Ukraine’s prime minister has launched what promises to be a bitter election campaign that could divide pro-Western parties and complicate their efforts to fight pro-Russian rebels in the country’s east. Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, a key interlocutor of the West during months of turmoil, announced on Thursday he would quit, saying parliament was betraying Ukraine’s army and people by blocking reforms supported by Western backers. His move, following the exit of two parties from the ruling coalition, amounted to the start of a campaign for seats in a legislature still packed with former allies of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich, ousted by protests in February. “History will not forgive us,” Yatseniuk told parliament on Thursday, in what analysts said was the first campaign speech for the party led by Yulia Tymoshenko, a rival of President Petro Poroshenko, who was elected to replace Yanukovich in May. Pro-Western political forces in Ukraine have been bitterly divided almost continuously since the country won independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Any further divisions will likely weaken Kiev’s attempt to counter Russia’s reassertion of control over the former Soviet arena, realised most dramatically when Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March, and they may also complicate talks with governments which lost citizens in last week’s downing of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine.
Analysts said Yatseniuk’s resignation – which has yet to be approved by parliament – would allow his party to criticise government policy during the election campaign. “This resignation means that the election campaign has begun for all political forces,” said Yuri Yakymenko, an analyst at the Razumkov think tank. “He suggested unpopular laws, but the Rada (parliament) did not support him. They threw it back at him and now he’s throwing it back at them.”
The Rada will now meet for an emergency session on Thursday, July 31, to discuss an investigation into the Malaysian plane crash and a vote of confidence for Yatseniuk as well as the budget and other legal amendments he had requested, a statement on Poroshenko’s website said late on Friday. “The collapse of the coalition … should not paralyse the work of the parliament and is no basis for the dismissal of the government,” the statement said, adding that Poroshenko hoped to continue working with Yatseniuk and his government.