UD. 16 April 2016.  By Iryna Terlecky.

After weeks of infighting, Ukraine has a new Prime Minister, which could be a step forward, or a step back. 

The current Speaker of Verkhovna Rada, Volodymyr Groysman has been elected by Ukraine’s parliament as the new Prime Minister, replacing the embattled Arseniy Yatseniuk. 

At only 38, Groysman, a former mayor of Vinnytsia and a Poroshenko loyalist, becomes the youngest prime minister in Ukraine. 

Since the breakdown of the ruling coalition in February, the Poroshenko bloc has been trying to form a new coalition to nominate and appoint a successor to Yatseniuk to avoid having to call early elections.  

Former coalition members Samopomich, the Radical Party and Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna refused to join a coalition led by the Poroshenko Bloc so attention turned to recruiting independent MPs and, ironically, reaching a new coalition agreement with the second-biggest faction, Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front. 

Together the two parties have 227 votes - just one vote above the required minimum for a ruling majority.

Addressing the parliament before the vote, Poroshenko said that he had to interfere in the formation of a coalition because the country was going deeper and deeper into political crisis and said that he was ‘forced’ to take the position of a ‘political moderator’.

In return for supporting Groysman, Yatseniuk’s People’s Front nominated and secured the appointment of Andriy Parubiy as Speaker. 

While Cabinet posts are still not completely certain, it appears clear that Natalie Jaresko – Finance Minister and at one point a potential Prime Ministerial candidate – will not serve under Groysman and will be replaced with other Poroshenko bloc nominees. 

Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko and Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak will all retain their posts.

So what does it mean?

Both President Poroshenko and Groysman are saying all the right things about the need to secure speedier process against corruption and economic reform.

Groysman said he would be committed to stamping out corruption and strengthening ties with the EU as prime minister. 

“I understand the threats that face us. In particular I would like to highlight three threats – corruption, ineffective governance and populism, which do not pose less of a threat than the enemy in eastern Ukraine…I will show you what leading a country really means.”

President Poroshenko was upbeat about the new Prime Minister and cabinet, calling Groysman a politician of a new generation, and saying that the political shake-up would unlock significant international financial aid, particularly from the International Monetary Fund.

Others, however, voiced their suspicions about the backroom deals that had been done with the oligarchs that are the shadowy grey figures behind several members of parliament. 

23 lawmakers of Vidrodzhennya (Renaissance), a group that is associated with oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky and 16 lawmakers of Volya Narodu (People’s Will) connected with gas oligarchs are now supporting the new coalition. 

Investigative journalist Sergiy Leshchenko in particular raised significant concerns about the influence of oligarchs and said that he could not have any confidence in the ability of the new cabinet to implement real reforms. 

What is clear is that, with all the key financial and economic government posts in the hands of Poroshenko loyalists, there will be nowhere for the President to hide if tangible progress is not made.

On the Eastern front

In the last day alone, over 30 instances of ceasefire violations have been recorded, and OSCE monitors have reported increased violations, especially around Avdiyivka, together with evidence that weapons have been removed from storage.

Since February, the OSCE has been reporting an upswing in violence.

Lamberto Zannier, who heads the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring eastern Ukraine, said the situation had “become difficult again.”

“We see a multiplication of incidents, violations of the ceasefire,” he told Reuters at the Munich Security Conference. 

“We’ve seen cases of redeployment of heavy armaments closer to the contact line ... and multiple rocket launchers, artillery being used.” 

While fighting intensifies, a United Nations staff member has been seized by the pro-Russian separatists and the UN is calling for his immediate release. 

The officer, named by the rebels as Yuriy Suprun, was seized on 8 April. 

Separatists say he had come to their territory without proper notice and was being held while his status was clarified. 

In a statement, the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) said it suspected the officer, whom it identified as a colonel in Ukraine’s SBU security service, of involvement in the “state coup in 2014” as well as the Ukrainian army’s operation in the east.

The UN has given no details about the captured officer’s identity or his role in eastern Ukraine but says it has “mobilised all channels” to secure his release. 

Ukrainian MP Iryna Herashchenko said he was part of the UN’s monitoring mission and had been detained in a basement.

The noose tightens in Crimea

The Russian-backed authorities in Crimea announced  on 13 April the suspension of the Tatar population’s parliament, the Mejlis. 

Prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya said the Mejlis could not hold any public events or other activity and called for it to be branded a “terrorist organisation”. 

The decision signals a new wave of repression against Crimean Tatar people and comes after increased attacks to the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine two years ago.

The move was immediately criticised by Amnesty International. 

“Anyone associated with the Mejlis could now face serious charges of extremism as a result of this ban, which is aimed at snuffing out the few remaining voices of dissent in Crimea,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia. 

“The decision to suspend the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People and ban all its activities under Russia’s anti-extremism legislation is a repugnant punitive step denying members of the Crimean Tatar community the right to freedom of association…

“The suspension of the Mejlis makes the fate of those members of the Crimean Tatar community who have remained in Crimea even bleaker as they are now at even greater risk of intimidation, harassment and criminal prosecution… 

“Sadly, today’s decision to suspend the Mejlis is only the latest step in a long line of reprisals against the Crimean Tatar community.”

“The rights of the Mejlis to continue to exist and represent the community must be reinstated, and the rights to freedom of association and expression fully respected in Crimea”.

Mustafa Dzhemilev, historical leader of the Crimean Tatar National Movement and former Soviet dissident has said that 22 people have now disappeared in occupied Crimea and over 200 searches have been carried out in homes and Tatar cultural institutions. 

Dzhemilev said there were cases when the fact of the disappearance of individuals was used a threat during interrogations by security forces. 

Amnesty International says that while families of the missing have received assurances from the de facto authorities that the disappearances would be effectively investigated, there have been no signs of any genuine inquiries.

Fears for Savchenko’s health

Nadiya Savchenko, sentenced to 22 years imprisonment in Russia on politically motivated charges, has begun a dry hunger strike. 

President Poroshenko spoke to Savchenko by telephone on Tuesday and informed her about “the latest steps taken for her release”, a statement on his website said. 

While diplomatic efforts are continuing, the Russian authorities are apparently demanding that Ukraine recognises her crime and sentencing.

In a statement, David Lidington, Minister for Europe, said, 

“I am deeply concerned by reports that Nadiya Savchenko’s health is seriously deteriorating. She has now refused food and water for 7 days in protest against her illegal detention in Russia, flawed trial, judgment and sentence. 

“I call on Russia once again to urgently fulfil its international obligations… and release Ms Savchenko immediately.”

Lithuania has become the first country to blacklist several dozen Russians and Ukrainians for their role in the detention and sentencing of Nadiya Savchenko and two other Ukrainians. 

The 46 people blacklisted are banned from entering Lithuania for 10 years and include Russian investigators, prosecutors and judges, as well as separatists from the Ukrainian rebel strongholds of Luhansk and Donetsk, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told Reuters.

“We blacklisted them to show our solidarity with Ukraine, and to focus attention on the unacceptable and cynical violations of international law and human rights in Russia. We are convinced that the court cases against those people were falsified”, Linkevicius told Reuters, adding that it would be more effective if the blacklist became Europe-wide.


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