Zelensky, in his de-sire to build himself the image of a pa-triot-statesman, needs figures like Danilov – tough politicians, security officials without shoulder st-raps, capable of implementing emergency measures. The aggravated confrontation with Russia will only increase their influence. And in Dan-ilov’s case, the change in course coincides with his own desire to take reven-ge over the years of lack of demand and defeats inflicted by the old elite.
President Zelensky’s turn towards a patriotic agenda has brought new heroes to the forefront of Ukrainian politics. The most notable of these is Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) Alexei Danilov, a former prominent regional politician from Donbass. After many years of political oblivion, he returned to the first roles in the image of Zelensky’s punishing hand.
Formally, the head of the NSDC is the president himself, but the role of the secretary in charge of operational activities becomes key. Danilov positions himself as a loyal “sovereign man”, but direct involvement in the most important decisions in domestic and foreign policy inevitably increases his political weight. Who is Danilov?
Oleksiy Danilov can hardly be called the new face of Ukrainian politics – he is 58 years old, and he began his political career in the first half of the 1990s. He can be attributed to the first generation of independent politicians in Donbass, who were defeated by local nomenklatura-oligarchic groupings, who crushed initiative loners without pity.
In 1994 Danilov became the first democratically elected mayor of Lugansk, the youngest in the history of the city. Luhansk residents remembered him as a bright populist, who favorably distinguished himself from the previous Communist Party bosses, the organizer of city construction projects. Also, accusations of connections with local criminals were constantly hovering around the young mayor.
Already in 1997, he found himself in conflict with local security officials and lost his post. In 2002, Danilov tried to return to the Luhansk mayor’s office, but was removed from the elections by the local group of “Komsomol businessmen” governor Yefremov (later this group became the base for local structures of the Party of Regions and the support of the Yanukovych regime).
The Orange Revolution of 2004 gave Danilov a new chance. He headed the campaign headquarters of Viktor Yushchenko in the problematic Luhansk reg-ion for the national democrats. The former mayor of Luhansk then found himself under powerful pressure from local elites who supported Yanukovych, and “titushki” attacked the headquarters’s mission.
After the victory of the first Maidan, Danilov was rewarded with the post of governor of the Luhansk region. Even then, Danilov, the governor, was very similar to Danilov, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council: his priority was the fight against smuggling, strengthening the Russian-Ukrainian border, projects to ensure the energy security of Ukraine (he was going to extract gasoline from Donbass coal), confrontation with the local pro-Russian political bond …
His reign was bright, but short – after nine months, Yushchenko chose to dismiss him. Danilov himself claims that he became a victim of a showdown in the orange team, having suffered for his adherence to principles and closeness to Yulia Tymoshenko.
In 2006, Danilov was el-ected to the Verkhovna Ra-da from the Yulia Tym-oshenko Bloc, but the next year the parliament was dissolved ahead of schedule, and the Luhansk ex-governor did not get into the new convocation. After that Danilov disappeared from politics, he was enga-ged in business in Kiev, occasionally gave interviews. The last time interest in his figure arose during the 2014 crisis, when rumors circulated that the revolutionary government would once again throw him into an embrasure in the Luhansk region. But it didn’t work out. “For me today, becoming the head of the Luhansk administration is a passed stage,” Danilov replied then.
A new window of opportunity for Danilov opened after Zelensky’s victory, who initiated a radical change of elites and actively attracted new (or well-forgotten old) people to governing the country. According to Danilov himself, he met the candidate Zelensky at the presentation of IT developments, which were dealt with by the structures of the former Luhansk politician.
Among other things, the future president liked Danilov’s project “Suspilne Eye” on the digitalization of public services, a prototype of the future program “State in a Smartphone”. On July 23, 2019, the former mayor of Luhansk was appointed deputy secretary of the NSDC, and after the resignation of Oleksandr Danilyuk on October 3, 2019, by the secretary himself.
Ukrainian media say that Danilov’s appointment to the NSDC was lobbied by businessman-investor Vitaly Gaiduk, a former co-owner of the Industrial Union of Donbass group (ISD, # 28 in the Ukrainian Forbes rating), seeking to return to big politics. Interestingly, Gaiduk also served as secretary of the National Security and Defense Council under Yushchenko in 2006-2007.
Danilov’s patrons also named his business partner Mikhail Brodsky (owner of the Observer media holding) and People’s Deputy Maxim Tkachenko, curator of the Luhansk region in Servant of the People. However, these connections are unlikely to have a serious impact on the activities of the NSDC secretary, who initially rigidly positioned himself as the person of the president.
Sanctions Secretary: The appearance of Danilov in the presidential team is understandable – Zelensky needs statesmen, and preferably from the east. In addition, Danilov is a figure removed from the main oligarchic groups and a person without an aggravating past (under Poroshe-nko and Yanukovych he was a private person).
