Ukraine: Zelenskiy Names Childhood Friend Chief of State Security

Ukraine’s incoming president Volodymyr Zelenskiy named a slew of people to his administration this week, among them childhood friends, business partners and Andriy Bohdan, oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky’s lawyer.

Zelensky’s inauguration (Mykhaylo Markiv)“The optics of this appointment are very bad,” said Adrian Karatnycky, a fellow at the Atlantic Council, referring to Zelenskiy ’s choice of Bohdan.

The news came just days after Zelenskiy--a former comedian turned president of Ukraine--was inaugurated on Monday. In his inauguration speech, he dissolved Ukraine’s parliament and called snap elections.

Some view his cabinet choices, especially Bohdan, as ominous since most are close associates and friends. Serhiy Shefir, now Zelensky’s first aide, is a longtime business partner and friend. Serhiy Trofimov was formerly the executive producer of Zelenskiy’s television studio, Kvartal 95. He is now first deputy chief of staff.

And Zelenskiy’s childhood friend Ivan Bakanov, who ran Zelenskiy’s campaign headquarters, is now first deputy chief of Ukraine’s State Security Service, the SBU.

Bohdan’s appointment however, has drawn the most fire. He has long been the lawyer of Kolomoisky, a man who allegedly stole US$5.5 billion from Ukraine’s third-largest bank and then fled the country for Switzerland and Israel.

Kurt Volker, the US special envoy to Ukraine “strongly recommended not to appoint Bogdan” in a conversation with Zelenskiy. Bohdan’s appointment gives fuel to suspicions that have floated in international media for some time: that Zelenskiy is close to Kolomoisky, and could be his puppet.

Kolomoisky’s private jet landed back in Ukraine for the first time in years last week. Zelenskiy has promised to put him behind bars if he has “violate[d] the law.”