Ukraine's prime minister submitted his resignation Friday, days after he was caught on tape saying President Volodymyr Zelenskiy — a former sitcom star with no previous political experience — knows nothing about the economy.
The scandal comes at a fraught moment for Zelenskiy, who has found himself in the middle of the impeachment case unfolding against President Donald Trump in Washington. Trump stands accused of withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to pressure the country's leader to investigate Trump political rival Joe Biden.
In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk praised Zelenskiy as "an example of transparency and decency to me" and added: “In order to dispel any doubts about our respect and trust for the president, I have written a resignation letter and submitted it to the president for introduction to parliament.”
The Rada, Ukraine's parliament, must vote on whether to accept the resignation. Zelenskiy's office said only that it would take the letter under consideration. But at least one political analyst, Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Penta think tank, said the resignation is unlikely to be accepted: “Zelenskiy doesn't want to dismiss Honcharuk."
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Earlier this week an audio recording surfaced in which Honcharuk appeared to make disparaging comments about Zelenskiy's understanding of economics. He called Zelenskiy "a layman" in economics and said the president should be better educated about the national currency.
Zelenskiy is a 41-year-old former comedian whose only political experience before his election last spring consisted of playing a Ukrainian president on TV. He starred in “Servant of the People” as a high school history teacher who is propelled to the presidency after his rant against government corruption goes viral.
Honcharuk said that the recording was a compilation of “fragments of recorded government meetings,” and he blamed unidentified “influential groups” for making it look as if he didn't respect the president.
“It is not true,” the prime minister insisted.
On Thursday, lawmakers from the opposition party Opposition Platform-For Life demanded Honcharuk's resignation, saying he and his cabinet had discredited Ukraine's president and exacerbated the economic crisis in the country. Members of the ruling Servant of the People party said there were no grounds for Honcharuk to step down.
Iryna Herashchenko, a lawmaker in the Rada, said that the parliament had yet to receive any documents related to the resignation and that Honcharuk should have submitted his letter to the parliament and not to the president — otherwise it doesn't bear any legal consequences and is merely “private political correspondence.”
“In Ukraine, the parliament appoints the Cabinet,” she said.
The scandal shows that different political forces have started a fight for the position of prime minister, according to Fesenko, the political analyst.
In the meantime, Zelenskiy called for an investigation into the source of the recording, saying, “I demand that in two weeks, as soon as possible, we obtain information on who was recording the tapes.”
Associated Press writer Daria Litvinova in Moscow contributed to this report.