Ukraine’s parliament convened on Thursday and approved the new cabinet after they ousted former president Viktor Yanukovich on February 22.
The new government, comprising more than 20 ministers, is headed by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former foreign and economics minister.
He vowed Ukraine will sign an Association Agreement with the European Union but also said Kyiv wanted a partnership with Russia. He further vowed that his government will preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
“We are committed to the territorial integrity and unity of my country,” Yatsenyuk said. “And the new government will do everything and use all legal means to stabilize the situation in Crimea and to convince the entire world and all Ukrainian neighbors that Ukraine is a sovereign united country and no separatism is allowed.”
The Association Agreement is the same one Yanukovich shelved in November in favor of a $15 billion bailout from Russia. This caused the three month protests in Independence Square until he was ousted.
His removal caused a huge uproar in the Crimean peninsula where over 58% of the people are ethnic Russians. They declared allegiance to Russia and kicked out their Kiev-appointed mayor in favor of a Russian mayor. Russia leases navy ports and the area is very popular with wealthy Russians. Yatseniuk asked Russia and Russians to cooperate with the new government.
He also urged Russia, which he called Ukraine’s partner, to “not shelter former top Ukrainian officials who are wanted for mass murder and crimes against humanty, primarily I am speaking about former President Viktor Yanukovych. Russians, don’t wage war on us. We’re friends, we’re partners, we move forward together,”
One of the biggest problems Ukraine faces is financial. Yatseniuk said Yanukovych withdrew $70 billion over three years.
“About $70 billion has been withdrawn from Ukraine’s financial system to offshore accounts over the last three years. Now it’s clear that they withdrew the funds that were raised as loans under state guarantees and stolen by representatives of the previous government,” he said from the parliament’s rostrum.
Ukraine does not have the ability to pay off their $12 billion debts and he said there will be tough times because the country only has $200 billion in gross national product.
“To go through these economic challenges we have no other way but take unpopular decisions regarding subsidies, tariffs, social programs,” Yatseniuk said. “The government has to take measures in order to reduce the state expenses. No Ukrainian officials have the right to use charter flights and forget about benefits (to Ukrainian people). Today there are several lawsuits against Ukraine in international courts. One of them is regarding the reimbursement of $3 billion loan that was provided to Ukraine from China under the state guarantee. In the energy sphere, we owe Russia $1.8 billion. During the last three years around $70 billion were taken away from Ukraine through offshore (accounts).”
The government could not find loans worth $37 billion and they only have $400,000 in their account right now, plus $15 billion in foreign currency reserves.