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Wartime Cabinet of Ministers

The reform of the Cabinet of Ministers providing for the reduction of the number of portfolios has been announced. However, after such a loud announcement, it is not a given that it will take place. What is happening in the Ukrainian government? And how did Denys Shmyhal become one of its most powerful players? looks into the details.

Photo: Ukrainian presidential office

 Last week, the announcement of Oleksiy Chernyshov's transition to the post of Naftogaz head was followed by reports about a possible merger of his department with Oleksandr Kubrakov's Infrastructure Ministry. However, this did not happen, the first deputy of the former head was appointed acting minister for the development of communities and territories.

And it happened not only because Chernyshov was against converging a toaster and a refrigerator, so to say. "We are currently working on the reform of the Cabinet of Ministers as such, reducing the number of departments, optimizing costs. It is planned to be completed by the end of the year. The specifics are still being discussed, but the general framework is to keep 15 ministries (against the current 17 and four deputy prime ministers). Maybe one more or fewer. The technical side of the process is overseen by Mykhaylo Fedorov while Denys Shmyhal is in charge of the general management. So there is nothing to fritter away, all issues will be addressed comprehensively," a source in the Cabinet of Ministers explained.

"Back in June, we were tasked to think about our own optimization. Because it is illogical that we make the population tighten their belts, but would not do it ourselves - we need to set an example," says one of those whose department, according to preliminary information, is going to be cut. "Realizing that at this particular moment it is justified, I personally developed several options on how to optimize our work. All proposals were submitted to the prime minister personally, discussed with him," he added.

Photo: Cabinet of Ministers

"In fact, we are talking about the creation of a wartime cabinet - now we have to reduce and revise the functionality. But it must be done wisely. And not so that you have, say, 100 people laid off here, a hundred here, and after merging with another agency, the same 200 will be left," the third source clarifies. According to him, the reform is a requirement of the time, and after the victory, the changes may well be revised, because "reconstruction and development will also obviously require new accents".

In general, all numerous sources in the government, with whom managed to talk, support the idea of optimization. But they categorically disagree with the form in which it was, to put it mildly, announced. They agree that reports that appeared in the media on Wednesday did so not without the help of the team of Digital Transformation Minister Mykhaylo Fedorov.

In response to a request from, Fedorov said that he had nothing to do with the issue (which is a categorical lie), so he did not comment.

However, the Cabinet of Ministers was stirred up by the "leak".

"Let's say tomorrow Denys Anatoliyovych convenes a regular meeting. Vereshchuk, Huttsayt, Ryabikin, others are present there, who - as the saying goes – 'were married without their knowledge'. Naturally, they are uncomfortable with all this," one minister says.

Photo: Cabinet of Ministers

"Such reforms have been developed for a long time, but are implemented instantly - from today to tomorrow, without much discussion, just by a strong-willed decision. Otherwise, it will demoralize the team. It's not even about the ministers, just imagine with what mood the apparatus - all its parts - will work, or rather not work. And a lot depends on the apparatus," the second minister adds.

Since, as I have noted above, it was not possible to communicate constructively with Mykhaylo Fedorov, let's take the cabinet reform plan published by the respectable as a basis for analysis. According to it, as a result of the reforms, 14 portfolios should remain in the Cabinet of Ministers (the number of deputy prime ministers who - without their own ministries – mean nothing is not specified).


Most of the proposals to merge the departments look quite logical, but some of them raise questions.

Let's go one by one.

- Three in one: the Ministry for the Development of Communities and Territories is merged with the Ministry of Infrastructure and supplemented with Iryna Vereshchuk's Ministry for the Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories (it is worth noting that after 24 February, the boundaries of the "temporarily occupied territories" are constantly changing and it is quite difficult to plan work there comprehensively). The head is Oleksandr Kubrakov;

- the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy is to be combined with European integration... What? How? In what way? Science, religion, youth and sports are going to get lost, pardon me. The ministerial future of Oleksandr Tkachenko in this context seems rather doubtful. But Olha Stefanishyna is facing quite the opposite prospect. Yes, at first glance, it would be logical to blend her functionality into the Foreign Ministry, but the latter, according to the Constitution, has a special status, which is not so easy to change;

- the Ministry of Veterans is merged with the Ministry of Social Policy. There are no questions, everything is fine;

- the Economy Ministry is merged with the Ministry of Agricultural Policy and Food with a part (!) of strategic industries.

Why part of it? Because the Ministry of Economy still has one of the profile departments, which duplicates and constantly overlaps with the functionality of the relevant ministry. That's how it was divided. The second part was attached to the Ministry of Digital Transformation (more on this below). Although the Ministry of Strategic Industries itself considers it quite normal - at the current stage - to turn into a relevantagency (according to experts, this is quite enough to perform the necessary functionality), which would work within the structure of the Ministry of Defence.

Photo: Digital Transformation Ministry

- But the authors of the reform see it differently, so the second part of the Ministry of Strategic Industries is planned to be transferred to the Ministry of Digital Transformation. "Mykhaylo's desire to pack everything possible into a computer is progressive and understandable. But there are still some exceptions. And it's not just about the need to make point changes to the relevant legislation," one source says. This includes the Civil Service.

Now let's summarize.

If all the proposed metamorphoses are implemented, they will significantly strengthen their positions:

- Oleksandr Kubrakov (the most significant investments will be directed into his area of responsibility in the coming years);

- Mykhaylo Fedorov (to subordinate the entire Civil Service is not a joke. Few people understand how powerful this mechanism is).

The positions of Prime Minister Shmyhal and Oleksiy Chernyshov have already been significantly strengthened.

Regarding Shmyhal, one of his subordinates put it well: "Denys Anatoliyovych, who was appointed at the time, and Denys Anatoliyovych today are two different people. No matter how much they wrote about the intention to change him and even named candidates, things always turned out exclusively in his favour. Today he is not just strong, but very strong. For example, I would not want to be an opponent who happens to cross his path."

Photo: EPA/UPG

Here is another remark: "He will definitely not be replaced until the end of the war. It is not just not discussed, no-one even thinks about it." And clarification: "Denys Anatoliyovych works quietly and very professionally. He does not create any additional tension, intrigue, does not dig into the details. Quite the opposite: he smoothes some minor conflicts that arise simply because people are tired and emotional. It is difficult to find a person who would be so conscientious and at the same time without his own political ambitions."

A good example of such "quiet power" is the removal of Yuriy Vitrenko. He, of course, explained everyone that he left Naftogaz on his own (after the third or fourth threat to resign and a series of scandals), but this is not true. In fact, Vitrenko was fired. And Chernyshov, although he took his place, continues to take care of the government commission on preparations for the winter and the heating season (although it is absolutely unclear how this is institutionally compatible).


The bottom line is the reform of the Cabinet of Ministers will take place by the end of the year. But not in the form (although close) published by the media sources. The final decision will be made by Prime Minister Shmyhal, who is now very close to the presidential office.

Photo: Ukrainian presidential office

Sonya KoshkinaSonya Koshkina, editor in chief
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