Avakov’s dubious legacy to remain intact under his proposed successor
Denys Monastyrsky, who is expected to replace Arsen Avakov as interior minister, is not a reformer and is unlikely to bring much change to the ministry, according to his track record and anti-corruption activists.
Avakov has failed to reform the police, allowing many tainted officers to keep their jobs. Monastyrsky lacks the credentials to do much better. In fact, he has ties to Avakov, who is likely to keep his influence on law enforcement.
Monastyrsky, who was handpicked by Zelensky, may also be controlled by the President’s Office, including its controversial deputy chief of staff Oleh Tatarov.
This will likely strengthen Zelensky’s grip on power.
Monastyrsky did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Earlier he said he wouldn’t speak in detail about his plans for the ministry until his presentation in the parliament on July 16, when lawmakers vote for his appointment.
“The president offered me the job of interior minister this morning,” he said on July 13, the day when Avakov resigned. “This is the most difficult choice in my life and I agreed to seek this position.”
Monastyrsky, 41, was born in the city of Kmelnytsky and got a law degree from Khmelnytsky Public Administration and Law University.
In 2002–2006 he was an aide to Vitaly Oluiko, a lawmaker from then-President Leonid Kuchma’s For United Ukraine bloc.
Monastyrsky also worked as a lawyer at law firms Hillmont Partners, Global Ties KC and Legal Consulting from 2007 to 2017. Hillmont Partners used to represent the interests of Zelensky’s TV production company, Kvartal 95.
Oleksandr Lemenov, head of anti- corruption watchdog StateWatch, characterized Monastyrsky as “smart” and “sly” and argued he knows criminal law well.
In 2019, Monastyrsky was elected to parliament on Zelensky’s Servant of the People ticket and took charge of the Verkhovna Rada’s law enforcement committee.
Ties to Avakov
Monastyrsky is no stranger to Avakov’s circle.
In 2016–2019, Monastyrsky was an aide to Avakov’s deputy Anton Gerashchenko. He also served at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future, a think tank co-founded by Gerashchenko.
Monastyrsky and his committee did not vote for Avakov’s resignation, leaving it up to the Rada to decide.
“Monastyrsky is a representative of Avakov,” Tetiana Shevchuk, a lawyer at the Anti-Corruption Action Center, a Kyiv-based watchdog, told the Kyiv Post. “He will promote Avakov’s interests. Avakov is going into the shadows but (Monastyrsky as) one of his people will replace him.”
Lemenov, who is acquainted with Monastyrsky, told the Kyiv Post that he would not go after Avakov and his allies. He added that some of Avakov’s people such as Gerashchenko would likely remain at the ministry.
Monastyrsky denied having links to Avakov. In 2020 he hinted at Avakov’s resignation following the rape of a woman by police officers and said that Avakov could be fired if he failed to complete the investigation of the 2016 murder of Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet.
Shevchuk argued that Monastyrsky’s criticism of Avakov was a publicity stunt. She said that, by criticizing Avakov, Monastyrsky just wanted to show his loyalty to the Zelensky administration.
State Investigation Bureau
In 2016–2017, Monastyrsky was the secretary of the commission to choose the head of the State Investigation Bureau. He was given the job by the Cabinet, in which Avakov held considerable influence.
Lemenov, who was a member of another selection commission at the bureau, said that Monastyrsky voted how authorities wanted him to vote.
Roman Truba, who was eventually chosen as the head of the bureau, was promoted by Avakov’s People’s Front party, according to Lemenov.
Lemenov and other activists say the selection was dominated by politicians, rigged in favor of government loyalists and ignored civil society’s opinion.
Avakov’s influence on the selection commission was also mentioned in tapes recorded by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine in the Kyiv Administrative Court. In the tapes, Ukraine’s most notorious judge Pavlo Vovk and another controversial judge, Yevhen Ablov, discussed influencing Ablov’s potential appointment to the State Investigation Bureau.
“The (State Investigation Bureau) commission is controlled by Avakov’s people,” Vovk said in the recording. “I reached an agreement with Avakov.”
Meanwhile, Monastyrsky’s wife works as a lawyer at the State Investigation Bureau, prompting accusations of nepotism.
Monastyrsky’s work as the head of parliament’s law enforcement committee has also been controversial. He has been accused of promoting the interests of Avakov and his ministry.
“Instead of controlling the police, Monastyrsky’s committee covered up for it,” Shevchuk said.
Specifically, Monastyrsky’s committee barely reacted to the rape and torture of a woman by police officers in Kaharlyk in Kyiv Oblast in 2020, she added. Police promised to vet everyone at the precinct involved but nearly everyone there kept their jobs and Monastyrsky’s committee failed to react.
The committee also tried to drastically expand the powers of the police, supported limiting the independence of the National AntiCorruption Bureau of Ukraine and has been accused of attempting to block a fair competition for the Economic Security Bureau.
The nonprofit Anti- Corruption Action Center also accused Monastyrsky of trying to block the reinstatement of jail terms for lying in officials’ asset declarations and falsifying a committee decision on the issue.
Both Lemenov and Shevchuk argued that no reforms would take place under Monastyrsky.
Monastyrsky also signed off on a doctoral thesis by Ilya Kyva, a lawmaker from the pro-Kremlin Opposition Platform-For Life party.
Kyva used to be Avakov’s aide and once headed the Interior Ministry’s labor union. He earned himself a reputation as an unhinged and scandalous politician.
His dissertation has been widely criticized as nonsensical and meaningless. He was accused of citing nonexistent articles and forging a document upon which his thesis draws.
Kyva’s thesis cites no concrete facts or coherent arguments, according to Bihus.Info, an investigative journalism project.
Yermak and Tatarov
The exit of Avakov, the most powerful remaining independent official, is likely to tip the balance of power in favor of the President’s Office and its head, Andriy Yermak.
“This resignation will drastically change the political situation in Ukraine,” Viktor Trepak, an ex-deputy head of the Security Service of Ukraine and ex-deputy prosecutor general, said on Facebook. “… Avakov’s Interior Ministry was a major check and balance against other government institutions. After Avakov’s resignation this factor disappears.”
Ukrainska Pravda news outlet reported that Monastyrsky may also come under the influence of Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff Oleh Tatarov, who is responsible for law enforcement policy at the President’s Office.
Tatarov was charged in December with bribing a forensic expert. However, the Tatarov case has been effectively destroyed by Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova.
“There is speculation that Zelensky promoted Tatarov to balance Avakov’s power,” Shevchuk said. “I think Tatarov will influence the Interior Ministry, and that influence will increase. But I don’t think (Monastyrsky) will be 100% loyal to the President’s Office.”
There is also another link to Tatarov. In 2020, Tatarov handpicked a commission to choose a new anti-corruption prosecutor and Monastyrsky’s committee rubber-stamped them, according to a May 13 report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The commission members do not meet integrity and professional standards, according to anti-corruption activists.
Monastyrsky will also inherit all high-profile criminal cases, including Sheremet’s murder investigation.
Zelensky has hinted earlier that Avakov could be fired due to his failure to successfully resolve this case.
Initially Avakov was lambasted for failing to produce suspects for years. After three suspects were charged in 2019, no hard evidence has been presented against them. All three have since been released from detention.
Given Monastyrsky’s background, his critics doubt his ability to do a better job.
“The Sheremet case will likely collapse,” Lemenov said. “It will not be solved, and the official suspects will not be jailed.”