Crisis in Kiev

KIEV/BERLIN | | ukraine

KIEV/BERLIN (Own report) - A serious government crisis is shaking up a pro-western Ukraine. Yesterday, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk barely survived a no-confidence vote, after President Petro Poroshenko urged him to resign. Hundreds had assembled in front of the parliament building to protest against his policies, which are impoverishing large sectors of the population. Lately, people have been particularly upset over the hike in gas prices - making, for many, heating throughout the icy Ukrainian winter an expensive luxury. Berlin and Washington are worried that the country will no longer be controllable, due to the disastrous economic situation and the dramatic loss of popularity of the President and government. Western powers have therefore begun to call on Kiev to get serious about fighting corruption. Spectacular resignations of several ministers and the deputy general prosecutor have provided greater urgency to this demand and accentuated the government crisis over the past few months and the last few days, with no solution in sight. The formation of a "government of technocrats" under a longtime western diplomat is in discussion, in other words, Kiev would be placed directly under western control.

Dire Poverty

Pro-western Ukraine's current government crisis has been provoked by its disastrous development, with its catastrophic economic situation. After the Ukrainian GNP drastically declined by 6.8 percent in 2014, it dropped another eleven percent last year. Ukraine is hopelessly indebt and completely dependant on IMF credits. The average monthly wage has fallen from around 280 Euros in 2013, to 156 Euros by October 2015, while the costs even of food and heating have risen dramatically. Dire poverty is rapidly spreading.[1] Only the military budget has been increased - this year by 30 percent - to around five percent of the GDP.[2] Observers warn that "social tensions" could develop in the country [3] and mass protests can no longer be ruled out. An improvement of the conditions is nowhere in sight.

To Govern with 8.7 Percent

This is all the more significant, since public approval of the political personnel - heaved into office by the West in the February 2014 putsch - has eroded even more than the economy. To the question if one has "confidence" in President Poroshenko, asked in a July 2015 poll, only 29.5 percent of the Ukrainians, said yes, whereas 62.5 percent responded with no. In July 2015, the "balance of confidence" - a statistical unit obtained by subtracting the rejection percentage rate from that of approval - was minus 33 percent. This was significantly lower than the minus 27 percent of former President Victor Yanukovych, during the December 2013 Maidan protests.[4] A follow-up survey in late 2015 revealed a mere 16.9 percent had "confidence" in the President, with his balance of confidence dropping to minus 48.1 percent. Survey ratings concerning the government are similar. In late 2015, only 8.7 percent of Ukrainians expressed their confidence in the government. The balance of confidence dropped therefore from minus 56 percent in July to minus 66.3 percent in December. The parliament's balance of confidence dropped from minus 63 percent in the summer 2015 to minus 72.4 percent at the end of the year. The parliament enjoys about as much confidence as the Russian media (minus 73.6 percent) - a clear statement in Ukraine's nationalist atmosphere.[5]

Corruption in Kiev

It was in this situation in late 2015, that pro-western Ukraine's protective forces began to intensify pressure on Kiev, calling on it to finally get serious in tackling corruption. Today, Berlin's think tanks are not only publishing studies and strategy papers about "Russian aggression," but analyses also on the "obstacles" impeding "the establishment of a functioning constitutional state" in Ukraine, and the serious "failure of the elite" in Kiev. "As far as the question of speed and implementation of the reforms leading to a constitutional state are concerned," there is "room for criticism,"[6] according to one of the recent analyses of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). "The impartiality of those responsible for Ukraine's justice system," is "just as dubious" as "the informal code of conduct, that they are supposed to uphold" - a polite euphemism for the unbridled corruption of Ukraine's post-Maidan justice system. Even at the executive level, irregularities are apparent, according to the SWP. For example, it is quite remarkable that Vice Minister of Energy, Ihor Didenko, sees "no conflict of interests" in the fact that he is running a company in partnership with the oligarchs Ihor Kolomoyskyi and Henadiy Boholyubov - "even though his business partners have strong energy branch interests and were given preferential treatment by Didenko, while he was still at other posts within the state's administration." It is also astounding that, since the October 2014 elections, "69 percent of the laws passed" by Kiev's parliament, were done "in expedited procedures" - a popular means of avoiding a meticulous review of whether the bill is intended to serve private interests or the common good.

