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Europe

Pressure builds in Kyiv ahead of crucial deadline

The one year grace period is over. Parliament could now oust Ukraine's governing coalition. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is increasingly under pressure.

Things are becoming more restless in Ukrainian politics. On Friday (December 11), Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (pictured) is due to deliver a highly anticipated government statement taking stock of his first year in office. The reason: The one year grace period set out by parliament ends Friday. Theoretically, a vote of no confidence could be undertaken at this point.

Yatsenyuk has been

under pressure

for weeks. The accusations of corruption leveled against him and his administration have become so massive that his "People's Front" party now speaks of a "campaign" against him. It does indeed seem as if he is being hounded. Politicians and some oligarchs call for a new government, or at the least Yatsenyuk's resignation, on a daily basis.

Saakashvili rails against Yatsenyuk

One of those politicians is especially conspicuous: Mikheil Saakashvili. The current governor of the southern Ukrainian province of Odessa - and former president of Georgia - recently raised serious allegations of corruption against Yatsenyuk. Speaking in Odessa, Saakashvili claimed that the government and influential oligarchs were cheating the Ukrainian state out of $5 billion (4.6 billion euros) a year. He suggested that Yatsenyuk step down. The prime minister has yet to comment on the accusation.

Saakashvili is said to be a close confidant of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Since September, the former Georgian head of state has repeatedly accused Yatsenyuk of corruption. Poroshenko himself has stayed out of the fray. It has often been said that Saakashvili has designs on the prime minister's office - something he denies.

Keeping it all together

The 41-year-old Yatsenyuk is now leading his second administration since the change of power that took place in Kyiv in 2014.

Ukraine s president Petro Poroshenko (L) and former Georgia s president Mikheil Saakashvili (R) at a ceremony in May.

Poroshenko and Saakashvili are said to be close confidants

His newly founded party was the surprise victor in early parliamentary elections held last year. The administration pinned great hopes on foreign ministers serving in the Ukrainian cabinet for the first time. However, the results of their efforts have been modest, and quick successes never materialized.

"The fact that this government has been able to achieve some semblance of order while maintaining power is a success in itself," said Winfried Schneider-Deters, a German publisher living in Kyiv. The Ukraine expert said that minor improvements had been made both within the newly founded police department and in existing administrative departments. Olexiy Haran sees things similarly: "The most important thing is that the coalition has not fallen apart." The political scientist from the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy says that there is much to be coordinated between the coalition partners and the president.

The government has also been able to fend off a looming economic collapse with the help of Western financial aid. Salaries and pension payments have all been made on time. The decline in GDP has slowed from 17 percent in the first quarter, to just seven percent in the third. Kyiv also reached an agreement with foreign creditors, allowing it to write off 20 percent of its national debt and delay repayment of the remaining balance. Russia is the

sole creditor

with which no agreement could be made. Kyiv must repay its $3 billion dollar debt (2.8 billion euros) to Moscow by the end of December. Yatsenyuk says Ukraine doesn't have any money. In Moscow there is talk of pending Ukrainian insolvency.

Cracks in the coalition

With that, the economic situation remains anything but rosy. According to official estimates, the annual inflation rate will be around 50 percent this year. Most Ukrainians are disappointed with the government. Polls indicate that support for the "People's Front" has plummeted from 22, to just two percent.

Above all, the government has been able to do very little to combat corruption, something that many Ukrainians say is their country's biggest problem. Schneider-Deters said the fight had "failed," adding that "many people ask themselves why not one single person is in jail for corruption." Yatsenyuk is generally criticized for having done too little to initiate reform.

Cracks have been visible in the five-party ruling coalition for months. The right-wing populist "Ukrainian Radical Party" left the coalition in August, out of opposition to anchoring the Minsk Protocol, agreed to with pro-Russian separatists, in the constitution. Later, the pro-Western party "Self Reliance" threatened to leave. The "Fatherland" party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has also called for Yatsenyuk's resignation, but has remained in the coalition.

2014Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, right, and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden talk to each other in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 7, 2015.

US Vice President Joe Biden met Yatsenyuk in Kyiv

Warning from Washington

Nevertheless, experts like Schneider-Deters believe that the prime minister will stay: "His fall would lead to utter chaos, that can't be what anyone wants." Another reason: Yatsenyuk has a powerful ally in the West - the USA. Washington made it clear from the very start that they placed great value in establishing two centers of power in Ukraine - the president and the head of the government. Despite their disenchantment with Yatsenyuk, that will not have changed. "I don't think that US support will waver," said Schneider-Deters.

Yet, the Ukrainian prime minister took "a shot across the bow" recently, when US Vice President Joe Biden came to Kyiv for a two-day visit at the beginning of the week. In

his speech to the parliament

, Biden warned of "the cancer of corruption." He did not comment on the allegations against Yatsenyuk. He did, however, remind those present of the failings of the "Orange Revolution" of 2004, when a battle between then-president Viktor Yushchenko and then-head-of-government Yulia Tymoshenko paralyzed Ukraine.

Observers assume that a government reshuffle will come soon. A vote of no confidence is possible, but Yatsenyuk would still continue to lead. Until the next crisis, say skeptics.

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