On February 14, Andriy Kliuyev, head of one of the key influential groups in the government, was dismissed as First Deputy Prime Minister and appointed Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC). Raisa Bohatyriova, who is linked to Rinat Akhmetov’s financial-industrial group and had headed the NSDC, became Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister. It remains to be seen who will take Kliuyev’s position in the government. Experts are inclined to believe that this person will be the main candidate for the prime minister's chair after Mykola Azarov steps down. The latest reshuffling once again suggests that Azarov's resignation is imminent — former Health Minister Oleksandr Onishchenko was said to be close to Azarov. Serhiy Tihipko, Iryna Akimova, Serhiy Arbuzov and Valeriy Khoroshkovsky are mentioned as possible successors to Kliuyev.
However, the biggest question is how the latest reshuffling will change the balance of power among various groups in the government team? Bohatyriova’s dismissal is no surprise, but Kliuyev’s new appointment is intriguing. On the one hand, some say that his transfer is a demotion that will weaken his position. One possible reason is that, as the coordinator of the parliamentary majority, he failed to keep opposition MPs from frustrating the president’s speech in parliament on the day of a new session. Moreover, the Association Agreement with the EU, for which Kliuyev was responsible, has not been initialed. He is also said to have been the mastermind of the plan to push through the Verkhovna Rada a bill on reforming Ukraine’s gas transportation system and Naftogaz which would essentially give control of the gas transport system to Russia. He is also implicated in a scandal in Europe. According to some reports, Kliuyev channelled financial aid Ukraine received from the European Union to enterprises associated with him, prompting Europe to slash its aid overall and to shut down some programs completely.
Despite these reservations in the media about Kliuyev, arguments for a completely different story behind his change in jobs are just as compelling. As NSDC Secretary, Kliuyev will focus on preparations for the parliamentary election. (He concurrently heads the Party of Regions’ campaign headquarters.) In introducing Kliuyev to the staff and members of the NSDC, Yanukovych emphasized, according to his press service, that Kliuyev’s task is to build the security sector “in new conditions while meeting the challenges faced by our country". The president expects all power structures to effectively fulfil the tasks set by the new secretary (who is also, let us not forget, the head of the Party of Regions’ campaign headquarters). That the NSDC’s role may increase is acknowledged by people close to Yanukovych. “Kliuyev is a strong crisis manager… The apparatus of the NSDC has virtually stopped operating in the past several months, so we will see certain measures to step up its activities,” presidential aide Dmytro Vydrin said.
Should this be the case, Kliuyev’s appointment is a logical link in a series of reshuffles in power structures aimed at preparing them to effectively fulfil the tasks set by the president for the duration of the election campaign and the October election itself. After all, the upcoming popular vote may lead to the biggest tension since the Orange Revolution. If the government attempts to rig the results in order to win at any cost, quelling wide public protests may become its top priority. “It makes sense that the NSDC would be the focal link for finding possible solutions at a time of socioeconomic tension,” Kostiantyn Matviyenko, expert at the Hardarika Strategic Consulting Corporation, suggests. This means that Kliuyev would essentially become a bridge between the president and the power ministers.