Ukrainian prime minister Areseny Yatsenyuk tendered his resignation yesterday (24 July), berating parliament for failing to pass legislation to take control over an increasingly precarious energy situation and to increase army financing.
Earlier yesterday, the nationalist party Svoboda and the Udar (Punch) party of former boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko left the government coalition, forcing new elections to a parliament whose make-up has not changed since before the toppling of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich in February.
His successor, President Petro Poroshenko, however said that the breakup of the coalition in parliament is not a legal basis for the resignation of the cabinet. He called for a vote of confidence today.
“As President, I positively evaluate anti-crisis efforts of the acting Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. I understand that it works under extremely difficult conditions that have never been faced by any Government before. I hope that emotions will fade away and a cool head and sense of responsibility will win the day as a result of which the entire Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine will continue its work,” Poroshenko stated.
Yatseniuk’s resignation could leave a hole at the heart of state decision-making, as Ukraine struggles to fund a war with pro-Russian rebels in its east and deals with the aftermath of a plane crash that killed 298 people.
The usually mild-mannered Yatseniuk bellowed at politicians who had failed to pass a law to allow a liberalisation of control over Ukraine’s pipeline system.
He said politicians risked losing the hearts and minds of Ukrainians who had protested for months in the Maidan demonstrations in favour of joining Europe and against Yanukovich.
“History will not forgive us,” he told parliament.
“Millions of people made this revolution. We did not take the European choice, but the ‘heavenly hundred’ and thousands of other Ukrainians did,” he said, referring to those killed, mainly by sniper fire, during the protests.
Yatseniuk said that by blocking legislation, like a bill to allow consortiums with European or US companies to operate Ukraine’s ageing gas distribution system and storage facilities, parliament was putting Ukraine’s future at risk.
By not tackling budget spending, it was also putting the lives of Ukraine’s soldiers in jeopardy, he said.
“It’s unacceptable that because laws have not been passed, we now have no means with which to pay soldiers, doctors, police, we have no fuel for armoured vehicles, and no way of freeing ourselves from dependence on Russian gas,” he said.
“Those people who are sitting there under fire, can we just think of them?”
Yatseniuk, who has been central to talks with the European Union and the United States, cannot leave office immediately, because he is obliged to continue his duties before a new prime minister and government are installed.
But his impassioned speech underlined the frustration of many in Ukraine that change in the higher echelons of power was taking too much time.
Morale has also sunk in Kyiv since the downing of a Malaysian airliner in rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine last week, even though Ukrainian forces are making headway in the military campaign against the separatists.
Poroshenko said that the decision of the two parties to leave the government coalition shouldn’t paralyze the work of the Parliament. “
“The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is obliged to further solve the issues of state importance. I emphasize the necessity to immediately get back to the consideration of issues on the amendments to the State Budget and the Tax Code already on 25 July. We need these amendments to defend territorial integrity, fund the army, restore the territories liberated from terrorists and provide assistance to civilians of the affected cities, towns and villages”, the President stated.
Politicians and pro-European activists have complained that while Ukraine has a new president, it has yet to elect a new parliament since the toppling of Yanukovich in February, and accuse his supporters of hampering its work.
The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.
Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.
Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk and Luhansk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.
Kyiv says Moscow has provoked the rebellion and allowed fighters and heavy weapons to cross the border with impunity. It has struggled to reassert control over the eastern frontier, recapturing border positions from rebels.
The fighting has escalated sharply in recent days after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered on 1 July an assault on separatists.