Arseniy Yatseniuk is poised to become the next prime minister of Ukraine, putting him at the head of a government that faces deepening political, economic and geopolitical challenges following last weekend’s ousting of Viktor Yanukovich.
The candidature of Mr Yatseniuk – an ally of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who was released hours after Mr Yanukovich was swept from power – was revealed to thousands of protesters massed on Kiev’s main square as darkness fell on Wednesday. Many were holding a candlelit vigil to mourn the death of nearly 100 people killed by sniper fire during clashes with police last week.
Still manning the barricades and guarding buildings on Kiev’s main street they had seized in an effort to show they are still a force to be reckoned with, the crowds gave a lukewarm reception to Mr Yatseniuk’s name. Parliament is expected to uphold his appointment in a vote on Thursday.
“This government is fated to serve only three to four months as it will need to take some unpopular decisions,” Oleksandr Turchynov, acting president, told the throng as the names of Mr Yatseniuk and other putative senior members of the new administration were announced.
The country’s business community was more enthusiastic. “Yatseniuk is a very experienced politician with understanding of what business needs and of the global financial markets,” said Tomas Fiala, president of the Kiev-based European Business Association and founder of investment bank Dragon Capital.
Business leaders are also supportive of calls by Kiev’s latest leaders to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, as well as turning away from Russian backing and influence and towards the signing of association and free trade agreements with the EU.
Despite being only 39, Mr Yatseniuk has already served as acting central bank chief, foreign minister, economy minister and chairman of parliament. He was also deputy head of the presidential administration during Viktor Yushchenko’s term as president in 2005-10.
He also has the respect of EU and US officials. In an otherwise embarrassing leak three weeks ago of a recording between Victoria Nuland, a US assistant secretary of state, and the US ambassador to Ukraine, the US officials were heard to support Mr Yatseniuk as the opposition leader best equipped for government.
Other names proposed to the crowd included:
● Oleksandr Shlapak, a former banker and senior official in Mr Yushchenko’s administration, as finance minister;
● Pavlo Sheremeta, a business school academic who has held advisory roles to the government of Malaysia, as economy minister;
● Olya Bohomolets, a doctor who treated injured protesters in makeshift hospitals, as deputy prime minister in charge of humanitarian affairs;
● Dmytro Bulatov, a protest leader who was abducted and tortured for days, as sports minister.
A new anti-corruption bureau will be chaired by investigative journalist Tetyana Chornovol.
Vitali Klitschko, the heavyweight boxer and leader of the Udar party, decided to stay out of the administration and focus on campaigning for the May 25 snap presidential election. It is not yet clear if Ms Tymoshenko, who is seeking medical treatment in Germany, will also run for president.
Petro Poroshenko, the only billionaire who dared to back the protests openly, is expected to challenge Mr Klitschko.
In a bid to appease protesters demanding an end to government corruption, Mr Yatseniuk’s cabinet will have civic activists to oversee it. Andriy Parubiy, a lawmaker who served as commander of the protest movement’s guards, was chosen to serve as chair of the national security and defence council. Victoria Siumar, a civil society activist, and Dmytro Yarosh, head of Right Sector, a militant protest group, were proposed as his deputies.
One of the administration’s first tasks will be to bring to justice members of Mr Yanukovich’s government who fled last weekend. Warrants for their arrest were issued this week but the whereabouts of many senior politicians and officials is not known.
“The country is facing serious economic challenges in this crisis …and most likely a lot of money was stolen,” a western banker in Kiev said.
“This revolution gives new hope and I am positive on the country in the long-term view. [The new government must] bring the criminals to justice and seize their assets. It should try to recover as much money as possible – they will need it.”
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