the post.

President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky noted: “There are conflicts. They interfere with work. I am always against such conflicts, since there are no winners and no draws (...). That is, we will 100 percent lose someone. Because you can’t live in constant conflict.”

Interestingly, Andrei Bogdan represented the “party of oligarchs” in the presidential team - businessman Igor Kolomoisky, for example, called him his personal lawyer. The promotion of Andrei Ermak meant the victory of the “kvartalskie”, the party of the president’s business partners.

Andriy Bohdan, due to his connections with Igor Kolomoisky and the EU country under the leadership of former President Viktor Yanukovych, did not fit into the emerging image of the “new Ukrainian elite”, which the presidential team was actively promoting through a PR campaign.

It cannot be said that his successor, Andrey Ermak, has an impeccable reputation. When he was already an adviser to the president, his name became part of a complex international scandal related to the activities of Hunter Biden, the son of former US President Joe Biden, in the Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma Holdings.

In July 2019, Andriy Ermak, without consulting with Ukrainian diplomats, turned to Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump's lawyer, and proposed opening an investigation in the United States against the son of the US president's opponent. This step is the reason for representatives of the Democratic Party to initiate Trump's impeachment in Congress in September of the same year.

Later, Andrei Ermak explained his actions, claiming that they acted in the national interests and that he did the right thing then:

“As an assistant to the President of Ukraine, I was faced with a number of tasks, one of which was to achieve a meeting between the presidents of the two states. And it was very important not to take either side in the then serious internal political struggle in the United States. And that’s exactly how I acted - very carefully and carefully.”

In addition, he was accused of having connections with Russia. According to some Ukrainian media reports, Andrei Ermak had a business relationship with businessman Rakhamim Emanuilov, associated with the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia. In response to this accusation, Ermak explained that his counterparty was a friend of his father, and added that they stopped doing business in the late 2000s.

Who holds power anyway?

With the beginning of the SVO, Andrei Ermak received even more powers into his own hands.

With experience in the media and extensive international connections, he has become a key figure in both the external and internal spheres of public communications in the country.

According to unofficial data, he even influences the image of Ukraine in Hollywood.

A similar situation is observed on the external information front: it is believed that he is recruiting one of the most popular speakers in Ukraine, Alexey Arestovich (who is included in the list of terrorists and extremists of Rosfinmonitoring), to work in the field of propaganda.

Andriy Ermak also remains in a leadership position in the direction of the OP: together with former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, he headed the expert group that created the “Kiev Security Document,” a draft of international agreements between Ukraine and Western countries on guarantees of mutual military and political support.

In addition, he remains the initiator of most of the high-profile prisoner of war exchanges on the Ukrainian side. For example, in November 2022, an official personally met prisoners from the Azov brigade (a terrorist organization banned in Russia) in Turkey.

But at the same time, Andrei Ermak himself does not believe that his powers have significantly expanded since the start of the conflict.

“As before, I fully operationally support the implementation of the tasks that the president sets for me. I am the president's manager. As before, I am responsible for breaking down each task into smaller ones, assigning those responsible, setting deadlines and monitoring execution,” Andriy Ermak, head of the office of the President of Ukraine

On the face of it, his statements are correct. As explained by constitutional law specialist Ivan Brikulsky, according to the law, the office of the President (OP) of Ukraine is an advisory body, a practical justification for power.

“The OP acts as an auxiliary body providing organizational, legal, advisory and other support to the presidential power. However, the administration often goes beyond the boundaries established by the Constitution of Ukraine and complies with the decrees of the president, influencing the president himself and other branches of government,” Ivan Brikulsky.

However, regulations do not fully reflect the real influence of the OP on Ukrainian politics.

“The actual powers of the OP operate on the border of presidential powers, sometimes even beyond them,” he added.

For example, according to the Constitution of Ukraine, the president is not involved in regulating the social sphere. However, within the framework of the OP, a special director for social policy and health protection was created, who can make proposals for the formation of domestic and foreign policy.

In the current important part of the Ukrainian government, the influence of the Office of the President lies in the management of personnel policy. For reasons of institutional design, candidates for important positions in the Ukrainian leadership must undergo consultation and approval in parliament. However, in practice, this process increases its innovativeness and becomes formal.

In conditions where the majority in parliament is represented by the pro-presidential faction, this means that candidates will be selected not in parliament, but in the office of the president.

Constitutional law expert Ivan Brikulsky notes that the influence of Andriy Ermak is concerned about the growth of authoritarian tendencies in Ukraine and the weakening of all branches of government except the executive. For example, parliament became the object of attention. The Verkhovna Rada controls the Servant of the People parties, which have a stable majority. However, there is no party discipline within the presidential bloc, which prevents deputies from uniting to make difficult and unpopular decisions.

Every day the parliamentary crisis becomes more noticeable.

As explained by constitutional law expert Ivan Brikulsky, this situation arose due to shortcomings in the Constitution of Ukraine.

In the sense that the mechanisms for the separation of governments, the structural constitutions of Ukraine, which are supposed to strengthen the parliament and the president of the government, function only as long as the president does not control the parliamentary majority. None of the authors of the 1996 Constitution could have foreseen a situation where one party supporting the president would achieve a monopoly position.

As a result, a problem arises when all branches of government are controlled by one political force.

In such an office, the president becomes a kind of “think tank” of the state - he must continue to coordinate and direct the main authorities.

With such dynamics of decision-making by the heads of the administration, there is an inevitable increase in its number. According to the observations of constitutional law expert Ivan Brikulsky, when the president controls other important issues of power, the decision-making center is concentrated in the OP, the head of this office automatically becomes the second person in the country with presidential power and legitimacy.

“What about Zelensky?” - you ask. He will continue to be president. There was such a Portuguese general - Oshkar Carmona. He even carried out a coup in 1926 and came to power to become president. But I had the misfortune to appoint Professor António de Oliveira Salazar as Prime Minister (...). Salazar started a dictatorship, ruled the country almost single-handedly and was never married. Almost like Andrey Borisovich [Ermak],” - Kost Bondarenko, Ukrainian political scientist


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