Once again, February has turned out to be a month of crisis in Ukraine. Two years ago at this time, protests were reaching a peak in Kyiv. Dozens were dying on the city’s streets; President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia. Now the floor is waffling beneath the feet of Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk.
The pro-Western government coalition officially collapsed on Friday after the parliament chairman announced the withdrawal of the Self Reliance Party. Just before that, the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoschenko’s Fatherland party left the coalition. Both are seeking fresh elections.
Now the clock is ticking for parliament. The two remaining parties, Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front and the President’s Poroshenko Block no longer hold a majority. If a new coalition is not created within 30 days, the president can dissolve the parliament. Whether it will come to that is unclear. The right-wing populist Radical party, which left the coalition last August, wants back in.
“It’s too early to bury the current coalition,” Jaroslaw Markitra, a Kyiv expert, told DW. In the place of the five-party coalition a three-pronged coalition might remain.
The crisis in the government came to a head on Tuesday, when President Petro Poroshenko suggested Prime Minister Yatsenyuk resign. The parliament had rated his government as “unsatisfactory” but Yatsenyuk was surprisingly able to survive a no-confidence vote.
Many in the Ukraine see this as a warning to Yatsenyuk: we can topple you but would prefer that you go on your own. There were clearly enough votes for a vote of confidence to take place. Had all of the representatives of the Poroshenko party voted, the government would have had to leave power. Yet more than 20 of the representatives abstained from the vote. Some parliamentarians in the Poroshenko Party see this is a “counter-revolution by the oligarchs” and a “conspiracy.”
One possibility for all this may lie in the constitution, which defines Ukraine as a parliamentary democracy, in which the prime minister has more power than the president. Pressure from the West has until now prevented an open rivalry between Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk, but that era now seems to have passed.
Observers, like the distinguished Kyiv journalist Vitali Portnikow, believe that the president wants to install a loyal head of government and control two key ministries: the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice. These positions have, to date, been filled by Yatsenyuk’s people.
It’s hasn’t been that long since Yatsenyuk won the prime minsiter’s post with 371 votes in parliament on February 27, 2014. The then-39 year-old was viewed as a messenger of hope. In his inauguration speech, Yatsenyuk did not promise quick success; he labeled his Cabinet as “Kamikaze” – a troop ready for political suicide.
This comparison can likewise be made to Yatsenyuk’s second government, which he has led since December 2014. His People’s Front was the strongest party after new elections, but quickly lost support. Opinion polls put them in the low single digits.
That’s why Poroshenko has put out his call to radically restructure the government. In a previous interview with DW, the former Economics Minister, Aivaras Abromavicius, said that Yatsenyuk should step down “in order to win back the lost trust.”
‘We expected more’
Yelisaveta Shepetilnikova was a student activist and member of the pro-west Euromaiden movement’s coordinating body during the fateful 2013/2014 winter in the Ukraine. Today, she is studying in the US and looking with a critical eye at her homeland.
“We unfortunately aren’t seeing a return to political intrigue,” she told DW. She’s concerned about the collapse of the coalition and warns against destabilization.
Two years after the Maiden Revolution, the young woman sees a mixed bag. “On the one hand, there are a number of successes, especially the increasing influence that civil society holds in the country,” said the activist. Yet the old political and economic systems are still in place. Above all else, corruption needs to be fought against more strongly. “We expected more, “she said.
The fact that the murder of dozens of Maiden activists on Feburary 20, 2014 has still not been explained, a lack she feels shows a “deep contempt” for the victims. “There are still many people within the system that don’t want to see any changes,” she said.
Stumbling blocks on the road to Europe
Even for experts and observers, the balance of the new power players in Kyiv is mixed. The economically hard-hit Ukraine could be brought to stability with the help of the west. Most of the population are currently struggling under a dramatic downturn in their quality of life.
In that sense, the Maiden revolution wasn’t just fighting against corruption but also for a future for the Ukraine in the European Union. Only the rare optimist still believes in its entry anytime soon.
Add to that, the largest problem, as activists like Shepetilnikova believe, is the Russian annexation of the Crimea and the ongoing conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country. Without a solution to those conflicts, the Ukraine will continue to head in the direction of crisis.