With the news that Arseniy Yatsenyuk tendered his resignation as Ukraine’s Prime Minister, a once meteoric career has come to a crashing halt. In the U.S., Yatsenyuk gained widespread notoriety when a conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. Ambassador in Kiev was leaked by, presumably, Russian intelligence. On it, Ms. Nuland expressed her certainty, in positively breathy tones, that “Yats” would make an ideal Prime Minister. As so, once the coup transpired in February, it came to pass.
In gaining the Premiership, Yatsenyuk made a deal with the devil, doing nothing to quell the violence that engulfed the Maidan after the Western and Russian-backed settlement agreement of February 21 was announced. Here we might pause to note that pronouncements from pro-democracy activists like Freedom House’s David Kramer and pop-philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy that Putin is entirely to blame for the violence in Ukraine, should be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism.
After the February coup Yatsenyuk quickly threw in his lot in with the gang around the far-right Svoboda and became, quite illegitimately, prime minister. The far-right was compensated handsomely. Svoboda, whose leader Oleh Tyahnybok once voiced dissatisfaction that Ukraine was being run by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia,” was amply rewarded, gaining the defense ministry and the prosecutor general’s office, along with two non-power ministries like Agriculture and Environment. The government promptly removed the governors of the pro-Russian eastern provinces and put a number of oligarchs in their stead. The reaction to all of this by the citizens of these provinces, and that of their rather large, influential, and, yes, bare-knuckled, neighbor to the east is now all too plain to see.
Having captured the top prize, Yatsenyuk did what any self-respecting free-riding Atlanticist would do: he dashed off to Washington for meetings with President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. The President, for his part, authorized a $1 billion loan guarantee (about $14 billion shy of what Vladimir Putin put on offer the previous November) and urged Russia and Ukraine to turn to diplomacy to settle their differences. That was not to be, yet the new Premier’s strenuous efforts to drag the U.S. into a war his government bears a good deal of responsibility for starting have, for the most part, come to naught.
Yatsenyuk’s economic record mirrors his diplomatic one. The month he took office the Hryvnia lost a fifth of its value, and Yatsenyuk recently announced he expects the Ukrainian economy to shrink by 3 percent in 2014. It is said that the signing of the EU-Ukraine association agreement along with the conditions of the IMF’s $17 billion loan will launch Ukraine on its predestined European trajectory. Yet, if the experiences of Russia and Argentina, (to say nothing of non-IMF mandated austerity measures in the United Kingdom) are anything to go by, Ukrainians can look forward to many years of mass unemployment, the gutting of their manufacturing and export sectors, the hollowing out of government assistance programs, higher energy bills, higher taxes, and wage freezes.
Following Petro Poroshenko’s election to the presidency in May, Yatsenyuk’s government launched an “anti-terrorist operation” which the Washington Post earnestly hoped would “finish off” the rebels. With Russia sending hardware across the border, that goal has proved elusive. So too have efforts to keep Kiev at the negotiating table: on July 1 they put an end to a 10-day ceasefire after two days of French and German-sponsored negotiations. And so the war in the east has only intensified: under Yatsenyuk’s premiership Kiev has unleashed a furious offensive, bombing, and flattening civilian centers to such an extent that last week Human Rights Watch called on Poroshenko to investigate instances where civilians may have been deliberately targeted. All of this is not endearing the regime in Kiev to its citizens in the east. As of this writing, nearly 500 civilians have been killed, scores wounded, and well over 100,000 refugees have fled to Russia in anticipation of further violence. Indeed, the government in Kiev is said to be planning a siege of Donetsk, which has a population of roughly a million people, in the coming days and weeks ahead.
And so, with Yatsenyuk’s resignation, another chapter of the Obama administration’s meddling in Ukraine has come to a close. But shed no tears for Yats. I’m fairly convinced we’ll be seeing him around town soon enough; I hear AEI is hiring.
James Carden is a TAC contributing editor, and served as an advisor to the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission at the State Department from 2011-2012.