Blow to Ukraine’s reform effort as Lithuanian-born economy minister quits

Aivaras Abromavičius
Asmeninio archyvo nuotr.

“My team and I are ready to leave right away. I ask parliament to vote tomorrow on my resignation,” Abromavičius told reporters in Kiev on Wednesday

In his resignation statement, Abromavičius singled out Ihor Kononenko, a close ally of billionaire President Petro Poroshenko, accusing him of blocking his ministry’s work and trying to control its revenue streams.

“My team and I have no wish to be a cover for open corruption or puppets under the control of those who want to establish control over state money in the style of the old authorities,” Abromavičius said in a statement to reporters.

“I can’t be effective under such a system. It is impossible for technocrats to work with guys that want to usurp power, and make processes un-transparent,” he added.

Abromavičius said Ihor Kononenko, a senior lawmaker close to Poroshenko, had lobbied to get his people appointed as heads of state companies, culminating in an attempt to appoint one of his people as Abromavicius’s deputy.

“I don’t want to be part of this free-for-all,” Abromavičius said, adding: “but we have to wake up from lethargic sleep… eventually the people will see that for every two steps ahead, we are going at least one step back. I don’t think things will change quickly.”

Kononenko denied the accusations as “completely absurd”, and said Abromavičius was trying to shift the blame for his own failures in running the ministry.

Abromavičius’s exit could derail plans to privatise around 100 state owned companies, which were a plank of a reform programme to turn around an economy which shrunk by more than a tenth last year, Reuters reports.

There has been mounting public anger that the new, pro-Western government that came to power after a pro-Russian president was toppled by protests in 2014 has not delivered on promises to stamp out corruption. The government’s approval ratings have fallen sharply.

Ukraine’s international backers, including the United States and the European Union, have also become increasingly impatient with the slow pace of change in a country into which they have pumped billions of dollars in aid.

Any threat of Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk’s government collapsing would also deeply worry Ukraine’s Western partners, who have backed the coalition to keep the country from falling back into Moscow’s orbit.

Abromavičius is a Lithuanian-born former asset manager who was brought in as one of several foreign experts to help run Ukraine’s new government. His departure leaves just two foreign-born ministers – US-born Finance Minister Natalie Yaresko and Georgia-born Health Minister Alexander Kvitashvilii – as standard-bearers for reform inside the cabinet.

U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, tweeting after the announcement, called Abromavičius “one of the Ukrainian government’s great champions of reform… and a believer in the future Ukraine’s people deserve”.

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