"Even Worst than Before"

The conflict over Ukraine's corruption escalated in early February. On February 3, Economic Minister, Aivaras Abromavičius, resigned. Abromavičius is one the "reformers," brought in from abroad and placed in office in Kiev under western pressure. Initially he said that "some of the new people" are "worse than the old ones,"[7] to then turn against President Poroshenko. Poroshenko's henchman, Ihor Kononenko, deputy chair of the "Petro Poroshenko Bloc" in the Ukrainian parliament, repeatedly sought - apparently with the President's backing - to decide the allocation of important posts in state enterprises and even in the ministry of economy - "a classical method used by Ukrainian oligarchs to seize and plunder state property," according to a report.[8] Abromavičius was the fourth "reformer" to resign, following the ministers of public health, of infrastructure and of agriculture. He declared that this should be taken as a "wake-up call." Western governments seized upon his resignation to increase their pressure. In their statement published on February 3, the ambassadors of ten Western countries declared that they are "deeply disappointed" and demanded that "Ukraine's leaders" finally "set aside their parochial differences."[9] Similar statements had been made by the EU (February 12), and by the G7 (February 15).

The President's Confidante

Last Monday's resignation of Deputy Prosecutor General, Vitaly Kasko, was the latest blow to Kiev's ruling circles. Kasko, who is also considered a "reformer," justified his decision, saying that in the prosecutor's office "one hand washes the other" and any attempt to bring about "changes from within" is "immediately punished."[10] These allegations are of importance, because Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin is a confidante of President Poroshenko.[11] Yesterday evening, Poroshenko felt obliged to react to the allegations and demand the Prosecutor General's resignation - to which Shokin immediately complied. Poroshenko also demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. However, Yatsenyuk barely survived yesterday evening's no-confidence vote and will remain in office, at least for the time being.

Unclear Prospects

It is unclear, how the situation will develop. The formation of a "government of technocrats" under the present Minister of Finance, Natalie Jaresko, is currently being discussed.[12] This would mean that western personnel will be directly taking power in Ukraine, as if it were a protectorate. Even though Jaresko has received Ukrainian citizenship just prior to taking office, she is nevertheless a former employee of the US State Department. However, it seems unlikely that she will receive the needed majority of the Ukrainian parliamentarian votes. The Verkhovna Rada is largely controlled by the oligarchs. New elections would hardly bring a change. From the point of view of the President and the government, this would not be an option. According to surveys, the "Petro Poroshenko Bloc" would only receive ten percent of the vote. The "People's Front" of Arseniy Yatsenyuk - after all the incumbent Prime Minister - would no longer be represented in parliament.

More on this subject: The Siege of Crimea (I), and The Siege of Crimea (II).

[1] See Die Folgen der "Befreiung".
[2] Reinhard Lauterbach: Ein Land im Loch. junge Welt 20.01.2016.
[3] Kseniia Gatskova: Der Lebensstandard in der Ukraine in den Jahren 2014/2015: sinkender Wohlstand und die Anpassungsstrategien der Bevölkerung. In: Ukraine-Analysen Nr. 161, 09.12.2015, 2-5.
[4] See Die Folgen der "Befreiung".
[5] Angaben nach: Ukraine-Analysen Nr. 163, 10.02.2016, S. 8.
[6] Susan Stewart: Die heutige Ukraine und der Rechtsstaat. Weitgehendes Eliteversagen stellt die Reformen in Frage. SWP-Aktuell 3, Januar 2016.
[7] Julia Smirnova: Wichtiger Reformer rechnet mit Poroschenkos Staat ab. 04.02.2016.
[8] Konrad Schuller: Rücktritt als Protest. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 04.02.2016.
[9] Statement on the Resignation of Minister of Economic Development and Trade Aivaras Abromavicius. Kiev, 03.02.2016. The statement was signed by the ambassadors of Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States of America.
[10] Konrad Schuller: Ukrainische Führung durch weiteren Rücktritt geschwächt. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 16.02.2016.
[11] Frank Hofmann: Ende der Schonfrist für Kiew? 06.12.2016.
[12] Konrad Schuller: Ukrainische Führung durch weiteren Rücktritt geschwächt. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 16.02.2016.