Yatsenyuk: Ukraine's unlikely firebrand

16th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

Arseniy Yatsenyuk once said that taking the job of Ukrainian prime minister was an act of "political suicide" and on Tuesday he appeared to have been proved right.

Facing charges he has been unable to deliver on a pledge to tackle corruption and fix the economy, the bespectacled pro-Western premier was asked to step down by the president "in order to restore trust in the government".

The 41-year-old former lawyer and banker has endured a rollercoaster ride in office after taking power in February 2014 at a pivotal moment in his country's history.

Only two weeks after he took the oath, Russia annexed Crimea and a bloody pro-Moscow insurgency soon raged in the industrial east.

The war-torn country was also in dire economic straits and Yatsenyuk openly admitted that dragging the former Communist republic from the brink of collapse would mean pushing through wrenching austerity measures.

Yatsenyuk's considerable economic experience proved a boon as he took on the task of negotiating a massive multi-billion-dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund, European Union, World Bank and allied countries to keep Ukraine afloat.

Although he did not have an image as a tough politician, he became known for his vitriolic condemnations of Moscow and he won plaudits for standing up to Russia as it cut off vital gas supplies to Ukraine over a bitter price dispute.

But that image faded in recent months, with two top reformist officials resigning in protests against alleged state graft, and Yatsenyuk's closest allies becoming embroiled in corruption charge

- Fighting talk, shrewd operator -

Yatsenyuk, the protege of ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, rose to prominence as one of the main protest leaders on Kiev's Independence Square, shedding his intellectual image with stormy speeches from the podium.

For all his fighting talk to the crowds, he is also a skilled behind-the-scenes political operator who had held top posts under previous governments including economy minister and central bank deputy governor.

A former speaker of parliament, he came fourth in the 2010 presidential election won by the pro-Kremlin Viktor Yanukovych, garnering just seven percent of the vote.

He came to power pledging to root out Ukraine's endemic corruption but ended up facing allegations that he was backing the interests of the very billionaires he had vowed to sideline.

- Political prodigy -

When he was made premier, Yatsenyuk was one of Europe's youngest government chiefs, a post made more powerful since parliament voted to return to a 2004 constitution that handed a raft of powers from the president to lawmakers.

Originally from Chernivtsi in western Ukraine, Yatsenyuk began his political career in 2001 as economy minister of the Crimean peninsula.

Following the so-called Orange Revolution in 2004, he began pushing a more pro-Western agenda and became a close ally of Tymoshenko, the prime minister from 2007 to 2010 who was jailed under Yanukovych for abuse of power.

Yatsenyuk served as foreign minister under another president, Viktor Yushchenko, in 2007 and became a compromise figure when a personal conflict between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko began to spiral out of control.

Unusually for government officials in post-Soviet countries, Yatsenyuk travelled on regular passenger flights while he was minister. He also speaks fluent English.

Yatsenyuk and Tymoshenko themselves later had a bitter falling-out, although they eventually reconciled and he became the parliamentary leader of the party she founded.

He was born on May 22, 1974, into a family of professors.

While still at university in the 1990s he set up a student law firm and later worked at a Kiev bank.

© 2016 AFP

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