Mustafa Nayyem accuses the government of undermining the agency that builds fortifications against Russia.

The top Ukrainian official overseeing wartime reconstruction and defense fortifications has resigned, claiming his agency was being systematically undermined by the government.

Mustafa Nayyem’s departure is the latest in a series of personnel changes in Kiev that have shaken Western partners’ confidence in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government and angered some of Ukraine’s own officials.

Nayyem, head of the State Agency for Infrastructure Restoration and Development, told the Financial Times that Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal banned him from participating in the annual Ukraine Recovery Conference on June 11 and 12 in Berlin, where donors will come together to support projects to rebuild cities and infrastructure destroyed by Russia’s large-scale invasion.

The void left by Nayyem and the absence of an infrastructure minister could raise questions about Kiev’s ability and commitment to protecting its critical infrastructure as Russian forces continue to conduct airstrikes on Ukraine’s power plants and mount offensives. in the east of the country. Two agency officials responsible for anti-corruption policy and procurement resigned with Nayyem on Monday.

Six Ukrainian and Western officials told the FT that a series of firings, dismissals and government reshuffles led by Zelenskyy in recent months has caused tension between Kiev and Western partners financing Ukraine’s defense and reconstruction.

They all told the FT that they warned Zelenskyy and his government about what they saw as disturbing and inexplicable measures.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in the foreground, pictured in a recent meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. Zelensky’s reshuffles have caused tension between Kiev and Western partners, officials say © AP

“The US and other Western partners want a normal and predictable relationship with their Ukrainian counterparts,” a concerned Ukrainian government official told the FT on condition of anonymity. “Right now, they are losing trust in the Ukrainian government due to personal decisions they do not understand.”

The FT obtained a letter from the Prime Minister to Nayyem which said: “I agree with your business trip to Berlin. . . The report on the results of the business trip must be submitted within 10 days after its completion.” However, in blue ink, the handwritten words “I Do Not Agree” were added at the top of the page, and the underlined handwritten words “I Do Not Agree” were added next to the beginning of the printed “I Agree.” It was signed by Shmyhal and dated June 7, and its authenticity was confirmed by a government official.

Ukrainian officials said political rivalries were at the heart of the government change, but the government said Nayyem’s request for a trip to Berlin was denied because a meeting to review his agency’s work was scheduled for June 12 in Kiev. Nayyem’s statements “appear to be an attempt to avoid reporting on today’s critical issues,” an office spokesperson said.

Zelenskyy is expected to attend the conference while in Berlin to deliver a speech to the German parliament. But experts say the absence of the top bureaucrat in charge of Ukraine’s reconstruction is unlikely to please foreign partners at an event focused on rebuilding the country.

“This sends the message to our partners that recovery is no longer a priority,” said Hlib Vyshlinsky, executive director of the Kiev-based Center for Economic Strategy.

In his resignation letter, seen by the Financial Times on Monday, Nayyem said he was resigning “due to systemic obstacles that do not allow me to effectively exercise my powers”.

Starting last November, he said his agency faced “constant opposition, resistance and the creation of artificial obstacles” which he said had “a negative impact on the country’s defense capability, cargo logistics, protection of critical infrastructures and the export of our products”.

Two weeks before his dismissal in late May, Nayyem gathered two dozen representatives from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other Western agencies to tell them that he expected to be fired and that investigations into his work would be launched. of the infrastructure ministry under the command of his ally Oleksandr Kubrakov, former minister of Infrastructure, according to an audio recording obtained by the FT and two people present.

Nayyem is heard on the recording assuring agency representatives that the numerous projects they had been involved in, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, would remain on track, and he encouraged them to work with whoever would replace him. But several Western representatives have expressed concerns about his imminent departure.

“It’s probably our most important partnership as we prepare to rebuild the country and as we work toward this common goal of getting Ukraine back to business, getting exports flowing,” said a woman representing USAID.

Nayyem’s departure follows Kubrakov’s dismissal in May. The two men were in charge of rebuilding Ukraine during the war, as well as building the country’s “third lines” of defense fortifications to prevent the Russians from penetrating deep into the country. But two Ukrainian officials said Kubrakov was seen by Zelenskyy and his cabinet as being too close to Washington. Zelenskyy’s office did not comment on Kubrakov’s dismissal, which was approved by parliament.

“This situation is very bad for the perception of the Ukrainian government and Ukraine in general. Ukraine is and should be seen as uninterrupted,” Vyshlinsky said. Kubrakov’s dismissal and Nayyem’s departure “construct an image of weak and unpredictable governance that is unfair in relation to the efforts of Ukrainians during these years”.

Kubrakov’s removal provoked a negative reaction from Ukraine’s biggest Western supporters, both privately and publicly, according to the six Ukrainian and Western officials.

Diplomats from G7 countries, as well as current members of the Ukrainian government, described frustration with what they saw as internal discord and dysfunction plaguing Zelenskyy’s administration and government at a critical time in the war.

Once a rising star in Zelenskyy’s government and seen as a reformer, Kubrakov was among the Ukrainian officials who signed the UN grain export deal initially agreed with Russia, had a direct line to the president, and Zelenskyy even asked him last August to take over as defense minister, according to three officials close to the men.

But last fall, these officials said, Zelenskyy’s office ordered Kubrakov’s ministry and Nayyem’s agency to be split into several offices and their budgets cut in half without explanation.

Two Ukrainian officials and two diplomats representing Western embassies in Kiev said there had been several “tense” discussions between their teams about this, as well as Kubrakov’s dismissal more recently.

In what these diplomats described to the FT as a coordinated show of support for Kubrakov and Western frustrations over Zelenskyy’s government, US, German, French and EU ambassadors in Kiev posted messages of support for the fired minister on the social media platform X on May 9, which featured photos of them with him.

“Thank you @OlKubrakov for the great partnership over the past 2 years that has enabled Ukraine’s fight for freedom, keeping Ukraine’s exports alive, protecting the energy grid and supporting the economy,” wrote US Ambassador Bridget Brink.

Days later, Western ambassadors expressed their outrage over the personnel changes more explicitly when they met with Shmyhal, the prime minister, on May 13, according to three officials with direct knowledge of the meeting.

The meeting was supposed to be about Ukraine’s difficult energy situation following Russian airstrikes that destroyed more than half of its power generation capacity. Instead, it became a heated argument over Kubrakov’s fate as well as the absence of Nayyem, who was supposed to be included but was removed by Shmyhal at the last minute, officials said.

“The ambassadors directly asked why Mustafa and the agency were not present at the meeting,” one of the officials said. “The most outraged were the German ambassador, the EU deputy representative in Ukraine and the US ambassador.”

The US embassy said in a statement: “We can confirm that Prime Minister Shmyhal met with G7 ambassadors on May 13 to discuss the energy situation, but we generally do not reveal details of diplomatic discussions.”

The EU delegation and the German embassy declined to comment.

Via Financial Times.


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