Kyiv′s crisis continues its spiral | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 19.02.2016
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Kyiv's crisis continues its spiral

Two years after power changed hands in Kyiv, signs are again pointing to change. Reforms are barely moving forward; accusations of corruption are growing louder. Now even the governing coalition has collapsed.

Once again, February has turned out to be a month of crisis in Ukraine. Two years ago at this time, protests were peaking in Kyiv. Dozens were dying on the city's streets; President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia. Now the floor is trembling beneath Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's feet.

The coalition officially collapsed on Friday after the parliamentary chairman announced the withdrawal of the Self-Reliance party. Just before that, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's Fatherland party left the coalition. Both parties are seeking fresh elections.

Now the clock is ticking for this parliament. The two remaining parties, Yatsenyuk's People's Front and the president's "Poroshenko bloc" no longer hold a majority. If a new coalition is not created within 30 days, the president can dissolve the parliament. Whether it will come to that is unclear. The populist right-wing Radical Party, which left the coalition last August, wants back in.

"It's too early to bury the current coalition," the political strategist Jaroslaw Makitra told DW. In place of the five-party coalition, a three-party coalition might remain.

A power struggle

Jelisaweta Schtschepetilnikowa Maidan Aktivistin

Prime Minister Yatsenyuk is in choppy political waters

The standoff came to a head on Tuesday, when President Petro Poroshenko suggested that Prime Minister Yatsenyuk resign. The parliament had rated his government as "unsatisfactory," but Yatsenyuk surprisingly managed to survive a no-confidence vote.

Many in Ukraine see this as a warning to Yatsenyuk: We can topple you but would prefer that you go on your own. There were clearly enough votes for a vote of no confidence. Had all of the representatives of the Poroshenko party voted, the government would have had to leave power. Yet more than 20 of the representatives stayed away from the vote. Some parliamentarians in the Poroshenko party see this as a "counterrevolution by the oligarchs" and a "conspiracy."

One reason for this may be found in the constitution, which defines Ukraine as a parliamentary democracy, in which the prime minister has more power than the president. Pressure from the West had so far prevented an open rivalry between Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk, but that era now seems to have passed.

Observers like the distinguished Kyiv journalist Vitaly Portnikov believe that the president wants to install a loyal head of government and control the key Interior and Justice ministries. These positions have to date been filled by Yatsenyuk's people.

Winning back trust

München Sicherheitskonferenz - Petro Poroschenko

President Poroshenko finds himself in a power struggle with his prime minister

Yatsenyuk had won the prime minister's post with 371 votes in parliament on February 27, 2014. The then-39 year-old was viewed as a messenger of hope. In his inauguration speech, Yatsenyuk did not promise quick success; he likened his Cabinet to a "Kamikaze" troop ready to commit political suicide.

This comparison also holds true for Yatsenyuk's second government, which he has led since December 2014. His People's Front was the strongest party after new elections, but quickly lost support. Opinion polls put support for the party in the low single digits.

And that was what Poroshenko pointed to in order to justify his call for a radical restructuring of the government. In a previous interview with DW, former Economics Minister Aivaras Abromavicius said that Yatsenyuk should step down "in order to win back the lost trust."

'We expected more'

Yelizaveta Shepetilnikova was a student activist and member of the Euromaidan movement's coordinating body during the winter of 2013-14. Today, she is studying in the US and looking with a critical eye at her homeland.

Ukraine Kiew Rada Premierminister Arsenij Jazenjuk

Yelizaveta Shepetilnikova says she expects more from her government

"Unfortunately, we are seeing a return to political intrigue," Shepetilnikova told DW. She's concerned about the collapse of the coalition and warns against destabilization.

Taking stock two years after the revolution, Shepetilnikova sees mixed results. "On the one hand, there are a number of successes, especially the increasing influence that civil society has on what happens in the country," the activist said. Yet the old political and economic systems were still in place. Above all, more needed to be done to fight corruption. "We had expected more," she said.

The murders of dozens of activists on February 20, 2014, have still not been solved, which Shepetilnikova said showed "deep contempt" for the victims. "There are still many people within the system who don't want to see any changes," she said.

Stumbling blocks

Even for experts and observers, the achievements of the new players in Kyiv present a mixed picture. Economically hard-hit Ukraine could be stabilized with the help of the west. Most of the population are currently struggling under a dramatic downturn in their quality of life.

In that sense, the revolution wasn't just fighting against corruption, but also for a future for Ukraine in the European Union. Only the rare optimist still believes in its entry anytime soon.

But activists like Shepetilnikova believe that the biggests problems are Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the ongoing conflict with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Without a solution to these problems, the country will continue to spiral downwards.

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