Conflicts & War

Zelenskyy shields himself with loyalists, shakes off ‘traitors’

By Rostyslav Averchuk

Lviv, Ukraine, Jul 23 (EFE).- The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy — who has just dismissed some high-ranking state officials amid suspicions of treason among their employees — maintains a hard core of loyal key political figures almost five months after the Russian invasion.

Since the start of the invasion, Zelenskyy has focused on coordinating the country’s defense but, above all, on communication — an area where he feels most comfortable thanks to his previous career as a comedian and actor.

While actively involved in all major decision-making, the president has relied on a number of high profile figures in his inner circle whose influence does not necessarily correspond to their legally defined powers.

With prime minister Denys Shmyhal — initially seen as a loyal official who would never compete with the president despite his extensive formal powers — it is the head of the presidential office, Andriy Yermak, who is considered to be the second most powerful man in the country, thanks to the trusting relation he has built with Zelenskyy.

Despite formally being just his secretary, Yermak runs an extensive presidential administration that mirrors the composition of the government without being subject to any formal oversight. In a recent interview, Yermak — who has also worked as a lawyer and film producer — called himself the “president’s manager”.

Yermak ensures Zelenskyy’s decisions are carried out and oversees a wide range of issues — from the negotiations around future security guarantees for Ukraine to the country’s post-war reconstruction and coordinating sanctions against Russia with the United States.

Davyd Arakhamia, head of the presidential party’s faction in the parliament, has almost matched Yermak’s influence, according to the analysis by Roman Romaniuk and Roman Kravets for “Ukrainska Pravda”.

With the president’s control over his faction currently unquestionable, Arakhamia has been able to engage in a number of additional activities. An effective communicator, he has been responsible for the president’s contacts with various political groups inside the country.

Together with a counselor to Yermak, former journalist Mykhailo Podoliak also belongs to Zelenskyy’s close circle. Arakhamia and Podoliak have actively commented on the situation on the front line, naming the number of daily Ukrainian casualties and pressing for quicker and larger deliveries of Western weapons to Ukraine.

But their roles have drawn criticism from the head of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, who said it was up to the army or the ministry of defense to take the lead in those kinds of matters.

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