March 16, 2016 / 8:16 PM / 3 years ago

Ukraine PM scrapes through crisis but uncertainty remains

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk has scraped through the biggest challenge to his leadership so far, lawmakers said on Wednesday, but still faces an uphill battle to achieve reforms that Western backers demand.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk chairs a government meeting in Kiev, Ukraine, March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

The comments by several MPs to Reuters pointed showed how the political winds were blowing after weeks of turmoil that saw Yatseniuk survive a no-confidence vote and face down repeated calls for him to resign.

The United States and other Western powers have urged Kiev’s leaders to stay united in order to pass reforms needed to secure a further $1.7 billion in aid from the International Monetary Fund and keep its war-torn economy afloat.

But Washington and the IMF have become increasingly impatient with the Ukrainian government’s patchy performance, especially in tackling endemic corruption. The IMF has warned it could stop aid altogether it matters don’t improve.

If Yatseniuk manages to hold on, Ukraine will continue to be run by a prime minister whose personal popularity ratings are at 1 percent and whose leadership is opposed by the majority of lawmakers, likely prolonging the current instability.

“Yatseniuk will remain in place for the next three-four months. It’s simple - there are not yet enough votes to remove him or to put someone in his place,” Oleksiy Honcharenko, a lawmaker in President Petro Poroshenko’s faction, told Reuters.

Although it jointly governs Ukraine in coalition with Yatseniuk’s Patriotic Front, Poroshenko’s party tried to topple the government in a no-confidence vote in February.

When that failed, it kept searching for possible replacements to Yatseniuk. Attempts to promote technocrat Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko, championed by Washington as a reformer, fizzled out this week.

“Ukraine’s leaders have been locked for months in a cycle of political infighting and indecision about how to restore unity, trust and effectiveness in the reform coalition, and reboot the government and its program,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said on Tuesday.

“Every week that Ukraine drifts, reform is stalled, IMF and international support goes undisbursed, and those inside and outside the country who preferred the old Ukraine grow more confident.”

Yatseniuk’s popularity has plummeted since coming to power in 2014 after the Maidan street protests ousted a pro-Kremlin president. This reflects voters’ growing disillusion with the pace of change and what Nuland called “the unholy alliance of dirty money and dirty politics” still controlling the country.

But he leads the country’s second-biggest party and has challenged lawmakers to either back him or find a viable alternative.

With Yaresko out of the running for now, Poroshenko might launch another attempt to topple Yatseniuk and replace him with Poroshenko’s close ally, parliament speaker Volodymyr Groysman.

“Poroshenko has the nerve and the resolve to go through with the dismissal of Yatseniuk, but he’s holding off for now because there aren’t enough votes to appoint a new prime minister,” said a source in Poroshenko’s bloc.

Editing by Tom Heneghan

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