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Ukraine's Government Crisis Becomes Bad Farce

Prime Minister Yatsenyuk clings on whilst admitting his days are numbered and that he has lost the confidence of everybody

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk has given an interview to The Financial Times (details below) in which he all but admits that his time as Prime Minister is close to running out.

The article however also shows Yatsenyuk’s extraordinary sense of entitlement, as well as his quite amazing vanity.

He essentially admits that he has lost the confidence of the Ukrainian parliament.  He nonetheless calls on Poroshenko to “back him or sack him” - notwithstanding that he undoubtedly knows that it is Poroshenko who has for several months been behind all the plots to get rid of him.

What makes this demand even more preposterous is that - as Yatsenyuk of course knows - immediately prior to the recent confidence vote Poroshenko finally came out into the open and issued a statement which basically called on Yatsenyuk to go.

Though Yatsenyuk claims to be ready to go and to be willing to hand over to someone else, in reality he refuses to go, and as - he tells The Financial Times - he is challenging Poroshenko to sack him instead.

It is also clear that Yatsenyuk is doing everything he can to obstruct the appointment of a new Prime Minister and the formation of a new government.

The Financial Times says he is trying to block Jaresko’s appointment as Prime Minister on the grounds that she too lacks support in the parliament - which is probably true - whilst he is known to be opposed to the appointment of parliament speaker Volodymyr Groysman - a long standing political ally of Poroshenko’s thought by some to be Poroshenko’s eminence grise - who is believed to be the preferred candidate of Poroshenko and the oligarchs.

Yatsenyuk, by refusing to go and by making it difficult to appoint anyone in his place, is simply prolonging Ukraine’s government crisis, and is leaving the government paralysed. 

What makes this behaviour particularly destructive and self-indulgent is that Yatsenyuk obviously knows that with the collapse of his support his departure is now only a matter of time.  Indeed in his interview with The Financial Times he all but says as much.

In other words, for all his boastful talk of changing Ukraine for the better, Yatsenyuk is prepared to put Ukraine's stability at risk and jeopardise its prospects of obtaining IMF funding so that he can cling on as Prime Minister for a few more weeks or days.

Given the allegations of corruption that are now swirling round him - and which in the interview he emphatically denies - there will inevitably be some people both in Ukraine and outside who will be left wondering whether the real reason Yatsenyuk is clinging on so stubbornly is so he can steal as much as he can in the short time left to him.

Even if that is to do Yatsenyuk an injustice, it highlights the damage to his reputation his stubborness in clinging to office is causing. 

If Yatsenyuk comes out badly from this affair, so it must be said does Poroshenko.

If Poroshenko were a strong leader he would answer Yatsenyuk’s challenge by simply sacking him.  

Alternatively, if Ukraine’s baroque constitutional arrangements do not allow this, he could make Yatsenyuk’s position impossible by ordering his faction to quit Yatsenyuk’s coalition, and by nominating a new candidate for Prime Minister in Yatsenyuk's place.

Instead, rather than do either of these things, Poroshenko prefers to manoeuvre against Yatsenyuk from behind the scenes despite the fact Yatsenyuk’s extreme unpopularity should mean there is no risk in acting against him openly.

Conducting intrigues in secret and avoiding a public stand is however characteristic of how Poroshenko operates.  In pre-Maidan times he was known less as a politician and more as a backstairs political manipulator.  

During the previous period of Orange government between 2005 and 2010 Poroshenko was widely believed to be Yushchenko’s eminence grise and the puppet-master of Yushchenko's movement - just as Groysman is supposed to be Poroshenko's eminence grise now.

In the process, by constantly conducting intrigues against Tymoshenko whilst ostensibly working for Yushchenko, Poroshenko made Tymoshenko his mortal enemy.

Similarly during the Maidan protests Poroshenko was careful to adopt a very low profile - thereby providing himself with an escape route if anything went wrong - even though it was widely known he was one of the oligarchs who were bankrolling the protests.

Poroshenko has gone on behaving in exactly the same way since he became President despite it being a highly unsuitable way for a President to behave - given that a President should at least appear to be open and straightforward.  Presumably Poroshenko knows no other.

Even allowing for Poroshenko’s dithering, given the collapse of Yatsenyuk’s support and the overwhelming pressure on him to go, it is difficult to believe Yatsenyuk can cling on for much longer. 

