Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatseniuk resigned on Sunday to make way for a new government but could not resist taking a swipe at his rival, President Petro Poroshenko, on his way out.
“The country’s political crisis was unleashed artificially,” said Yatseniuk, alleging in a televised address that his opponents’ desire to remove him from power had “paralyzed their will for real change.”
Yatseniuk’s conservative People’s Front, the second largest in parliament, is nevertheless due to renew its coalition with Poroshenko’s Solidarity bloc and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party. Volodimir Groisman, the current speaker and an ally of Poroshenko’s, is likely to succeed Yatseniuk as premier.
Yatseniuk earlier accused the other parties, which share his desire to move Ukraine away from Russia and closer to the West, of shifting the blame for unpopular austerity measures like subsidy cuts to his group when they were enacted to qualify for $40 billion in international support.
Tymoshenko has demanded the reintroduction of energy subsidies as a condition for returning to government.
Although Poroshenko appears to have prevailed in his backroom fight with Yatseniuk, the president himself is also embattled.
On Wednesday, voters in the Netherlands rejected the European association agreement with Ukraine that was at the heart of the 2014 revolution. When the relatively pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich refused to sign the treaty that year — which commits Ukraine to harmonizing its economic and social policies with those of the countries in the EU — people took to the streets of Kiev and forced him to step down.
Poroshenko, Yanukovich’s successor, signed the agreement in the summer of 2014, but lawmakers this week accused him of having failed to inspire the Dutch to vote in favor of it.
“This is a verdict on a president who for the past two years has systematically and persistently chosen the past over the future,” said Mustafa Nayem, a former journalist and lawmaker in Poroshenko’s party.
Serhiy Leshchenko, another activist elected to parliament on the heels of the pro-Western protest movement, said the referendum in the Netherlands showed Poroshenko’s administration was “losing international support because of the lack of reforms.”
The president has also been named in the “Panama Papers,” which reveal that he set up an offshore holding company for his confectionary business on the Virgin Islands to benefit from its loose tax laws.
This website argued in February, when the resignation of a reformist minister triggered the crisis that led to Yatseniuk’s downfall this weekend, that the coalition in Kiev is one between sincere liberalizers and an oligarchy represented by the likes of Poroshenko. The only thing they have in common is that both believe the former Soviet republic’s future lies in Europe, not as an appendage of Russia.
After the 2014 uprising, when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and started supporting a separatist uprising in its southeastern Donbas region, the two camps set aside their differences to govern the country. Modernizers did not insist on uprooting the entire political system and were in turn tolerated by the business interests that supported Poroshenko.
It was a marriage of convenience that was never meant to last. As Yatseniuk steps down on Sunday, the coalition may be fracturing beyond repair.
If that happens, it seems the old guard has the upper hand. But will ordinary Ukrainians accept that?