Ukraine’s parliament confirmed Volodimir Groisman, its speaker and an ally of President Petro Poroshenko, as prime minister on Thursday, following the resignation of Arseniy Yatseniuk earlier in the week.
Groisman is supported by the two largest parties: Poroshenko’s Solidarity bloc and Yatseniuk’s conservative People’s Front.
Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party had been in talks to rejoin the coalition, which it left in February, but demanded a reintroduction of energy subsidies at the eleventh hour which have been cut to qualify for $40 billion in aid from the International Monetary Fund.
Yatseniuk’s resignation came after months of infighting between the president and the premier. On his way out, the latter accused Poroshenko’s party of shifting the blame for unpopular austerity measures to his when they were enacted with the support of both.
More fundamentally, Poroshenko and Yatseniuk represented rival pro-Western factions in Ukraine which set aside their differences when the country was invaded by Russia in 2014.
While Yatseniuk was far from clean, he — for a while — embodied the aspirations of genuine reformers who seek to Westernize Ukraine.
Poroshenko, a confectionary tycoon and billionaire, is backed by oligarchs whose commercial interests demand closer integration with the West as opposed to with Ukraine’s former Soviet master, Russia.
A shared commitment to economic relations with the neighboring European Union and the need to present a united front in the face of Russian aggression forced the two sides into an uneasy and, it turns out, temporary alliance. Modernizers did not insist on uprooting the entire political order and were in turn tolerated by the oligarchs.
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Whether the modernizers pushed too hard or the vested interests lost their sense of urgency is now beside the point. The old guard has won out and that doesn’t bode well for Ukraine’s prospects in the short term.
Leonid Bershidsky has argued at Bloomberg View that Groisman is effectively a Poroshenko puppet and has been since he served as governor of Vinnitsa, the region where Poroshenko has his biggest chocolate factories.
“What’s known of his economic program isn’t encouraging,” writes Bershidsky.
Groisman’s pronouncements on strengthening agriculture, building roads and fighting corruption while strengthening social support are little different from Yatseniuk’s intentions and often are misguided.
Lev Golinkin is even less optimistic. The author argues in Foreign Policy that Ukraine’s political crisis is likely to go from bad to worse.
Every few months, new corruption allegations rock the government; Western diplomats fly in to issue rebukes and pleas for Ukraine’s leaders to think of their people; Kiev promises to do better; the West relents.
Golinkin is perhaps too quick to dismiss the real economic reforms that were done under Yatseniuk’s government; liberalizations that might not be safe with Groisman.
But he doesn’t exaggerate when he despairs at the corruption of Poroshenko and his cronies.
The reason they get away with it, writes Golinkin, is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. “It’s hard to imagine Kiev’s brazen kleptocracy being handed dozens of ‘last’ chances if Ukraine were involved in a conflict with, say, Burkina Faso.” But because it’s locked in a standoff with Russia, the West is willing to overlook a lot. “Nobody understands — and exploits — this better than Kiev’s oligarchs.”