Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk. © Courtesy
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk struggled to explain the achievements of his government to an international audience of a high-key conference in Kyiv on Sept. 13. He admitted that few vital reforms have been completed in the past half a year, and said that the war undermines further prospects for quick change.
“In the past six months we have (had) a revolution, we’re still in war, and there are two elections,” he said at Yalta European Strategy conference in Kyiv. He said that making any radical changes is difficult under current circumstances, but the energy to do it comes from people’s “strong desire to live in another country.”
Yatseniuk said that his government, which was brought to power after the EuroMaidan revolution that thwarted corrupt former President Viktor Yanukovych, failed to tackle corruption, overhaul a fundamentally flawed legislative system and judiciary system full of “corrupt judges and prosecutor,” and fix the Soviet-style police system.
“This is our agenda,” he said.
Yatseniuk is running for parliament in the Oct. 26 snap election at the helm of his newly created People’s Front party, who is planning to bring to the legislature a number of commanders from the front lines and revolution activists on their party list. Half of the 450-seat parliament is elected though party lists, and the rest through majority constituencies.
Yatseniuk, however, said that the government can boast a number of achievements. “After we took over the office of the prime minister, our key task was to resume the IMF program,” he said. Ukraine managed to do it in a short time, and received the second tranche of the Stand-By Arrangement from the IMF earlier this month, which has helped the government to plug the budget hole.
Yatseniuk also said that his government managed to also adopt two austerity packages, cut down public spending by more than 10 percent, as well as cut privileges, and hike housing bills and taxes to be able to fill the budget. “The majority of Ukrainian accepted those austerity measures,” he said.
He also said the government started a pro-transparency and anti-corruption campaign by passing a vital new public procurement law, eliminating a handful of controlling agencies and inspections, and cutting the number of various licenses from 143 to 84.
Yatseniuk said that the achievements of his government should not be under-estimated considering that it also has to cope with a war raging in the east. “This government is a war-time government. The key aggressor is the Russian Federation. Until we get peace it will be really difficult to get real change,” he said.
He said that a constant flow of news from the frontlines is in no way helpful. He said when people switch on the TV and see that the Russian tanks invaded, they “rush to the banks to get out deposits” and change them to hard currency, further escalating economic problems. Fear, he said, drives their moves.
On this background it’s a “key priority to deter Russia and start reform,” Yatseniuk said. “If we stop the war, if we contain Russia, we will get a chance to attract international investors. It’s not easy to attract investors when you have Russian tanks and Russian artillery in your country.”
Moreover, Russia is waging war on more than one front in Ukraine. One of the toughest is the energy. Russia stopped supplying gas to Ukraine in June because of an ongoing dispute over price for gas and Ukraine’s debt.
Yatseniuk’s government filed an arbitration claim against Russia’s Gazprom in Stockholm and started shipping gas from Europe through the so-called “reverse flow.” However, Russia made a new move in the past few days, cutting gas supply to some EU member nations who have been selling gas to Ukraine. “The idea was to stop the reverse flow,” Yatseniuk said. He also added that the Russian army has deliberately targeted coal mines with their strikes, and “a number of coal mines were entirely demolished and dismantled.”
“We have a problem with coal supply,” Yatseniuk admitted, saying that Ukraine started importing coal from other countries, including South Africa, “for the first time in two decades.”
“These are tremendous challenges. We have huge problems, but also huge opportunities,” Yatseniuk said.
(Kyiv Post deputy chief editor Katya Gorchinskaya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).