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Shokin sacked, political infighting continues: Ukraine’s General Prosecutor Viktor Shokin filed for resignation after President Poroshenko urged him to go in his address to the nation. Shokin was perceived to be a controversial figure in the West. The media and civil society activists earlier accused him of sabotaging the reform of the prosecution system. Shokin’s resignation is yet to be confirmed by a vote in Parliament. As of the end of February he was officially on leave. Shokin’s sacking, as some Ukrainian media alleged, was part of Poroshenko’s intended compromise with the Western partners. This compromise was also to include the replacement of Prime Minister Yatseniuk whom the President alsourged to resign. The West, however, remains naturally wary of any large-scale political turmoil that would accompany a change of the cabinet. Such turmoil is likely to result in an even deeper quagmire for reforms that have already been slowed down by nepotism and entrenched interests. US ambassador to Ukraine reportedly compared the plan to sack Yatseniuk without any further strategy on maintaining stability of the pro-Western coalition to jumping off the cliff without a parachute. Political infighting, thus, continues to obscure the strategic goals of bringing Ukraine closer to Western standards of governance.
Yatseniuk’s resignation failed in Parliament, but pro-Western coalition remains fragile: The fate of the pro-Western coalition in Parliament remains precarious as several party groups including “Samopomich” and “Bat’kivshchyna” announced their withdrawal. Some members of Parliament point out that the Ukrainian Constitution does not require the cabinet to resign after a coalition break up, which is likely to stimulate more infighting and irresponsible behavior on the part of the major political groups in the future. For now, Yatseniuk’s cabinet has been saved as the West remained lukewarm towards the idea of his resignation. The no-confidence vote in Parliament failedby a large margin which led Ukrainian political journalists to suspect the vote was orchestrated following a backstage agreement between the major political groups. There have also been attempts since by independent members of parliament to introduce a draft resolution dismissing the Prime Minister. According to Ukraine’s Minister of Justice, however, there are no constitutional grounds for that, and thus, Yatseniuk cannot be legally sacked at least until the beginning of the fifth legislative session in September.
Visa free travel to EU may be postponed as Ukraine struggles with anti-corruption reform: The European Commission decided to decouple its proposals for visa-free travel for Georgia and Ukraine. Earlier head of the Commission Juncker endorsed short stay visa-free travel within the Schengen area for Ukrainians, Georgians, and Kosovars. As of the end of February the European Commission announced its intention to file to the Council of the European Union a proposal on Georgia. This means the procedure with respect to Ukraine is likely to be postponed. Observers see this as a response to Kyiv’s insufficient progress on the package of anti-corruption instruments that Brussels wants to see adopted as part of its conditionality on Ukraine. Four anti-corruption laws were recently adopted and signed as the concluding part of this package. The laws are meant to make the mechanisms of locating and managing confiscated assets more efficient and transparent and to strengthen the autonomy of anti-corruption investigators within the prosecutor’s office. Electronic income statements should also become compulsory for civil servants. Ukraine has recently witnessed the launch of a series of pioneering electronic initiatives such as e-Data, iGov, or Prozorro developed under the ex-Minister of Economic Development and Trade Abromavičius. The initiatives are meant to enhance Ukraine’s governance in areas such as public spending and public procurement. However, many of the initiatives are yet to be implemented in their full scope and their success remains precarious as Ukraine’s political class seems to demonstrate a general resistance to the West-enforced anti-corruption measures. Thus, the creation of the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption, originally due until the end of 2015, is being procrastinated, even though it has been part of the EU’s preconditions for the abolishment of visas. According to the EU ambassador Tombiński, this has happened because of a basic lack of political will in Kyiv. Ukraine’s long-sought goal of visa-free travel to the EU and anti-corruption mechanisms, thus, come into sharp conflict with the entrenched interests of a political class which fears that new rules would effectively put a stop to its practices of self-enrichment. Ukrainian lawmakers are prone to subversion and EU representatives have already voiced their concerns over the way anti-corruption laws were being adopted. Apparently, some of them, such as the electronic income statement law, have been completely emasculated in the process and are now expected to be vetoed by President Poroshenko.
Hybrid war continues, Western partners insist on importance of elections in Donbas: The Ukrainian military intelligence accused Russia of shipping weapons, military equipment and fuel to militants firing at the Ukrainian army units, thus violating the Minsk agreements. There should be no talk of lifting the Western sanctions so long as Russia continues to arm the separatists, Ukraine’s representative in the trilateral contact group Roman Bezsmertnyi insisted. Ukraine also claimed that the separatist controlled regions were visited by Putin’s aide Vladislav Surkov twice in the course of February. He is likely to have advised the separatist leaders on future military action, as well as on simulating elections on the occupied territories, Ukrainian security services claim. Meanwhile, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkyn warned that Russia was seeking out and investing into various opportunities in Europe in order to manipulate public opinion, such as, for instance, the upcoming Dutch referendum on Ukraine’s association with the EU. Though committed to fulfilling the Minsk agreements, Ukraine will not accept “skewed” Russian interpretation, the Minister of Foreign Affairs insisted, stressing that Kyiv will consent to elections in the Donbas region only when they can be guaranteed to be free and fair. Elections also remain in the focus of attention for Ukraine’s Western partners who remind of the importance of preparing their legal framework. Ukrainian media cite Germany’s Foreign minister Steinmeier on this point, noting that the election agenda has, for now, replaced the earlier Western demands for constitutional reform which would include granting the Donbas region “a special status”.
Edited by Aliaksei Kazharski, researcher, Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Comenius University in Bratislava