and Vladimir Isachenkov
KIEV, UKRAINE: Leaders of Ukraine’s protest movement on Wednesday proposed a top legislator as the country’s next prime minister, while Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered major military exercises just across the border in a show of force and apparent displeasure over the country’s new direction.
The new government, which is expected to be formally approved by parliament today, will face the hugely complicated task of restoring stability in a country that is deeply divided politically and on the verge of financial collapse. The country’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled the capital over the weekend.
At Kiev’s Independence Square, the heart of the protest movement against Yanukovych, the interim leaders who seized control after he fled proposed Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the country’s new prime minister.
Yatsenyuk, 39, is a millionaire former banker who served as economy minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker before Yanukovych took office in 2010. Widely viewed as a technocratic reformer, he appears to enjoy the support of the United States.
The top U.S. diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, was overheard discussing Yatsenyuk and other Ukrainian opposition figures in a bugged phone called that was leaked, saying “I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience.”
One of the first jobs for Yatsenyuk and other members of his new Cabinet will be seeking outside financial help from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Economists say Ukraine is close to financial collapse, with its currency under pressure and its treasury almost empty. The acting finance minister has said Ukraine will need $35 billion in bailout loans to get through the next two years.
Any such deal will require a new prime minister to take unpopular steps, such as raising the price of gas to consumers. The state gas company charges as little as one fifth of what it pays for imported Russian gas. The IMF unsuccessfully pressed Ukraine to halt the practice under two earlier bailouts, and halted aid when Kiev wouldn’t comply.
A bailout may come with the condition that Ukraine lets its currency fall against the dollar and the euro, which would painfully increase the cost of imported goods.
The European Commission’s top officials held a meeting Wednesday in Brussels to discuss how the 28-nation bloc can provide rapid financial assistance to Ukraine.
In Moscow, Putin ordered military exercises to test the readiness of units in central and western Russia, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a televised statement. The exercise would “check the troops’ readiness for action in crisis situations that threaten the nation’s military security,” he said.
Even though Russia denied the maneuvers had any connection to the situation in Ukraine, the massive show of force was apparently intended to demonstrate to both the new Ukrainian authorities and the West that the Kremlin was ready to use all means to protect its interests. While Russia has pledged not to intervene in Ukraine’s domestic affairs, it has issued a flurry of statements voicing concern about the situation of Russian speakers in Ukraine.