Verhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, voted in a new government yesterday (2 December), putting foreign technocrats in key financial roles and renewing terms for the foreign and defence ministers in a signal that no major change in policy is likely on the rebellious east.
Parliament endorsed Pavlo Klimkin as foreign minister and Stepan Poltorak as defence chief in the cabinet of Arseny Yatseniuk as shelling persisted in eastern Ukraine despite a fresh truce deal between government troops and pro-Russian separatists [see full list here].
Kyiv has been under international pressure to form a new government quickly to tackle Ukraine’s near-bankrupt economy and the months-long separatist crisis after political parties favouring closer relations with the West scored a resounding victory in the October parliamentary election.
“2015 will be even more difficult than the current year,” Yatseniuk told deputies ahead of the vote. “We are ready for the most radical, tough and effective reforms.”
The new cabinet includes foreign technocrats in pivotal posts such as finance minister for Natalie Jaresko, a U.S. citizen, who has worked in Ukraine for more than 20 years after holding various economic positions in the U.S. State Department.
Ukraine has been offered billions of dollars in aid by international lenders if it carries out economic reform and President Petro Poroshenko said the administration would benefit from international specialist input.
The parliamentary vote did not pass without mishap.
The speaker had to call a second ballot after complaints from coalition members – a display of internal disagreement that bodes ill for the parliament’s ability to thrust through the reforms it must deliver to ensure Ukraine gets more Western aid.
The other two foreign appointees to the cabinet were Lithuanian Aivaras Abromavicius, a partner in investment firm East Capital, and Georgian Aleksander Kvitashvili, who are now economy and health ministers, respectively.
Under Poroshenko and Yatseniuk, Kyiv has cut aid to the eastern regions held by pro-Russian rebels since soon after protesters toppled Kyiv’s pro-Moscow president in February.
Fighting has continued despite a ceasefire agreed on 5 September. In the rebel stronghold of Donetsk a senior separatist figure said rival sides agreed a new local truce from 1500 GMT around the city airport.
“But this is 65th time we agree about this. I don’t rule out that there is going to be 66th time,” Andrei Purgin said. Sounds of fighting abated but did not stop. Kyiv said rebels renewed attacks on the airport in the evening.
Russia acknowledges supporting the separatists but denies Western charges of being a party to the armed conflict.
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.
The fighting has escalated sharply after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered on 1 July an assault on separatists. The EU's resolve to punish Russia strengthened after the downing in Ukraine on 17 July of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, killing all 298 people on board. 194 of the passengers were from the Netherlands.
Western leaders say pro-Russian rebels almost certainly shot the airliner down by mistake with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. Moscow has blamed Kyiv for the tragedy.
On 27 August NATO and the U.S. said Russian incursions into Ukraine took an ‘overt and obvious form’ and on 28 August Poroshenko said Russia had invaded Ukraine.
A truce was agreed on 5 September, but the situation has remained volatile.