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Shmyhal Set To Replace Honcharuk As PM Amid Ukraine Government Shake-Up

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Ruling party lawmakers say Denys Shmyhal is set to become Ukraine's new prime minister (file photo).

KYIV -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk has after six months on the job submitted his resignation as the government prepares for a major reshuffle, lawmakers in President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's ruling Servant of the People party told RFE/RL.

Ukraine’s national legislature, the Verkhovna Rada, will likely vote on March 4 to accept Honcharuk’s resignation and to replace him with 44-year-old Denys Shmyhal, currently a deputy prime minister, the lawmakers said on March 3.

Zelenskiy plans to attend the extraordinary session of parliament, according to party members.

There was no immediate comment from Zelenskiy or Honcharuk.

Shmyhal was named deputy prime minister in February. He previously served as head of the regional administration in the western Ivano-Frankivsk region, where he made a name for himself as a business-friendly governor.

In 2017-2019, Shmyhal worked as an executive at DTEK, an energy holding owned by Ukraine’s richest billionaire, Rinat Akhmetov. A native of Lviv, Shmyhal headed several business enterprises for most of the previous decade before entering the civil service at the Lviv regional administration. He has studied abroad, mainly in Belgium, Canada, Georgia, and Finland.

In previous interviews, Shmyhal said he had never met Akhmetov and was hired to work for DTEK through a competitive process.

Some Ukraine observers voiced concern over the danger of oligarchs increasing their influence in politics.

“My advice is do not allow the oligarchs a pathway to get back into power indirectly in Ukraine. Because if you do, you will lose the support of the Western community,” said Michael Carpenter, managing director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.

He added that there is “so much is at stake here and, if we see the influence of people like Dmytryo Firtash, Rinat Akhmetov, and other oligarchs through proxies, through people more beholden to their interests than to the national interest, then the project starts to unwind."

Carpenter said he hoped wise consideration is given to "who they put into what jobs."

Ukrainian sources told RFE/RL that other cabinet members will likely also lose their positions in the shake-up.

According to lawmakers, the cabinet reshuffle could also see Finance Minister Oksana Makarova depart. She is well respected by markets.

Seeing people like the finance minister leave "gives one a little bit of cause for concern," Carpenter said.

The surprise shake-up comes amid falling approval ratings for Zelenskiy and days after Kyiv held talks with a visiting mission from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) regarding approval for a new $5.5 billion loan program.

IMF backing and billions of dollars of linked aid from the EU and other Western backers is seen as paramount to assisting the country bounce back economically amid a sixth year of war with Russian-backed separatists in its easternmost regions.

Speaking in Washington on March 3, Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev said he hopes the new government will observe the existing agreement with the IMF and implement reforms that will allow Naftogaz to compete with intermediaries like Firtash and deliver gas directly to homes.

Unbundling in the retail sector "is one of the many challenges for the regulator, for Zelenskiy, for the new government...It not only damages the economy, it damages their political image because consumers and households are not happy," he said.

Kobolyev’s contract ends in March.

A 35-year-old former lawyer and a political newcomer, Honcharuk was named prime minister in August.

He previously submitted his resignation on January 17 amid a scandal surrounding an audio recording in which he allegedly disparages the economic knowledge and competence of both himself and Zelenskiy.

Zelenskiy at the time declined to accept it.

Elected to office last spring, Zelenskiy, a former comedian turned politician, ran on a platform to "break the system" that had ruled Ukraine since independence in 1991.

With reporting by Reuters, the Kyiv Post, 112 Ukraine, Financial Times, AFP and Ukrayinska Pravda
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