A Reformer in Kyiv Is Taken Down

May 10, 2024
Ukraine needs to take quick and clear action to recommit itself to transparent and independent management of the country’s restoration.

The Ukrainian parliament’s decision this week to fire Deputy Prime Minister for Restoration Oleksandr Kubrakov and split his department in half has created new ministries of infrastructure and decentralization. Ukrainian civil society sees Andrii Yermak, head of the presidential office, as the driving force behind this one-two punch to take down a rival power center that achieved some independence and collaborated actively with Western allies. Yermak may have moved against Kubrakov at this particular moment to deprive him of the platform to perform well on the world stage at next month’s Ukraine Recovery Conference (URC) in Berlin, as he and his team did at last year’s URC in London.

That team—including Deputy Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandra Azarkhina and Restoration Agency chief Mustafa Nayyem—made progress in building a highly transparent system for financing reconstruction to allay donor concerns about misappropriation of recovery funds. The system’s crown jewel, the Digital Restoration EcoSystem for Accountable Management (DREAM), was co-created with civil society organizations. Team Kubrakov also worked closely with Ukraine’s allies to keep export corridors alive and protect the energy grid. Yermak apparently viewed the former deputy prime minister’s closeness with Western allies—and his frankness with them—as a sign of too much influence.

Ukrainian watchdogs are concerned. They already viewed the president’s office as having too much informal power over the government in Kyiv. Many in Ukrainian civil society now see efforts to cement transparent restoration financing and ministerial independence at risk of being deprioritized by a new team that Yermak will handpick.

The G7 has also taken note. The ambassadors to Ukraine of the United States, the EUGermanyFrance, and other key allies posted social media messages about their appreciation for their partnerships with Kubrakov, and they appear to want to stay close with him. That is how diplomats express concern.

To reassure G7 donors, Kyiv will need to move fast to restore confidence. The first step should be naming Azarkhina as the new minister of infrastructure. That would be an immediate sign that independent reformers are still being empowered.

Kyiv should also promise to preserve DREAM and ensure that it continues to receive investment and policy support. This will show that new world-class systems of procurement transparency built hand-in-hand with Ukrainian civil society will survive the ministerial reorganization and leadership transition.

Ukrainians are sacrificing dearly on the battlefield for their freedom to build a modern European governing system that does not resemble its post-Soviet past. That should preclude power plays by the head of the presidential office to sideline a transparency reformer and dismantle a ministry for no reason other than its effectiveness in dealing with critical allies.