Ukraine faces fresh crisis after economy minister quits

4th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

Ukraine faced the prospect Thursday of a fresh political crisis as its reformist economy minister resigned in protest at alleged influence-peddling and state graft.

President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk met ambassadors from the G7 nations after the envoys said they were "deeply disappointed" with Aivaras Abromavicius's shock decision to step down.

Poroshenko held last-ditch talks with the Lithuanian-born Abromavicius Wednesday in a bid to change his mind and reassure him that all his charges would be investigated in full.

But parliament began debating the 40-year-old's future in a tense session that saw one deputy raise the prospect of holding a vote of no confidence in the government as a whole.

"It is clear to everyone that we are entering a serious political crisis," parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Groysman told reporters.

Adding to Western frustration is the fact that Abromavicius is the fourth reform-minded minister to tender his resignation since Ukraine's 2014 revolution broke its ties with Russia and set it on a European course.

Parliament never approved any of their dismissals and they all remain acting ministers in their posts.

Yet the repeated attempted exodus of ministers charged with putting the cash-strapped nation of about 40 million on a transparent path toward growth highlights the difficulties Ukraine faces in fulfilling its dream of joining the EU.

Abromavicius "was one of those leaders who put Ukraine's interests above any personal interests of his own. He did implement some important reforms," US State Department spokesman John Kirby told a Washington briefing.

"We want to see those reforms continue."

- 'Grey cardinal' -

Abromavicius levelled his most serious charges against a top Poroshenko party member named Igor Kononenko -- a figure the Ukrainian media often refer to as a "grey cardinal" who implements the president's political will.

He accused Kononenko of trying to push his own people into key economy ministry positions that oversee the cash flows of the vast defence and energy sectors.

Abromavicius had attempted to remove figures tied to vested interests from state corporations that have been bleeding money due to suspected corruption and complex offshore schemes.

"I expected this," Abromavicius told the Noveye Vremya weekly's website just hours after his decision to quit.

"But I expected this to come from the old interests and not new ones," he continued.

"I expected it to come from 'red directors' and the regional party" of deposed Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.

The term "red directors" refers to Soviet-era managers who clung to their posts for decades and are accused of enriching themselves while the companies they headed lost money and left many unemployed.

"It came as a big surprise when certain new politicians tried to get a hold of state companies," Abromavicius said.

- 'Major repercussions' -

Kononenko himself denied the charges and said he was ready to step down from his senior post in Poroshenko's parliamentary faction if his fellow deputies do not trust his work.

But some political analysts said the entire scandal had already undermined Ukraine's reputation and threatened the disbursement of essential assistance tentatively promised by Ukraine's Western allies and the International Monetary Fund.

"Regardless of whether Abromavicius stays or goes, this domestic political crisis is likely to have major repercussions," Anders Aslund of the US-based Atlantic Council wrote in a report.

"The confidence of Western governments in the current Ukrainian administration is running low," Aslund added.

"The International Monetary Fund, the United States, and the European Union had been expected to provide a total of $4 billion (3.6 billion euros) in credits later this month, but none are likely to contribute unless the Ukrainian government shows real commitment to fight corruption."

© 2016 AFP

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