Ukraine’s parliament has accepted the unexpected resignation of powerful interior minister, Arsen Avakov, prompting speculation about the future plans of a political heavyweight with reputed links to oligarchs and ultra-nationalist groups.
Deputies voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to accept Mr Avakov’s resignation, which he submitted this week without explaining why he wanted to end his seven-year stint as minister in charge of a law-enforcement empire that included Ukraine’s police force, national guard, emergencies ministry and border guard force.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to ask deputies on Friday to approve Denys Monastyrskiy (40) as Mr Avakov’s replacement. Mr Monastyrskiy is a member of the head-of-state’s ruling Servant of the People party, and current head of the committee on law-enforcement in parliament.
Mr Avakov (57) became interior minister in the wake of Ukraine’s 2014 revolution, which prompted the country’s then Kremlin-backed leadership to flee and led to Russia annexing Crimea and fomenting a war in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine that has since killed more than 14,000 people.
He served under two presidents and four prime ministers and survived numerous cabinet reshuffles, in what analysts called testament to the personal influence he grew to wield over Ukraine’s law-enforcement agencies, and concerns over the trouble he could cause for any political leader who made him an enemy.
Mr Avakov became one of the country’s pre-eminent powerbrokers, and was credited by some observers with helping to ensure a smooth transfer of power in 2019 when Mr Zelenskiy – a former comedian and political novice – beat billionaire incumbent Petro Poroshenko in hard-fought presidential elections.
He was also believed to play a key role in preserving order on the streets of Ukraine, because he simultaneously controlled the police and national guard and reportedly maintained close links to leaders of the Azov battalion and other far-right groups.
Mr Avakov’s many critics said his political clout vastly outweighed his achievements, however.
They pointed to the failure of investigators to secure convictions in a number of high-profile cases, the relentless opposition of the “old guard” to reform of Ukraine’s scandal-plagued police, prosecution and judicial services, and Mr Avakov’s own perceived reluctance to go after powerful political and business “oligarchs”.
Analysts said Mr Zelenskiy increasingly saw Mr Avakov as a likely obstacle to the “de-oligarchisation” campaign that he announced this year, and which he hopes will not only boost his flagging ratings and improve his chances of securing a second term in office, but bolster his standing with Ukraine’s crucial western allies.
Mr Avakov has not revealed his plans for the future, but few expect him to retire from politics and some predict he will seek to play a larger role in Kharkiv, his home city and a key government stronghold near the Donbas warzone and the Russian border.