Ukraine's pro-EU protest leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk was picked 26 February 2014 to head the government of the crisis-hit country until presidential elections are held in May. The 'Euromaidan' council made its announcement of Yatseniuk, plus candidates for several other key ministers, after its members addressed crowds on Kiev's Independence Square.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, since he graduated from Chernivtsi State University in 1996, is one of the emerging generation of Ukrainian leaders who have spent their entire working career in independent Ukraine. Thus, he developed his professional approach and skills in a country with open borders, access to western media, and a market economy. Ukraine's youngest foreign minister, he had past experience as Minister of the Economy (September 2005-August 2006) and National Bank Deputy Governor (January 2003-February 2005, Acting Governor from mid-2004 to February 2005). The fact that as foreign minister Yatsenyuk elected to visit Brussels first, rather than Moscow as is traditional for Ukrainian leaders, was clear evidence of his orientation.
A 29 March 2007, article in Kyiv daily, Segodnya, reported that Yatsenyuk's father, Petro Yatsenyuk, is an assistant professor of history at Chernivtsi University, and his mother, Mariya, teaches French at the same university. He has one sister, Alina, who is seven years older, married to an American, and lives in Santa Barbara, California. Yatsenyuk's wife, Tereza, whom he met when both worked at Aval bank, is four years his senior. They have two daughters, seven-year-old Khrystyna and two-year-old Sofiya. Yatsenyuk's mother comes from Kolumiya, Ivano-Frankivsk oblast, a center of the Carpathian Hutsul ethnic subgroup; Yatsenyuk collects Hutsul handicrafts.
Yatsenyuk is an engaged, thoughtful, and pragmatic leader. He is a well-spoken, forward-thinking young politician. As PM or President, he would likely be reform oriented, while relying on his political ties to get laws passed. His economic background suggested he would approach foreign policy from an economic standpoint, but he had shown himself open to NATO cooperation and his think tank demonstrates that he is cognizant of Ukraine's international image.
As Rada Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk became one of the most interesting senior politicians in Ukraine to watch. Only 34 years old in 2008, Yatsenyuk had already served not only as chair of the parliament, but Foreign Minister, Minister of Economy, and Acting Governor of the National Bank. Some of his success may be credited to his ability to reach out to various camps and appear nonpartisan -- he received his FM and Speaker positions as a compromise candidate -- and to his ties to a number of older politicians and businessmen who championed his career at various stages. Yatsenyuk had grown as Speaker, learning to exert his authority to try to keep the often deadlocked parliament moving forward. He also embraced the role of mediator, trying to keep the coalition intact, while encouraging the opposition to act constructively.
Privately, Yatsenyuk founded a think tank to promote Ukraine's international image, increase discussion of key security issues, and give financial support to young leaders -- the Speaker also made the list of the country's top philanthropists in 2007. Press and politicians began to speculate whether Yatsenyuk might be in line to become Prime Minister, head of a new political project, or may harbor presidential ambitions of his own. When asked about future plans, Yatsenyuk was relatively coy, saying that he would only lead a party of his own making. He was open in his support for the coalition, for now, and his opposition to a new constitution.
Whether Yatsenyuk's ambitions included making a run for the presidency or whether he is biding his time until the current crop of leaders has faded was initially unclear. Given Yushchenko's dismal popularity ratings, and the fact that Yanukovych and the Party of Regions had not succeeded in recent elections at breaking their 33 percent support cap, there could be an opening for a fresh face in 2010. However, Yatsenyuk was careful not to burn bridges. Although Yatsenyuk was clearly close to President Yushchenko, he maintained decent ties with PM Tymoshenko and with politicians and oligarchs in other camps.
Yatsenyuk's skills as Speaker developed significantly since he took the post in December 2007. During early challenges, such as the failed confirmation vote for Tymoshenko on December 11 and Regions's blockade of the rostrum during the NATO MAP controversy in January 2008, Yatsenyuk often seemed ill at ease while trying to restore order. He was soft spoken and too hung up on the rules of procedure to deal with MPs shouting and charging his dais. However, since then he became more comfortable speaking definitively and moving procedure forward over objections. He learned how to run a vote and how to delay a vote when it is clear it will fail. For example, Yatsenyuk proudly told the press on 16 April 2008 that he had saved Yushchenko's CabMin law from sure death by canceling the final vote when the coalition lacked the votes to confirm it. The law was passed at a later date after a new agreement with BYuT. He also became comfortable docking the pay of MPs who blockaded the rostrum and prevented the Rada from working -- applying this rule equally to Regions and BYuT.
Publicly, Yatsenyuk repeatedly dismissed the need for early elections, saying they won't change anything, and defended the current coalition, arguing that he won't help terminate it until ordered to by the Constitutional Court. He also told the press on 06 June 2008 that he did not think the political situation would change until the fall, when a constructive dialogue could be held. He referred to BYuT's proposed constitutional changes as a "latent coup d'etat" and later rejected attempts to write a new constitution by any party, including the President.
