Ukraine’s New Government: Expats and Romantics Are Out

President Petro Poroshenko tapped his long-time protege and ally, former parliament speaker Volodymyr Hroisman to form the government. The result, for the most part, is a cabinet of Poroshenko loyalists; the unpopular businessman-president is consolidating power, much the way his hapless predecessor Viktor Yanukovych once did. Though, at several points in the negotiating process, Hroisman reportedly refused the prime minister’s job unless his conditions were met, these reports should be taken with a grain of salt: Poroshenko wants Hroisman to look independent, not least in the eyes of Washington politicians who have been wary of Poroshenko monopolizing power.

Hroisman was a popular mayor in Vinnytsia, the base city of Poroshenko’s confectionery empire, Roshen. He fixed the roads, persuaded the Zurich city authorities to give Vinnytsia 100 perfectly serviceable streetcars that the Swiss city was replacing, made the bureaucracy friendlier to city residents and got Poroshenko to build a spectacular musical fountain in the middle of the Southern Bug, the river that flows through the city. But the Hroisman family also owns a large mall in Vinnytsia, built while Volodymyr already ran the city, and financed with debt the Hroismans never repaid. The new prime minister is a typical Ukrainian politician, wily and capable but at the same time always mindful of his personal interests.

The new cabinet includes some of his old co-workers from Vinnytsia: One as a deputy prime minister in charge of the secessionist regions of eastern Ukraine, another as social security minister. It also includes plenty of seasoned Ukrainian politicians and bureaucrats who did fine under all the previous regimes, as well as a couple of veterans from the 2014 “Revolution of Dignity” and a few allies of former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk — his reward for allowing Poroshenko to form a beholden cabinet and avoid an early parliamentary election.

Gone, however, are the foreigners and investment bankers brought into Yatsenyuk’s government on the initiative of Poroshenko’s chief of staff Boris Lozhkin, a former publishing magnate (disclosure: I worked for Lozhkin in Kiev in 2011 and 2012, before he went into politics). The chief of staff used headhunters to locate suitable professionals, and Poroshenko granted them Ukrainian citizenship so they could take up top positions.

“It was indeed my idea to infect the government with a different life form,” Lozhkin told me in an interview a year ago. “They have to have a different genetic makeup to change the system.” Gone are Lithuanian-born asset manager Aivaras Abromavicius as economy minister and U.S.-born venture capitalist Natalie Jaresko. The health minister, a Georgian, was also cut from the team.

Ivan Miklos, the former finance minister of Slovakia, might have been the only foreigner in the Hroisman cabinet. Poroshenko’s team negotiated with him and a law was even initiated to allow him to keep his Slovak citizenship. Yet all Miklos agreed to is an advisory role.

Some Ukrainian private sector stars who went into public service after the revolution are also notably missing from Hroisman’s cabinet.