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11 Mar, 2010 11:44

Ukraine appoints new PM and government

Ukraine’s parliament has backed the president’s recommendation and approved ex-finance minister Nikolay Azarov as the country’s new Prime Minister. A new government has also been appointed.

The premier’s candidature was supported by 242 Supreme Rada deputies, whilst a minimum of 226 was needed.

Azarov, the 62-year-old head of the Party of Regions, will take the premier’s post after his predecessor Yulia Timoshenko and her cabinet were officially dismissed Thursday. President Viktor Yanukovich's close ally, Azarov led his campaign office during the presidential election earlier this year.

On Thursday, Ukrainian parliamentarians agreed on key positions in the new government after the removal of members of the so-called “Orange Coalition”. The Supreme Rada has appointed a first deputy prime minister and seven deputy prime ministers – among them Sergey Tigipko, a presidential candidate who came third in that election.

New prospects and old challenges

Conflicts and constant battles over power sharing between ex-president Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Timoshenko – who were allies in the Orange Revolution in 2004 – had led to both political and economic crises.

“Following five years of fruitless discussions and destructive confrontation, as a result of which Ukraine lost almost everything it had achieved in the economic and social spheres, both in the Soviet time and since it gained independence, new prospects have opened for us to get back on the track of development and progress,” Yanukovich’s statement, published on his website, reads.

The new premier and his team are facing quite a few challenges which must be coped with; the revival of the knocked-down economy being the toughest one.

Lashing out at his predecessors, Azarov said that “the country was looted, the state treasury is empty, the economy keeps sliding, the state debt has tripled and there is no budget for 2010.” Drafting and adopting a realistic state budget has been named a top task, which the premier vowed to sort out within a month – by April 11.

Nikolay Azarov promised to stabilize the situation in the country in 2010, and said his government has a program to lead Ukraine out of the crisis.

First thing after his inauguration on February 25, Yanukovich cut his own salary, as well as the wages of his administration. Mirroring the head of state, the new government vowed to cut the cabinet members’ salaries.

"The Cabinet will follow in the president's footsteps and cut its members' salaries, which we know Yulia Timoshenko raised to an exorbitant height, breeding corruption in Ukraine even further," the deputy prime minister, Vladimir Semynozhenko said.

Prime Minister Azarov said Kiev will develop “normal relations” with Russia – a neighboring country in which Ukraine has “long-term strategic interests.” One of these interests is the natural gas Russia supplies to Ukraine. The new premier noted that his country will hold talks with Moscow on “optimal gas prices.”

The head of the government reminded of president Yanukovich’s recent visit to the Russian capital and said it has “become a start of …constructive relations”.

Timoshenko says sorry and goes into opposition

Earlier on March 11, Ukraine's parliament formed a new coalition which helped the new Ukrainian leader to promote his preferred candidate. The coalition, entitled “Stability and Reforms”, has 235 deputies and comprises the Party of Regions, the Communists, the bloc of parliamentary speaker Vladimir Litvin, and several independent deputies.

Timoshenko said she does not recognize the coalition, since it was created in violation of the constitution, Itar Tass writes. Ivan Kirilenko, the head of the Timoshenko Bloc (BYT) faction, said “Our faction is going over to oppose the current authorities." He added that his party will create a "shadow government" on Thursday, which will be headed by Timoshenko.

The news was confirmed at a conference given by the former Prime Minister later on Thursday.

"We created the opposition comprising BYT, Our Ukraine, the People's Self-Defense bloc and a number of non-governmental organizations," she is quoted as saying.

For the failures of her government she blamed the global financial crisis and the "position of Viktor Yushchenko,” who did everything to destroy the work of the government, Itar Tass writes. Timoshenko admitted that she had to manage "the financial system and economy in a manual regime." However, she is certain that she has managed simply "by hand to carry the state out of the crisis" and to "prevent Ukraine's default and rapid price hikes."

Western ways of Ukraine

With a new president, new government coalition and a new prime minister, Ukraine is facing a major overhaul of its previous policies.

Further, it's now expected to drop the former administration’s bid to join NATO.

The idea is strongly supported by many, including Germany's former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. He said on Thursday: “It has to be clear, that accepting Ukraine and Georgia into NATO doesn't correspond with the interests of European security. This move will only bring less, not more security to Europe, and I believe Ukraine understands it now, after the presidential election. “

Experts’ opinion

The newly-appointed PM has placed the country’s economy on top of his agenda. Cornelius Ochmann, a representative from Bertelsmann Stiftung, a non-governmental foundation promoting democracy, agrees that this should be the case.

“First of all, the Ukrainian government has to stabilize the financial situation,” the observer told RT.

He calls the project of energy supply for the EU the most important for Ukraine’s economy. In this respect, Ochmann also points out that it is vital to know who will be in charge of the transition of the economy: the PM or the deputy PM, Tigipko.

Speaking about priorities on international arena, Ochmann thinks that the government will stick to the president’s pledge to rebuild the relations with Russia.

“It [improved relations with Russia] will influence in the positive sense the relations between Ukraine and the European Union,” the analyst noted.

Ukraine’s new government’s first and primary task is to deal with the consequences of the economic crisis, which will most likely be married with unpopular measures,political analyst Aleksey Garan told RT. However, this and other tasks will be further complicated with the fact that the Ukrainian government cannot be called completely legitimate.

“According to the Ukrainian constitution, the new governmental coalition could be created only by factions and there were not enough votes, so the factions were supplemented by individual deputies from other factions, which makes the new coalition not very legitimate,” Garan added.