Groysman: Poroshenko protege and Ukraine's crisis PM

14th April 2016, Comments 0 comments

Volodymr Groysman has catapulted from being a small city mayor to Ukraine's premier over a remarkable two-year span during which he stuck close by President Petro Poroshenko's side.

The 38-year-old lawyer by training is seen as a coalition builder who has gained stature by keeping the notoriously rowdy parliament in relative peace since his appointment as speaker in November 2014.

But some economists worry that the mild-mannered protege of Poroshenko may lack the toughness needed to stand up to a handful of tycoons who have dominated Ukraine's politics and made the former Soviet republic a breeding ground for graft.

The son of Jewish parents from Vinnytsia -- the western Ukrainian city of 370,000 that elected him mayor in 2006 -- sounded confident ahead of his appointment to one of eastern Europe's more difficult assignments.

"I am good for it. I am able to work 24 hours a day," Groysman told reporters.

He also reaffirmed his commitment to the deeply unpopular austerity measures prescribed by the International Monetary Fund under its $17.5-billion (15.4-billion-euro) rescue plan for Ukraine.

That steely determination will be essential to regaining the trust of protesters who rejoiced at the ouster of a Moscow-backed president in a 2014 revolution that was followed by Russia's annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of separatist revolt in the east.

A coinciding economic collapse and seeming impunity of the oligarchs turned the public against Groysman's predecessor Arseniy Yatsenyuk and saw a dramatic dip in the popularity of Poroshenko himself.

- Entrepreneurial spirit -

Groysman's nomination to the post by the president's party and confirmation by parliament Thursday is seen as an attempt to end months of political gridlock that has paralysed the government and stalled the release of crucial foreign aid.

Yatsenyuk resigned barely two months after surviving a no-confidence vote sparked by a growing belief that he was working in concert with the very tycoons he was meant to fight.

Groysman was waiting in the wings the entire time -- and expectations on him are high.

He showed his entrepreneurial spirit while still a school student in the early 1990s by heading a trade company formed by his father and later overseeing a number of other firms.

Groysman was praised as mayor for launching infrastructure projects that helped overhaul the city's potholed roads and creaking Soviet-era public transport.

He also received a major investment from Poroshenko's Roshen candy empire -- which coincidentally has a large factory in Vinnytsia -- for the reconstruction of the city's dilapidated riverside recreation parks.

Groysman displayed his early loyalty to the future president by renaming the new fountain-filled district's embankment "Roshen".

The February 2014 pro-EU revolution saw Groysman move to Kiev and serve as one of Yatsenyuk's deputies.

His main task involved pulling off a power shift that moved some of the government's responsibilities to local councils -- a decentralisation plan backed by the United States.

Groysman also headed a state commission that coordinated the investigation into the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet in July 2014 in the war zone that killed almost 300 people and was blamed by Kiev on the pro-Moscow rebels.

He was elected to parliament as a member of the president's party in October 2014 and became speaker just a month later.

- 'Limited world view' -

But Groysman has his share of critics.

An advisor who worked with him in 2014-15 told AFP on condition of anonymity that Groysman "would like to be independent (of Poroshenko), but does not quite know how to do it".

"His world view is limited to Vinnytsia," the advisor said.

Groysman is also hampered by a lack of English and tainted by accusations of pushing through a close ally to head Ukraine's profitable state mail service.

His detractors further accuse him of violating parliamentary procedure as speaker by forcing lawmakers to hold successive votes on disputed presidential legislation to make sure it eventually passed.

Groysman also came under fire from human rights groups in November 2015 for bluntly rejecting the possibility of same-sex marriage in Ukraine.

"Family values are essential," he told lawmakers. "Same-sex marriages are impossible in Ukraine."

© 2016 AFP

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