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17th Jan 2019

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Ukraine resignation is 'cold shower' for elite

  • Linkevicius: 'I hope it [Abromavicius' resignation] isn’t the final call' (Photo: eu2013.lt)

The surprise resignation of Ukraine’s Lithuanian economy minister in protest at high-level corruption is a “cold shower” for Kiev’s political elite, Lithuania’s foreign minister has said.

“It’s a cold shower for all those in Ukraine who believe their personal interests are more important than those of their country," foreign minister Linas Linkevicius told EUobserver on Thursday (4 February).

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  • Abromavicius (l) is part of a group of foreign fixers installed in Kiev top posts (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

"It’s very alarming when one of the most effective reformists in the government says he can’t do his work," he said.

"This shouldn’t happen in a country which is, anyway, facing many problems in the security and economic dimensions."

Linkevicus noted there had been a “strong” international reaction, from EU ambassadors in Kiev and from the US, calling for Ukraine to do better.

The US state department’s spokesman, James Kirby, also said on Wednesday: “It’s important that Ukraine’s leaders set aside their differences, put the vested interests that have hindered the country’s progress for decades - put that all in the past, and press forward on these same vital reforms.”

Resignation 'not final'

Linkevicius spoke after Ukraine’s economy minister, fellow Lithuanian Aivarus Abromavicius, handed in his resignation saying he refused to act as “cover” for government corruption.

He spoke, the BBC reports, of obstructions to his work “ranging from a sudden removal of my security detail to pressure to appoint questionable individuals to my team, or to key positions in state-owned enterprises”.

Abromavicius, a former banker, is part of a group of foreign fixers posted to Kiev to clean up the system.

The group includes Natalie Jaresko, a US-born banker who became Ukraine’s finance minister, and Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s former PM, who became governor of the Odessa region.

It also includes lesser-known people such as Davit Sakvarelidz, a Georgian national who became Ukraine’s deputy prosecutor general.

Linkevicius said he spoke with Abromavicius by phone on Wednesday.

He said the resignation was not final, if Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko intervenes to protect him: “I know him [Abromavicius] and I hope it isn’t the final call … he might rethink his decision, pending developments.”

Lithuania is one of Ukraine’s closest allies in the EU Council.

But Linkevicius said if Kiev did not pull its socks up, it could have a negative impact on its EU visa-free travel bid. “Everything is connected,” he said.

He also warned that loss of credibility for Poroshenko helps Russia, as well as Ukraine’s former rulers who fled to Russia after the 2014 revolution, to cause trouble.

“It will play into the hands of those who want to destabilise Ukraine,” he said.

'Many mistakes'

Corruption aside, Poroshenko is also losing popularity in his bid to pass laws governing local elections in Russia-occupied regions in east Ukraine.

France and Germany, negotiating on behalf of the EU last year, agreed the elections should be a cornerstone of the Russia-Ukraine ceasefire accord, the "Minsk" agreement.

But Poroshenko’s opponents say they represent capitulation to Russia’s puppet regimes, the Donetsk and Luhansk so-called people’s republics.

Asked if Paris and Berlin had made a mistake, Linkevicus said "many mistakes were made".

He said the elections cannot go ahead when Russia-controlled fighters continue to exchange fire with Ukraine forces and Russia is pouring weapons over the border.

He also said there’s no access to Donetsk or Luhansk for international observers, Ukrainian political parties, or Ukrainian media.

The Lithuanian FM said the “sequencing” of Minsk compliance was “illogical.”

“That [Ukraine’s] control of the border should come after the elections? How can this be done?”, he said.

'Wishful thinking'

Linkevicius spoke to EUobserver from London, where he’s taking part in a conference on Syria.

Russia entered the Syria conflict last year with bombing raids which, EU and US diplomats say, are designed to protect Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Diplomats say the Syria conflict has nothing to do with Ukraine, noting that Russia played a positive role in Iran nuclear talks despite its Ukraine invasion.

But Linkevicius said Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine must be taken into account in other theatres.

“It’s wishful thinking to say Russia will act along one line in one conflict and along very different lines in another conflict,” he said.

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