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Volodymyr Hroysman: Ukraine's Would-Be Prime Minister Is Loyal Poroshenko Ally

  • Ron Synovitz

Ukraine's pro-European parliament speaker Volodymyr Hroysman was widely tipped to succeed Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister, although talks on April 11-12 reportedly stalled over a possible cabinet. (file photo)

Ukraine's pro-European parliament speaker Volodymyr Hroysman was widely tipped to succeed Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister, although talks on April 11-12 reportedly stalled over a possible cabinet. (file photo)

The man identified by Ukraine's outgoing prime minister as his successor, Volodymyr Hroysman, is a 38-year-old loyalist of President Petro Poroshenko who was thrust onto the national scene after the Euromaidan unrest that toppled a government.

Hroysman's meteoric rise from mayoral upstart to speaker of a notoriously obstreperous parliament was fueled in part by perceptions that a relative outsider with little political baggage could unite rival lawmakers, but it also prompted questions about his inexperience and political indebtedness to Poroshenko.

Announcing his planned resignation to avoid any "destabilization of the executive branch during a war" despite having batted down a no-confidence vote by lawmakers last month, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the ruling Petro Poroshenko Bloc "has nominated" Hroysman to the head the next government.

Hroysman, who recently underlined Kyiv's commitment to Western-backed reforms, responded by saying he was prepared to lead the next Ukrainian government.

However, reports from Kyiv overnight on April 11-12 said coalition talks had stalled over the makeup of a possible cabinet, and even suggested Hroysman had withdrawn from consideration.

Hroysman has had changes of heart before.

Prior to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014, with pro-European and anticorruption anger boiling over under the Euromaidan banner, Hroysman expressed no desire to serve in the national government, telling journalists he was not interested in Kyiv or any ministry post.

But within days of Yanukovych's exit, Hroysman became government minister for regional development and a deputy prime minister.

The ascension to the presidency in June of industrial mogul Poroshenko, whose confectionery conglomerate Roshen had recently built a plant in Hroysman's hometown, by many accounts lent further weight to Hroysman's political ambitions.

There was also speculation that the appointment of Hroysman, a Jew, to a top government post was aimed in part at blunting suggestions in Russia's state-controlled media that the post-Yanukovych government in Kyiv was unduly influenced by anti-Semites. After Hroysman was named deputy prime minister, the BBC quoted chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich as saying it was meant to "shut the mouths of those who say the government is anti-Semitic."

In his government posts, Hroysman coordinated Kyiv's relief efforts for civilians displaced by the war against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

He was also put in charge of Kyiv's investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine, arguably a key turning point in the conflict as public outrage allowed Western governments to impose sanctions against Russia.

A Fresh Face

By November 2014, Hroysman was voted in as speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, as a deputy for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

Political analyst Anatoliy Oktysyuk told RFE/RL at the time that Hroysman's selection was part of Poroshenko's plan to "lessen the degree of conflict in parliament" with the support of a "loyal and reliable" parliamentary speaker.

Hroysman was seen by some as a young politician with a fresh approach to resolving differences among the parties and parliamentary factions within the fractious governing coalition.

Political analyst Vadym Karasyov, director of Kyiv's Global Strategies Institute, warned that Hroysman was too young and that his political rise -- a result of lobbying efforts by Poroshenko -- had been too rapid.

Today, most political commentators in Kyiv see Hroysman's possible appointment as the next Ukrainian prime minister as a move that could give Poroshenko more control over a reform process that had sputtered amid corruption allegations and vicious coalition infighting under Yatsenyuk's government.

One crucial task for Hroysman, or any other prime minister, would be to push through parliament the remaining constitutional changes required under the Minsk accords -- a package of decentralization reforms that give special status to separatist-held territory in eastern Ukraine.

Another task would be overseeing economic reforms demanded by the West in order to put negotiations back on track for a new $1.7 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -- money that is desperately needed to prop up Ukraine's struggling economy.

Western-Oriented

Hroysman graduated in 2003 from the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management with a specialization in jurisprudence.

He first entered politics in 2005 when he joined Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party as a 27-year-old city councilor in the central city of Vinnytsya.

He was elected in 2006 as the mayor of Vinnytsya and remained in that post for eight years -- becoming known at the time as a young progressive who was oriented more toward Western Europe than Russia.

As the youngest head of a city administration in Ukraine, Hroysman continued his studies until February 2010, when he graduated from the National Academy of State Administration.

His specialization there was in community-development management, with a focus on local and regional management.

Hroysman continued to serve as Vinnytsya's mayor until the first government of Prime Minister Yatsenyuk was created on February 27, 2014.

Hroysman was appointed as deputy prime minister for regional policy as well as the minister of regional development, construction and housing, and communal services.

Five months later, when the parliamentary coalition that supported Yatsenyuk's first government collapsed and Yatsenyuk submitted his resignation, Hroysman was nominated to serve as acting prime minister until new parliamentary elections could be held.

However, the parliament rejected Yatsenyuk's resignation – setting the stage for the October 2014 snap elections that brought Hroysman into parliament as an ally of Poroshenko and which led to his appointment as speaker of parliament in November 2014.

In March 2016, Hroysman vowed he would "do everything that society expects of me and what our state needs now."

He told journalists in Kyiv on March 24 that, if he became Ukraine's prime minister, he was "not going to serve the interests of the powerful elite of the world."

He said he wanted to "work with people who are trusted and not rejected by the people" and that he would "never agree to lead a cabinet that is made up of losers."

"It's important to form a qualified team to carry out a plan of action," he said. "People who will work in the government should have untarnished reputations and professional qualifications."

Hroysman also has vowed that his government would not sit on the sidelines "observing the crisis that is hurting our people today."

"With the current crisis in Ukraine, it is unacceptable to take a wait-and-see approach about how things develop," he said.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service
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