- By Reid StandishReid Standish is associate editor, digital, at Foreign Policy. Reid writes on Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia and is the newsroom’s digital point person. He has lived in and reported from Finland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine, where he covered everything from Santa Claus to drug trafficking. A native of British Columbia, he holds a B.A. in international studies from Simon Fraser University and an M.A. from the University of Glasgow.
When Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk assumed office in February 2014 — just weeks before Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of fighting in eastern Ukraine — he called his decision “political suicide.” Nearly two years later, it may well turn out to be the case: the embattled prime minister barely survived a no-confidence vote in parliament Tuesday and Kiev’s growing political crisis means he could still find himself looking for a new job.
The day of parliamentary infighting and high tempers began as President Petro Poroshenko urged Yatsenyuk to resign minutes before the prime minister was to report to parliament on Tuesday afternoon. And while the beleaguered Yatsenyuk will live to see another day — 194 lawmakers voted in favor of the no-confidence motion, 32 votes shy for it to pass — the event serves to only further deepen the Ukrainian government’s worst political crisis since taking power in 2014, and leaves the fate of a much needed $17.5 billion international rescue loan from the International Monetary Fund very much up in the air.
The standoff came amid growing calls for Yatsenyuk’s resignation from Ukrainian lawmakers and accusations of corruption and stalling reforms. In calling for the prime minister’s resignation, Poroshenko aimed to assuade a restive public and also reassure Western donors that Kiev was still serious about following through on economic and political reforms.
“Obviously, society and government are not satisfied with the pace of change,” said Poroshenko in a statement released online Tuesday. “We need to accelerate the positive transformation to open a second wind for reform.”
Poroshenko also said he directly requested the resignation of General Prosecutor Viktor Shokin, an ally of the president’s who has been accused by Western backers and activists of blocking reforms and sidelining corruption investigations on high-level suspects. Shokin heeded Poroshenko’s call and resigned on Tuesday ahead of the vote on Yatsenyuk.
“The president wants to restore the trust to official bodies in Ukraine,” Yarema Dukh, a spokesman for the presidential administration of Ukraine, told Foreign Policy after Shokin’s resignation. “The prime minister and prosecutor general lost credence [and] their resignation is the only way to regain it.”
The political crisis has enormous implications for Ukraine’s fragile economy. IMF chief Christine Lagarde warned last week that it was “hard to see” how the financial bailout could continue without Kiev taking a harder stance on fighting state graft and pushing for more economic restructuring. Political uncertainty has already shaken Western confidence this month after the Feb. 4 resignation of reformist Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius, who stepped down over Kiev’s alleged inability and unwillingness to fight high-level corruption.
Balazs Jarabik, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Shokin’s forced resignation was a way for Poroshenko to appease Western donors and ensure the arrival of the next portion of IMF money to rescue Ukraine’s economy, which shrank approximately 10 percent in 2015.
“Shokin was the sacrifice for the IMF tranche and [that is] what is most important for the country,” Jarabik told FP.
Reinstating public trust will be no easy task as the growing crisis could still bring about the collapse of Ukraine’s government four-party coalition, a scenario that could trigger new parliamentary elections and jeopardize future funding for the country’s battered economy. In his statement, Poroshenko instead advocated for a reshuffle of the cabinet as an attempt to avoid Ukrainians going to the polls amid an unresolved war in the country’s east and a beleaguered economy.
According to Jarabik, more political displays like those witnessed on Tuesday could be around the corner.
“Next comes the IMF tranche and the political crisis continues,” Jarabik said.
Following Tuesday’s vote, lawmakers from the pro-European coalition have threatened that they will leave the parliamentary bloc. Under Ukraine’s constitution, the no-confidence motion can’t be repeated during the current parliamentary session, which ends in July.
Photo credit: SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images