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03/12/2016

Ukraine leaders display unity in message to Russia

Europe's East

Ukraine leaders display unity in message to Russia

President Poroshenko [R] gives flowers to Prime Minister Yatsniuk. [President of Ukraine]

Ukraine’s parliament approved Arseny Yatseniuk for a new term as prime minister Thursday (27 November) in a ceremony that countered reports of high-level disunity in a message to Russia over its backing of separatists in the country’s east.

Pomp and emotion characterised the opening of Ukraine’s first parliament since the February fall of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich as his successor, Petro Poroshenko, declared in a keynote speech that there could be no future formula for Ukraine other than that of a single, unified state.

More than two-thirds of the deputies in the 450-seat parliament voted for Yatseniuk to stay as head of government, a post he has held since protests toppled Yanukovich, prompting Russia to annex Ukraine’s Crimea region and back pro-Russian rebels in the east.

In a gesture aimed at deflecting impressions of damaging rivalry between himself, and Poroshenko, which have also alarmed Western governments, Yatseniuk raised his hand to the president and declared to cheers: “Here is my hand for carrying out all that you have just said from this tribune.

“This is our joint responsibility,” he added before striding over to Poroshenko and warmly embracing the president.

Volodymyr Hroisman, an ally of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and deputy prime minister to the current premier Arseniy Yatensiuk, was elected the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament. He was approved with a vote of 359 for, 0 against, and 3 abstentions. Another 46 MPs did not vote.

The display of unity was scripted in part for the eyes of Russia, which is backing Russian-speaking separatists in Ukraine’s industrial heartland in a conflagration that has killed more than 4,300 people.

Political parties in favour of closer links to the European Union scored a resounding victory in a 26 October election, handing Poroshenko a mandate to end the conflict and steer the ex-Soviet republic further out of Russia’s orbit towards Europe.

But there have been reports of disputes between Poroshenko and Yatseniuk over the sharing of portfolios in the new government, which may emerge next Tuesday.

Poroshenko said 100 percent of Ukrainians favoured a unitary state without federalisation, a political model that has been pushed by Russia, but is seen by Kyiv as a recipe for the country’s dismemberment.

“These are our warm wishes to those in the east or west who advise federalisation,” Poroshenko said sarcastically.

But he said the reality was that Ukraine would always have “to sleep with a revolver under the pillow”, an allusion to the perceived threat from Russia, which in turn sees Kyiv’s tilt towards the EU and NATO as menacing.

Poroshenko said support among Ukrainians for joining NATO had grown 3-4 fold this year, and Ukraine’s current non-aligned status no longer worked. 

Background

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.

>> Read: Poroshenko says Russia invaded Ukraine

Further Reading