U.S. Representative Victoria Spartz (R-IN) penned a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, asking him to investigate Andriy Yermak’s – President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief-of-staff – alleged Russian connections, on July 8.
The letter devotes a lot of attention to Yernak’s deputy, Oleh Tatarov, who is responsible for anti-corruption efforts at the Office of the President of Ukraine. Spartz points out that Tatarov has been holding up key leadership appointments across several anti-corruption agencies, leaving Special Anti-corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) and National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) incapacitated for over a year.
A NABU investigation into Tatarov’s affairs was underway before he assumed his current post. The congresswoman notes that his case was then closed under allegedly shady circumstances. She then brings up Tatarov’s government service during the tenure of fugitive pro-Russia former President Viktor Yanukovych.
In an interview with NV Radio, Ukrainian MP for the Holos (Ukrainian for “voice”) political party and sitting member of the parliamentary anti-corruption committee Yaroslav Yurchyshyn outlines two possible reasons for Tatarov keeping his government post:
First. Tatarov is the focal point of the administration’s influence over law enforcement. He is intimately aware of how the whole system functions. Oleksii Symonenko, a deputy Prosecutor General responsible for a number of allegedly politically-motivated criminal probes, attended Tatarov’s birthday party. He also was in charge of the selection procedure for a new head of the State Bureau of Investigations.
He is currently spearheading efforts to replace Ivan Bakanov as the chief of the Security Service of Ukraine, with his old colleague from Yanukovych years, Vasyl Malyuk. Zelenskyy has been rather displeased with Bakanov, who was largely absent during the initial stage of the war.
Essentially, Tatarov managed to accrue a great deal of power over law enforcement, despite not having any kind of mandate for it. He is pivotal as a focal point for that whole field. He curates everything to do with penalizing officials – another aspect of the natural concentration of executive power under martial law. Obviously, it’s critical that the government maintains a firm grip on law enforcement in times like these.
Second. Extensive dossiers on senior officials – a well-known political instrument since the Soviet era. Every notable state official has a folder with compromising material on them, kept somewhere safe, ready to be pulled up and used, should the need arise. A target then faces a choice: submit to blackmail, or get dragged through and broken by the judiciary and law enforcement.
This approach was widespread in Ukraine under former President Leonid Kuchma, and had a renaissance under Yanukovych. Democracy-leaning presidents made an effort to lay off this instrument, although such dossiers are assembled in all countries, including the United States and EU. Everyone has a weakness, which is sometimes too tempting for others to not exploit.
However, there is reason to believe that Tatarov has a dossier like that for every single person of interest, including his boss Yermak. I don’t think he has something on the president, though. Zelenskyy is an outsider, and it’s hard to pin him down on anything besides doing paid gigs at political events. Not to mention, his conduct during the war has placed him beyond reproach in the eyes of Ukrainians. Tatarov likely has plenty of compromising material on Yermak and other key figures in the administration.
As to what could be in those dossiers – if Spartz is correct in suggesting Tatarov is in contact with Moscow, there could be a very wide selection there.
That’s why I’m skeptical Tatarov could be quietly pushed aside. The president had more than enough good reasons to do it earlier, and yet Tatarov remains a key figure in the administration. Unfortunately, he’s not someone who works to advance European and democratic ideals – quite the contrary.