The manner of his leaving however all but guarantees that whatever government succeeds him will be even weaker and more unstable than the government he has led.  

It is difficult to avoid the feeling that deep down - whether out of a sense of injured vanity or for some other reason - that is what Yatsenyuk wants.

Regardless, both Yatsenyuk and Poroshenko must share the blame for this outcome - as must Ukraine’s Western sponsors who against all sense and reason have backed Yatsenyuk for so long.

First published by The Financial Times

Ukraine PM challenges president to ‘back me or sack me’

Ukraine’s prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk has challenged president Petro Poroshenko to “back me or sack me”, saying decisive action is the only way out of the country’s month-long political crisis that risks triggering early elections and derailing pro-western reforms.

In an interview with The Financial Times, Mr Yatseniuk complained bitterly of constant attacks from a governing coalition that includes 136 MPs from the president’s party, saying it was “uncomfortable [to be] stabbed in the back”.

Parliament, he noted, had failed to pass 60 per cent of government bills. But Mr Yatseniuk defended his record, insisting Ukraine was an “entirely different country” from 2014, when a revolution ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich.

His comments came amid intense backroom political manoeuvring, with the US-born finance minister Natalie Jaresko and the parliament speaker Volodymyr Groysman said by political insiders to have been sounded out over the premier’s job.

“If the president doesn’t want to work with me, and if his faction strongly oppose this government and this prime minister . . . I kindly request with all due respect to take the responsibility to form the government, to present the programme of the new government to the Ukrainian people, and to form a new coalition,” Mr Yatseniuk said.

“Take it or leave it, back me or sack me.”

Ukraine’s deepest political crisis since the 2014 revolution was triggered by last month’s resignation of the economy minister Aivaras Abromavicius, who said it had become impossible to implement reforms.

Mr Yatseniuk’s government survived a no-confidence motion in parliament. But he admitted his government had been weakened after some coalition MPs supported the vote and two of its five constituent parties withdrew.

Political uncertainty risks derailing international financial support for Ukraine amid continued attempts by Russia to destabilise it and pull it back into Moscow’s sphere of influence.

The IMF has delayed disbursement of the next tranche of a $17.5bn aid package until it is clear the government can continue pushing through structural reforms. One senior official warned Ukraine’s financial reserves would last only six to eight months without IMF support.

Some political commentators draw parallels with the rift between president Viktor Yushchenko and premier Yulia Tymoshenko that ultimately undermined Ukraine’s 2004 pro-democracy “Orange” revolution.

Mr Yatseniuk said he had “always tried to avoid the notorious 2005 scenario”. “I will never complain about my president . . . I will bite my lip to the end. But the end is too far,” he quipped.

The prime minister did not dispute reports that Ms Jaresko and others had been in talks over the top job, but declined to comment further.

“My government survived a confidence vote,” he said. “I am absolutely open for any type of discussion. But . . . any government needs to get the support of the house,” he said.

People familiar with the situation told the FT this week that representatives of Mr Poroshenko and Mr Yatseniuk’s parliamentary factions had offered to back Ms Jaresko in the premier’s job, but talks stalled.

One political insider suggested the premier might initially have supported such a scenario as a way out of the crisis, but later concluded the finance minister lacked parliamentary backing to be an effective long-term premier.

Mr Yatseniuk said the country faced three scenarios — a reshuffled government headed by him, a new government or snap elections. He was “ready with all honour to hand over the office of the prime minister to the strongest government, the strongest coalition, and the best programme”.

Some of his former political allies appeared to favour early polls, he added, but this was misguided.

“After any snap parliamentary elections, trust me, they will never be able to form any pro-reformist and pro-western government,” he added, saying any new coalition would comprise “10 different parties with entirely different ideologies”.

The premier insisted that corruption allegations levelled against him and associates by opponents were “groundless”. “This is slander and defamation,” he said.

Mr Yatseniuk said he had “to beg, to plead, to attack the house” to get parliament to back legislation. He had presented one privatisation bill 15 times.

But he added, “this country is entirely different than it was two years ago . . . new police, new army, new fiscal policy, new energy policy, new social policy, new folks sitting in the government . . . very strong society”.

“I have done everything I can, in these current circumstances. I can do more, but we need to press down on the accelerator.”

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