A wide range of Ukrainian media outlets report that Arsen Avakov, the longtime Interior Minister for Ukraine, is exerting influence beyond his official responsibilities in the context of the national lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The lockdown was initially introduced in Ukraine until April 3, 2020, and then extended to April 24. For the period of quarantine, educational establishments and all shops except groceries, pharmacies and banks remain closed. The operation of metro lines in Kiev, Kharkov and Dnipro has been suspended. The intercity rail and air passenger transportation have been stopped.
Ukrainian media points out that Avakov is demonstrating his personal enormous political ambitions offering a strategy for tackling the economic crisis provoked by quarantine measures. The minister’s address written in the style of a president’s or prime minister’s aims to scare Ukrainians about the uncertainty of their future: he warns that many people would succumb to poverty and even hunger.
Newly-appointed Economy Minister Ihor Petrasko has not commented on Avakov’s proposal.
However, Arsen Avakov keeps fueling the situation further by giving interviews in which he states, “If there is a new coup, we will triumph over it by turning to interests of the Ukrainian people”. In the interview with Babel online media Avakov was asked, when he would finally seize power in the country and he answered straightforwardly: “To all those who think this way and keep manipulating the issue I can only say that they are idiots. I am happy to do what I like without attempting to serve those who are afraid of something but then beg, ‘And now, please, save us’. Let’s be glad that there are still competent people in the country. I respect my employees for these skills and qualities. But others perceive it differently saying, ‘Oh, shit, he wrote an article. It means he probably wants to be president.’ No, I’m just doing my job the way I’m supposed to. I am one of the most experienced members of the government, so I can, I want and will speak on any topic. And the president is doing his job, and we have a good president. And the Prime Minister is not a fool either, but a hard-working, adequate man. So don’t be afraid of a coup. If there is a coup, we will defeat it on behalf of the Ukrainian people.”
At the same time, Minister Avakov is reported to be involved into complicated political maneuvers. While the Interior Ministry as such insists on toughening quarantine measures , Avakov personally announced that there is no need to introduce a state of emergency over “concerns for ensuring citizens’ constitutional rights”.
Avakov in his own blog with www.pravda.com.ua from March 21st stated, however, that he insists on a “total full quarantine, which is my stance. I am going to ask each and everyone to practice it and I will insist on such measures using all my power in the bodies of authority.”
Avakov is currently using the National Corps/Azov and other far-right militant formations which the Interior Ministry controls to disseminate COVID tests and masks donated by China as if it is the minister’s achievement. The National Corps and other units under Avakov’s control have been granted powers to control movements of the population in the country. They have been granted powers to detain people on the grounds of enforcing the quarantine.
Novoye Vremya portal quotes one of the most prominent Ukrainian political scientists Irina Bekeshkina, who answered the question if Zelensky is likely to be succeeded by a dictator: “Quite likely. As they say, Zelensky wished well but he has failed to achieve results through democratic methods.”