Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk has given an interview to The Financial Times (details below) in which he all but admits that his time as Prime Minister is close to running out.
The article however also shows Yatsenyuk’s extraordinary sense of entitlement, as well as his quite amazing vanity.
He essentially admits that he has lost the confidence of the Ukrainian parliament. He nonetheless calls on Poroshenko to “back him or sack him” – notwithstanding that he undoubtedly knows that it is Poroshenko who has for several months been behind all the plots to get rid of him.
What makes this demand even more preposterous is that – as Yatsenyuk of course knows – immediately prior to the recent confidence vote Poroshenko finally came out into the open and issued a statement which basically called on Yatsenyuk to go.
Though Yatsenyuk claims to be ready to go and to be willing to hand over to someone else, in reality he refuses to go, and as – he tells The Financial Times – he is challenging Poroshenko to sack him instead.
It is also clear that Yatsenyuk is doing everything he can to obstruct the appointment of a new Prime Minister and the formation of a new government.
The Financial Times says he is trying to block Jaresko’s appointment as Prime Minister on the grounds that she too lacks support in the parliament – which is probably true – whilst he is known to be opposed to the appointment of parliament speaker Volodymyr Groysman – a long standing political ally of Poroshenko’s thought by some to be Poroshenko’s eminence grise – who is believed to be the preferred candidate of Poroshenko and the oligarchs.
Yatsenyuk, by refusing to go and by making it difficult to appoint anyone in his place, is simply prolonging Ukraine’s government crisis, and is leaving the government paralysed.
What makes this behaviour particularly destructive and self-indulgent is that Yatsenyuk obviously knows that with the collapse of his support his departure is now only a matter of time. Indeed in his interview with The Financial Times he all but says as much.
In other words, for all his boastful talk of changing Ukraine for the better, Yatsenyuk is prepared to put Ukraine’s stability at risk and jeopardise its prospects of obtaining IMF funding so that he can cling on as Prime Minister for a few more weeks or days.
Given the allegations of corruption that are now swirling round him – and which in the interview he emphatically denies – there will inevitably be some people both in Ukraine and outside who will be left wondering whether the real reason Yatsenyuk is clinging on so stubbornly is so he can steal as much as he can in the short time left to him.
Even if that is to do Yatsenyuk an injustice, it highlights the damage to his reputation his stubborness in clinging to office is causing.
If Yatsenyuk comes out badly from this affair, so it must be said does Poroshenko.
If Poroshenko were a strong leader he would answer Yatsenyuk’s challenge by simply sacking him.
Alternatively, if Ukraine’s baroque constitutional arrangements do not allow this, he could make Yatsenyuk’s position impossible by ordering his faction to quit Yatsenyuk’s coalition, and by nominating a new candidate for Prime Minister in Yatsenyuk’s place.
Instead, rather than do either of these things, Poroshenko prefers to manoeuvre against Yatsenyuk from behind the scenes despite the fact Yatsenyuk’s extreme unpopularity should mean there is no risk in acting against him openly.
Conducting intrigues in secret and avoiding a public stand is however characteristic of how Poroshenko operates. In pre-Maidan times he was known less as a politician and more as a backstairs political manipulator.
During the previous period of Orange government between 2005 and 2010 Poroshenko was widely believed to be Yushchenko’s eminence grise and the puppet-master of Yushchenko’s movement – just as Groysman is supposed to be Poroshenko’s eminence grise now.
In the process, by constantly conducting intrigues against Tymoshenko whilst ostensibly working for Yushchenko, Poroshenko made Tymoshenko his mortal enemy.
Similarly during the Maidan protests Poroshenko was careful to adopt a very low profile – thereby providing himself with an escape route if anything went wrong – even though it was widely known he was one of the oligarchs who were bankrolling the protests.
Poroshenko has gone on behaving in exactly the same way since he became President despite it being a highly unsuitable way for a President to behave – given that a President should at least appear to be open and straightforward. Presumably Poroshenko knows no other.
Even allowing for Poroshenko’s dithering, given the collapse of Yatsenyuk’s support and the overwhelming pressure on him to go, it is difficult to believe Yatsenyuk can cling on for much longer.
The manner of his leaving however all but guarantees that whatever government succeeds him will be even weaker and more unstable than the government he has led.
It is difficult to avoid the feeling that deep down – whether out of a sense of injured vanity or for some other reason – that is what Yatsenyuk wants.
Regardless, both Yatsenyuk and Poroshenko must share the blame for this outcome – as must Ukraine’s Western sponsors who against all sense and reason have backed Yatsenyuk for so long.