At the same time, he fits well into the patriotic turn of the Zelensky team as a representative of the national democratic counter-elite of Donbass, who for many years fought with the local pro-Russian elites and eventually came to the conclusion that Putin’s Russia and its “fifth column” are to blame for all the troubles of Ukraine. In an interview, he even accused the Kremlin of inciting the Maidans of 2004 and 2014 to weaken Ukrainian statehood.
Having found himself in one of the key posts in the state, Danilov immediately got into the twenty most influential politicians in Ukraine (No. 14 in the rating of the Focus magazine). However, his first year in office was unremarkable (and in the same Focus rating for 2020, Danilov fell to 48th place). Together with other top officials, he fought the coronavirus epidemic (and abuses in this fight), held briefings on the situation on the front line in Donbass. His former chief, Alexander Danilyuk, notes that Danilov was generally hired for a specific task – to develop a monitoring and cybersecurity system for the NSDC.
Danilov found himself in his true element after Zelenskiy launched an attack on the leader of the pro-Russian party OLEZH Viktor Medvedchuk and applied a regime of internal sanctions against him. Apparently, the NSDC secretary played a key role in making this decision. In any case, other members of the Council say that it was Danilov who confronted everyone with a fact: “We were simply given folders, no one warned anyone that we were imposing sanctions against Kozak (Medvedchuk’s partner, the nominal owner of his media holding – S.K. ) and we are closing the TV channels ”.
Further, the sanctions, in addition to political opponents, also affected other “saboteurs”: smugglers, firms that illegally seized licenses for the subsoil of Ukraine, and so on. The fragility of the legal grounds for imposing sanctions against their own citizens only underlines their extraordinary nature – in conditions when the president cannot rely on corrupt courts, he finds new tools to protect the security of the state.
The new, tougher position on the Donbas settlement is also much closer to Danilov. He turned out to be one of the main “hawks” in Zelensky’s circle, advocating a tougher policy towards Russia. Danilov is convinced that the pacifist mood of Zelensky’s first year in office was dictated by good intentions, but the Ukrainian leader was deceived by Moscow.
The NSDC secretary was one of the developers of the Five Scenarios for the Reintegration of Donb-ass, based on the Ukrainian interpretation of the Minsk Agreements: first, the demilitarization of the region, the transfer of the state border, and then elections and self-government.
Danilov turned out to be the frontman of Zelensky’s new policy, the NSDC briefings turned into the main and most intriguing event in Ukrainian politics – who will be sanctioned this time? At the same time, the secretary himself constantly emphasizes that he is the man of President Zelensky and that he has no political ambitions. “Everything that concerns the political component is not for me, I am not a member of the Servant of the People party, I am the person who works for the state. Today we have a president in our state, and, accordingly, I work for the president, ” he says in an interview.
The degree of Danilov’s influence should not be overestimated: he is not so much an ideologist as a performer. But being at the forefront of the presidential host is quite capable of spurring personal political ambitions, despite the emphasized loyalty to the president. Sociologists have already begun to include Danilov in the ratings of trust in politicians and government officials.
Of course, any popularity of people from Zelensky’s team has a natural limiter – they should not overshadow the president himself, be useful, but not drag the blanket. And it seems that Danilov accepts these rules.
Kiev interlocutors note that Danilov did not create a political field around him that would attract other politicians and officials to him, therefore it is too early to talk about the “Danilov group”. However, the policy of the Zelensky era is very changeable; until recently, it was difficult to predict the unexpected rise of the NSDC secretary.
The lack of his own political team is compensated by the presence of the NSDC apparatus, where qualified managers work – for example, the former Deputy Foreign Minister Ruslan Demchenko or the former head of the Ukrainian cyber police, Serhiy Demedyuk. Some of Danilov’s advisers worked with him back in the Luhansk period of his career, and not to forget his own – a quality that makes him related to Zelensky and is highly valued in Ukrainian politics.
Zelensky, in his desire to build himself the image of a statesman and compete for the title of the main national patriot with his predecessor, needs figures like Danilov or Avakov – tough politicians, “siloviki without shoulder straps” capable of implementing his extraordinary measures. At a time when tensions with Russia are becoming the new normality, the influence of these people within the system will only grow. And in Danilov’s case, the changes in the state course coincide with his own desire to take revenge over the years of lack of demand and defeats inflicted by the old elite.
However, this unity with the president is also dangerous for Danilov – now Zelensky is captured by a new toy in the form of the formidable NSDC, which managed to reverse the fall in his rating, but when the PR effect dries up and the costs of the illegal nature of sanctions begin to discredit the president, it is easy to imagine who will be extreme.