Ukraine's president fires chief of staff after reports of turf war

By Natalia Zinets
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Ukraine's president fires chief of staff after reports of turf war

Bogdan, a lawyer and adviser to new President Zelenskiy, attends a news conference in front of the Presidential administration headquarters in Kiev

By Natalia Zinets

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy dismissed his chief of staff Andriy Bogdan on Tuesday, cutting ties with a lawyer whose links with a prominent tycoon had made him one of Zelenskiy's most controversial appointments since taking office last year.

No official explanation was immediately given for the dismissal but it came after reports of a turf war between Bogdan and Andriy Yermak, a senior presidential aide who has now been appointed to replace him.

Zelenskiy appeared to hint at this in an interview published by Interfax Ukraine on Tuesday, saying that internal conflicts within his team had prevented it from working effectively.

Bogdan did not immediately comment on his dismissal.

The ousted chief of staff was previously a lawyer for Ihor Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine's wealthiest men. Kolomoisky owns the TV channel that brought Zelenskiy fame as a sitcom star, and the president's business ties to him have alarmed some investors.

Bogdan represented Kolomoisky in a legal battle with the government over control of Ukraine's biggest commercial lender, PrivatBank, a case that has weighed on whether the International Monetary Fund will disburse new loans to Ukraine.

Bogdan "never really managed to shake the perception that he was in the Kolomoisky camp still," said Timothy Ash at BlueBay Asset Management.

"His departure, if confirmed, would be well received by the market as it would give hope of a step forward in reforms - which at this stage seem to be running into sand," he wrote, shortly before news of Bogdan's dismissal was confirmed.

In his place steps Yermak, a former lawyer and film producer who became a protagonist in the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump. Yermak met Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in Madrid last year at a time when Trump's camp was pressing Ukraine to investigate the son of former vice President Joe Biden who had worked at a Ukrainian energy company.

Text messages between Yermak and U.S. officials were released by U.S. House committees as part of efforts by Democrats to impeach Trump on charges he had abused his power by asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Trump was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives but acquitted last week at a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Yermak has also been involved in negotiating prisoner swaps with Russia, confidence-building measures aimed at ending a war that has killed more than 13,000 people between Ukraine and Moscow-backed separatists in the Donbass region.

Yermak in an interview with Ukraine 24 on Monday talked up the "constructive communication" he had with Russia's new point person on Ukraine, senior Kremlin official Dmitry Kozak.

Yermak's appointment prompted the opposition Fatherland party to say it signaled Zelenskiy was pivoting his foreign policy toward Russia. Zelenskiy has said he would never sell out Ukrainian interests in negotiations with Moscow.

(Additional reporting by Ilya Zhegulev; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Peter Graff)