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Aleksandr Gushchin

PhD in History, Associate Professor, Department of Post-Soviet Countries, Russian State University for the Humanities, RIAC expert

On March 21, 2016 the media reported that Arseniy Yatsenyuk agreed to resign. A. Yatsenyuk’s position in the Ukrainian government has long been unstable, and rumors about his possible resignation of the post of Prime Minister have surfaced every so often. This time he seems to be truly leaving. RIAC expert shares his insights on who might become the next Prime Minister of Ukraine, and what Yatsenyuk’s resignation could mean for Russia.

On March 21, 2016 the media reported that Arseniy Yatsenyuk agreed to resign. A. Yatsenyuk’s position in the Ukrainian government has long been unstable, and rumors about his possible resignation of the post of Prime Minister have surfaced every so often. This time he seems to be truly leaving. RIAC expert shares his insights on who might become the next Prime Minister of Ukraine, and what Yatsenyuk’s resignation could mean for Russia.

Initially, there are three possible scenarios. A. Yatsenyuk could stay for some time and retain his position, but this could prompt early elections, most likely in the autumn of 2016, and put Petro Poroshenko at a disadvantage. Now the ratings of all major parties except the People’s Front and Yulia Tymoshenko, vary between 5-7%, which clearly testifies to a lack of confidence in the system and acting politicians. Batkivshchyna (All-Ukrainian Union “Fatherland”) is enjoying growing popularity, while the People's Front rating has collapsed to 2%.

The polls show that if early presidential elections were held in mid-March, 25% of Ukrainians would vote in the second round for Tymoshenko, and only 16% would support the current head of state. Samopomich (Union “Self Reliance” or “Self Help”) is facing certain problems too. Incidentally, the election in Krivoy Rog scheduled for next Sunday is regarded by the leadership of Samopomich as a kind of test of Andriy Sadovyi’s chances of winning the presidential election. However, the percentage of the electorate willing to vote for the candidate supported by Samopomich, namely former field commander Semen Semenchenko, is relatively small and does not exceed 10%. It is noted that the rating of Petro Poroshenko Bloc faces a relative drop, while the Opposition Bloc’s rating is on the rise.

rian.com.ua
Volodymyr Groysman

According to KIIS (Kiev International Institute of Sociology) polls, Tymoshenko’s rating is 10-12% and continues to gain momentum. Of course, her presidential aspirations would be very disadvantageous to the current president, because Yulia Tymoshenko is an ambitious politician and Poroshenko is sure to remember well the conflict between the President and the Prime Minister during the rule of Viktor Yushchenko. To cap it all off, the Constitution of Ukraine does not clearly regulate the relationship between the Prime Minister and the President. This conflict is inherent to the system, as the procedures behind this relationship are not properly spelled out.

This is further evidence of the fact that Ukraine badly needs constitutional and political reforms. Elections per se will not reboot the political system. And the hopes that new elections will turn over a fresh leaf are vain. Therefore, the early elections scenario suits neither Poroshenko nor the West.

I do not think that new elections will possibly change anything, although some Ukrainian political scientists consider them very nearly a reset. First, the current rating picture indicates that the fight in the new Parliament will be even fiercer, and the stability of the coalition is less than likely. Second, it will be more difficult to design new projects similar to those that consolidate the President’s position at local elections. The President’s rating could be increased by resounding corruption scandals with names revealed and accountability for the crimes committed, but elections alone will fix the political situation only for a short time if they are not backed by a relevant political reform strategy.

As I see it, the West seems unwilling to support Yatsenyuk any longer. There is a wrangle over the composition of the future government. Yatsenyuk asked to leave Pavel Petrenko as the Minister of Justice and Arsen Avakov as the Minister of the Interior. What does that mean? If the Ministry of Justice is granted serious constitutional powers, then Yatsenyuk and the People's Front will retain strong influence in the government.

zn.ua
Natalia Yaresko

The second scenario, and this is considered the most likely one, involves replacing A. Yatsenyuk with Volodymyr Groysman, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada. For Moscow, this would probably mean greater flexibility and softening of the anti-Russian rhetoric on the part of Kiev, although the Prime Minister does not shape foreign policy. V. Groysman’s appointment would strengthen P. Poroshenko’s position, but also entail the latter’s greater responsibility. Having his man at the head of the government, the President will be unable to take a back seat saying that the government “is not his” and is purely “technical,” and that he bears no responsibility for its decisions. That is a certain political risk. However, Groysman’s appointment allows for the postponing of elections.

The third scenario is the appointment to the Prime Minister’s post of Natalia Yaresko, Head of the Ministry of Finance, who has already expressed her readiness to create a technical government to bring Ukraine out of the crisis. Given the state of the Ukrainian economy, her promise gives grounds for healthy skepticism. However, if Yaresko heads the government, it will really be a government of technocrats.

For Moscow, the appointment of Yaresko is unlikely to bring about any dramatic change: Kiev’s foreign policy will remain about the same, but the Ukrainian government will become somewhat more dependent on external Western influence, which, taking all things together, makes this option the worst. Although some political analysts in Ukraine believe that Yaresko’s nomination is a deliberate false start, I would not discard this possibility: at the last moment, the US may decide against strengthening the President’s team and place a stake on the technical government, which, in a way, will be better placed to take unpopular measures. This candidacy suits the People’s Front too, not to mention the fact that Yaresko’s government can be easily dismissed at the appropriate time.

Prepared for publication by RIAC Web Editor-in-Chief Daria Khaspekova and RIAC Program Assistant Maria Smekalova

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