Yatsenyuk’s resignation highlights Ukraine’s structural issues

Yatsenyuk’s resignation highlights Ukraine’s structural issues

The recent resignation of former Prime Minister Yatsenyuk comes against the backdrop of elevated political tensions and highlights structural governance issues in Ukraine, underscoring the risks posed by a high degree of corruption.

In early February, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced five principles of governance, the second of which was “zero tolerance for corruption, be it in politics and the economy.” Fast forward two months: Yatsenyuk has resigned amid corruption charges accusing him of hindering reforms out of partiality to oligarchs.

Corruption in Ukrainian politics

A controversial figure, Yatsenyuk in many ways has been the face of reform in Ukraine. But the now-former Prime Minister’s tense relationship with his former ally President Poroshenko and with the Parliament has been a constant struggle. It certainly doesn’t help that Ukrainian media outlets have been particularly hard on Yatsenyuk. Poroshenko, on the other hand, enjoyed limited criticism in the media — that is, until he was implicated in the Panama Papers.

On top of that, allegations of corruption then led to a loss in popularity for Yatsenyuk. Support from members of Parliament linked to the very wealthy (steel tycoon Rinat Akhmetov, for instance) had helped sustain his power thus far. Even having stepped down, he affirmed his intent to remain active in his People’s Front party.

Yatsenyuk’s replacement, Volodymyr Groysman, is hardly free from controversy either as cynicism over his competency and merits abounds. Given Groysman’s subordinate (many say, puppet-like) position to Poroshenko, the new dynamic between Prime Minister and President will shift the balance of power in the government.

But there is no reason to expect any less volatility even if Yatsenyuk’s exit means an end to the infighting and bickering. In a two-party ruling coalition made up of Yatsenyuk’s party and the Poroshenko bloc (plus non-affiliated deputies), there will be further strained negotiations and further political instability. Groysman will have a particularly hard time handling Yatsenyuk’s party, especially with how resentful its members are now.

Although the president’s credibility has suffered from revelations of his offshore accounts, many more Poroshenko loyalists will enter the regime, granting him a concentration of power unprecedented in this government. Of course this is a double-edged sword as without the opportunity to scapegoat Yatsenyuk, Poroshenko will now bear the full burden of responsibility for any dissatisfaction.

More trouble ahead for Ukraine’s economy

Even with Yatsenyuk’s exit, corruption continues to shape Ukraine’s political and economic life. It’s a vicious cycle: the economy is weak because the government can’t get its act together to get funding to fix the economy. And this vicious cycle is not just an organically-produced accident of misguided politics overshadowing good intentions.

According to Foreign Policy’s Lev Golinkin: “The reason for the West’s seemingly endless patience is obvious: It’s called Moscow … Nobody understands — and exploits — this better than Kiev’s oligarchs. This is why any attempt to make Kiev accept responsibility for the lack of reforms sets off an explosion of indignant rejoinders reminding the West that the oligarchs are standing up to Russia, fighting for democracy, and defending Western values.”

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s destabilized economy continues to suffer and yet the financial support it so desperately needs is now in serious jeopardy because of the chronic political deadlock, lack of promised reforms, and loss of credibility due to corruption scandals. On top of the delayed release of the IMF package, a Dutch referendum vote did not sway in Ukraine’s favor, coming out against the EU-Ukraine free trade agreement from early 2016.

With its natural resources and strategic geopolitical position, Ukraine has a great deal of potential to flourish economically. However, with this ongoing state of political crisis, there are no signs that the economy will experience a turnaround anytime soon.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Eileen Filmus

Eileen has worked in the US Congress, conducted research on terrorism and human rights, worked in the private sector and at NGOs. She specialises in the relationship between technology and geopolitical threat management. She has a Masters degree from University of Chicago, where she focused on security, politics, and diplomacy.