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Ukrainian Prime Minister Resigns; Sets Stage For New Government


The popular uprising a couple of years ago that forced Ukraine's corrupt president from office and moved the country closer to Europe seems part of a distant past. Eastern Ukraine, along Russia's border, is now a war zone. Corruption still rules the day. That was underscored this week by two events. Ukraine's reformist prime minister quit in frustration, and its president turned up in the Panama Papers with an offshore account. Michael Bociurkiw served on an international Ukraine monitoring group. He joins us now in our D.C. studio. Good morning.

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's start with the president, Petro Poroshenko, showing up in the Panama Papers. How is that going over, as you understand it, in Ukraine?

BOCIURKIW: Not well at all. For the past few days the Ukrainian media has been full of really screeching headlines about Poroshenko. And just - I think the general feeling is that this is a massive lack of political judgment, that he actually created this trust for his chocolate company, which, by the way, is the biggest in Europe - one of the biggest in Europe. And even though, probably, there was nothing illegal in that act, it's just the symbolism of it that, you know, all of these oligarchs have been accused of the same thing for years and years, hiding money offshore and dodging taxes. And here you have this reform-minded president going ahead and creating a trust. It's just very bad political judgment, and then little wonder that his popularity ratings are now going down to the single digits in Ukraine.

MONTAGNE: And the prime minister, I gather - also a reformer - is very popular. What exactly moved him to quit this week?

BOCIURKIW: Yeah, so Arseniy Yatsenuk, also traditionally a darling of the West, he - about two months ago, he survived a non-confidence motion. Poroshenko did signal he wanted him to move on. But he did survive. He's a political survivor. And now he's out. He's announced his resignation. And as we speak, it's a very - I can put it this way, a very precarious, dangerous time for Ukraine because a new prime minister who is the current speaker was meant to be installed. But there's odd political orchestrating going on behind the scenes. So it's left a political vacuum. It's hoped that today a new cabinet will be sworn in, but nothing's for certain. And if I could just add quickly, what we may lose in this new cabinet are Western-backed, reform-minded technocrats like Natalie Jaresko, born in Chicago, of Ukrainian descent. She's the one who kind of structured all of the IMF debts and put Ukraine on a much stronger footing. So we could see her loss, and that's a huge, huge blow to Ukraine.

MONTAGNE: Well, that gets to the idea that the U.S. and the Europeans have been very supportive of this Ukrainian government. What have they, at this moment in time, what would they think they have to show for it?

BOCIURKIW: Well, that's a very good question. I mean, on the plus side, some good things have happened. Many insolvent banks have been closed. New online procurement practices have been introduced. And the agriculture is performing quite well. But on the other hand, corruption is very, very deep. Some people have even referred to Ukraine as the Nigeria of Eastern Europe. And, you know, Poroshenko did make some moves against the oligarchs who have been suspected of dodging taxes, hiding money. But the general feeling I think in Ukraine is that, you know, at the end of the day, why did our sons and daughters die in the Maidan Revolution? Very little has changed. And there's a general feeling of depression across the country that very little has been done to make their lives better.

MONTAGNE: And, I mean, we've just got a few minutes or a minute, actually. What about corruption on a daily basis?

BOCIURKIW: Almost no transaction happens without people having to pay on the side. And also, you know, Western companies find it very, very difficult. There have been some positive developments. For example, European companies, I hear, in Western Ukraine have been able to see improvements. But I must add, Renee, that at the same time, the entire economy is also being hobbled by the - by the crisis in the East of armed rebels. The escalation is increasing very, very much.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

BOCIURKIW: Pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Michael Bociurkiw has served on an international Ukraine monitoring group. And he is also an independent expert on that country. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.