Ukraine's pro-West parties face bitter campaign after Yatsenyuk resignation

Arseniy Yatsenyuk's resignation as premier is a high-risk strategy, with further divisions likely to hit Kiev's efforts to stand up to Russia

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 July, 2014, 6:27am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 July, 2014, 9:35am

Ukraine's prime minister has launched what promises to be a bitter election campaign that could divide pro-Western parties and complicate their efforts to fight pro-Russian rebels in the country's east.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a key interlocutor of the West during months of turmoil, announced on Thursday he would quit, saying parliament was betraying Ukraine's army and people by blocking reforms supported by Western backers.

His move, following the exit of two parties from the ruling coalition, amounted to the start of a campaign for seats in a legislature still packed with former allies of pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted by protests in February.

"History will not forgive us," Yatsenyuk told parliament, in what analysts said was the first campaign speech for the party led by Yuliya Tymoshenko, a rival of President Petro Poroshenko, who was elected to replace Yanukovych in May.

Ukraine's pro-Western political forces have been bitterly divided almost continuously since the country won independence with the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. Any further divisions will likely weaken Kiev's attempt to counter Russia's reassertion of control over the former Soviet arena, realised most dramatically when Moscow annexed Crimea in March.

Analysts said Yatsenyuk's resignation - yet to be approved by parliament - would allow his party to criticise government policy during the campaign.

"This resignation means that the election campaign has begun for all political forces," said Yuri Yakymenko, an analyst at the Razumkov think tank. "He suggested unpopular laws, but the Rada [parliament] did not support him. They threw it back at him and now he's throwing it back at them."

The Rada would now meet for an emergency session on Thursday, to discuss a probe into the shooting down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 with the loss of 298 lives, a vote of confidence for Yatsenyuk, as well as the budget and other legal amendments he had requested, a statement on Poroshenko's website said.

Abandoning his post at a time when Ukraine is struggling to finance a war against pro-Russian rebels and to pay state workers their regular salaries could be a high-risk strategy for Yatsenyuk.

Government and finance officials have warned that the budget only has enough money to finance the army until August 1 and some have criticised the government for failing to properly feed or equip soldiers in the field.

Poroshenko aide Oleksander Danilyuk said the resignation should not hurt what Kiev calls its "anti-terrorist operation".

The war will be central to the campaign and Yatsenyuk needs distance from government policy to form a campaign in opposition to Poroshenko's leadership.

Poroshenko, a pro-Western businessman, comfortably won election, pushing Tymoshenko, a former prime minister jailed under Yanukovych, into a distant second. Tymoshenko has seen her personal and party ratings slip since she was jailed for abuse of office and she hopes Yatsenyuk can help their party recover.


Relatives visit site of Malaysia Airlines crash in Ukraine

The first relatives of people killed when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down 10 days ago arrived at the crash site yesterday in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, as Dutch and Australian forces prepared for possible deployment to secure the site.

Ignoring safety warnings, an Australian couple arrived without any escort, saying they were fulfilling a promise to their only child. "She was full of life," said Angela Rudhart-Dyczynski of 25-year-old Fatima, one of 298 aboard the Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur flight.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said remains of passengers were still at the site. "Plainly there are unrecovered body remains in the area. And it's the presence of unrecovered remains that makes it more important than ever that an international team be dispatched," he said.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will travel to the Netherlands this week to discuss securing access to the crash site with his Dutch counterpart. Nearly 200 of those killed were Dutch.

Agence France-Presse