Ukraine Prime Minister Resigns, as Kiev Moves Toward Elections

Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, a pro-Western technocrat who has guided the Ukrainian government through the tumultuous months since the ouster of President Viktor F. Yanukovyvch, resigned abruptly on Thursday, after the governing coalition of Parliament collapsed.

“I declare my resignation in connection with the collapse of the coalition and blocking of government initiatives,” Mr. Yatsenyuk said from the rostrum of Parliament.

Earlier in the day, two major parties announced they were leaving the governing coalition, a step that would allow President Petro O. Poroshenko to dissolve Parliament and call elections for the fall.

That announcement followed weeks of negotiations between the parties, but the move was not supported by Mr. Yatsenyuk’s Fatherland Party, which is led by the former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who had challenged Mr. Poroshenko for the presidency.

In his speech to Parliament, Mr. Yatsenyuk warned that the political maneuvering and the rush to early elections risked paralyzing the government and had already led to its failure to adopt crucial amendments to the budget.

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Ukraine Crisis in Maps
Map showing location of downed Ukrainian fighter jets, the latest update to the current visual survey of the continuing dispute, with maps and satellite imagery showing rebel and military movement.

“Our government now does not have an answer to the question how to pay salaries,” he said, adding: “How to support the army and armed forces? How not to demoralize the spirits of those tens of thousands of people who are sitting not in this hall, but in trenches under bullets?”

The dissolution of the governing coalition suggested that Mr. Poroshenko and his political allies were optimistic that the Ukrainian military would soon succeed in quashing the pro-Russian separatist insurrection that has troubled eastern Ukraine since early April.

Although fierce fighting continues, particularly near the Russian border, the Ukrainian military has made major advances in recent days and Mr. Poroshenko’s aides have told allies that they believe the military operation can be completed within two or three weeks, provided that there is no invasion by Russia or a large new influx of weapons and fighters across the border.

Mr. Poroshenko, in a statement issued before Mr. Yatsenyuk’s resignation, had urged Parliament to keep working and said there was no reason that government business should stop. Hepraised lawmakers and said their move reflected the will of Ukrainian voters demanding to replace Parliament, which was elected in 2012 and still includes many members who once supported Mr. Yanukovych.

“All opinion polls, as well as direct communication with the people, shows that the public wants a full rebooting of the authorities,” Mr. Poroshenko said.

Under the Ukrainian Constitution, Parliament chooses the prime minister, and members must vote to accept a resignation. It was not immediately clear if Mr. Yatsenyuk’s announcement meant he was leaving the government or if tendering his resignation was a tactical step that would not be accepted, or would be rescinded after further negotiations.

Vitaliy Kovalchuk, the parliamentary leader of the Udar party who helped negotiate the dissolution of the coalition, told reporters outside the chamber that Parliament had not yet voted to accept Mr. Yatsenyuk’s resignation, and he said the prime minister’s comments risked “destabilizing the situation in Ukraine.”

Mr. Yatsenyuk’s resignation was not unusual for Ukrainian politics, which can be tumultuous even under the best of circumstances, with internecine alliances and rivalries that often make it impossible to gauge who is allied with whom, regardless of public pronouncements.
Under Ukrainian law, the prime minister and the rest of the cabinet can resign and continue to work until a replacement government is chosen. Such a situation occurred earlier this year when Mr. Yanukovych dismissed his government in a bid to quell the street protests that ultimately removed him from office.

The collapse of the coalition Thursday was the result of the withdrawal of two parties, Udar, which is led by the former boxer Vitali Klitschko, and Svoboda, a nationalist party. The development followed weeks of negotiations, details of which were not immediately disclosed.

The process of replacing Parliament will take several months, and Mr. Poroshenko urged lawmakers to work productively in the meantime. “The withdrawal of members from the coalition should not paralyze the work of Parliament,” he said. “Parliament is obliged to continue to address issues of national importance.”

Mr. Poroshenko cited the need to adopt budget amendments, including financing for the military, as well as steps needed to comply with demands of international creditors who helped save Ukraine from default earlier this year.

“I urged all members of Parliament to work responsibly,” Mr. Poroshenko said, “with the knowledge that Ukraine is now fighting for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, for the very existence of our country, for the future of the Ukrainian people.”

The parliamentary elections will probably be held in late October or early November, a potentially ambitious timetable even if the military operation ends soon, given the deep damage to infrastructure and the displacement of citizens who fled eastern Ukraine to escape the fighting.

Although there has been broad public demand for elections since the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych, holding swift elections may allow Mr. Poroshenko to capitalize on widespread anti-Russian sentiment in Ukraine, including in parts of the east, presumably lifting the prospects of candidates who support the new government and favor integration with Europe.

The developments in Parliament on Thursday highlighted the difficulties Ukrainian leaders have faced trying to run a country that was on the verge of financial collapse even before Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, and rebels in the east plunged the country into war.

Hostilities have not slowed since the downing last week of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was destroyed by a missile over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Ukrainian officials said they were alarmed by a growing mobilization of Russian military units along the border.

Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said at a briefing on Thursday that four more Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in fighting overnight. On Wednesday, two Ukrainian military jets were shot down near the Russian border.

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Ukraine and the United States have said they have evidence indicating that the Malaysia Airlines jet was brought down by a surface-to-air missile system supplied by Russia, and fired from territory in rebel-occupied eastern Ukraine, possibly with the support of Russian military advisers.

Russia has denied any involvement, and on Thursday, a deputy defense minister of Russia, Anatoly Antonov, challenged the United States to make public evidence to support its assertion.

“It has been announced that the U.S. technical intelligence data and satellite images confirm the launch of a missile from the territory under the rebels’ control,” Mr. Antonov said. “I have a question: Where are these data? Why they were not presented to public? Or are they, so to say, not completely prepared?”

Mr. Antonov also repeated Russia’s claims that the Ukrainian military might have been responsible for downing the passenger jet.

“American representatives have ruled out the Ukrainian Army’s role because the plane allegedly flew outside of the range of their missiles,” he said. “The question is: Are these Americans prepared to testify that this was exactly so? Do they know where in Ukraine all missile complexes are located?”

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