However, it may be Yatsenyuk's role behind the scenes that is most important. He had become a key negotiator and mediator -- trying to keep the coalition going and Yushchenko and Tymoshenko speaking, and reaching out to the opposition. He tried to broker negotiated settlements to allow the Rada to work, holding many meetings with the faction leaders, sometimes with Committee Chairmen as well, and meetings with Yushchenko and Tymoshenko in various formats. On 04 June 2008, he sent a letter to the President, PM, and Rada faction leaders proposing the parliament adopt an action plan called "Ukraine 2008." He wanted the document to focus on economic, social, judicial, and law enforcement reform, as well as preparations for the Euro 2012 soccer tournament. On June 20 he called on all factions to refrain from insulting one another and issuing ultimatums. On June 24, he held a meeting with Tymoshenko, OU-PSD faction leader Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, and BYuT deputy faction leader Andriy Kozhemyakin to try to work out how to save the coalition. Afterwards, he said they had reached a tentative agreement to adopt a law called "external and internal policies until 2010," which would serve as the basis for the coalition's future work. He said the law would address key macroeconomic issues, such as lowering inflation and increasing GDP, and would provide concrete goals for improving social standards. Yatsenyuk said that only by defining the nation's priorities could the coalition and government move forward and possibly gain support from others in the parliament. Presidential Chief of Staff Baloha and Presidential Spokeswoman Vannikova said on separate occasions that Yushchenko believes Yatsenyuk has to take the lead in restoring the democratic coalition.
Yatsenyuk's meteoric career was, in part, due to being viewed as a compromise candidate who can reach out to all camps. He was confirmed as Foreign Minister on 21 March 2007 with 426 votes after months of fighting about who would be the new FM. His surprise candidacy was seen as part of a deal between Yushchenko and then PM Yanukovych, and Rada MPs from various factions indicated to us at the time that they found Yatsenyuk more palatable than other alternatives. Yatsenyuk's nomination as Rada Speaker in December was equally surprising, but again more broadly approved of than some of the other OU-PSD candidates being discussed. However, he was confirmed with only the support of the 227 coalition members. More recently, respected newspaper Dzerkalo Tyzhnya suggested that Yatsenyuk was one of three candidates the Presidential Secretariat would want to see as PM in a new broad coalition.
Yatsenyuk -- a representative of the new elite -- learned all the intricacies of political intrigue. Yatsenyuk comes off as an open, democratic, and western-style politician, but he also understands the art of survival in a Soviet-type bureaucratic environment, where interpersonal connections and patron-client ties are key. His version of the Ukrainian national idea was European values.
Focus groups conducted in six cities across Ukraine by the International Republican Institute (IRI) revealed some interesting thinking on Yatsenyuk. Initially, IRI solicited opinions mainly on the three main political leadesr -- Yushchenko, Yanukovych, and Tymoshenko -- but were surprised by the strongly positive reactions when Yatsenyuk's name was raised. Although participants generally held the Rada to be a bastion of corruption populated by MPs who bought their spots on party lists and did not care about the electorate, they described Yatsenyuk as "smart with a systematic approach," "the future of the nation," and "the next generation of Ukraine and a new generation of politician." They saw him as an independent actor who had allies in more than one camp and could work intrafactionally.
The main negative cited by participants is that they did not know a lot about Yatsenyuk as a person, that although he was honest about having money and where the money came from, beyond that he was somewhat of a mystery. There was also a somewhat negative perception that he was being groomed by Yushchenko. (Note. The information provided by the focus groups cannot be taken as representative of national opinion, as the data from a poll would be, but the comments are still interesting given the contrast between the praise for Yatsenyuk as a leader and the excoriation of the Rada as an institution. End note.)
An opinion poll conducted by the Ukrainian Sociology Services in April-May 2008 indicated that 33 percent of respondents supported the idea of a new "third way" political party. When asked who should lead this party, Yatsenyuk was the top choice, with 13 percent of respondents selecting him. Currently, Yatsenyuk does not often register in polls on future presidential elections, but that may be due to the fact that most people probably do not consider him to be a candidate at this time.
In December 2007, investigative journalist Serhiy Leshchenko wrote an in-depth article in Ukrainska Pravda about Yatsenyuk's roots titled "The riddle of Arseniy Yatsenyuk," which pointed to a number of powerful patrons in the Speaker's past. Leshchenko argued that Yatsenyuk became a success in the law and business world at the age of 22 due to ties to now deceased media mogul Ihor Pluzhnikov, former Labor Minister Mykhaylo Papiyev, and former Yushchenko Chief of Staff Oleksandr Zinchenko, all of whom hail from Yatsenyuk's hometown of Chernivtsi. Interestingly, all were also members of the Social Democratic Party (united) at some point, as was Chief of Staff Baloha, who brought Yatsenyuk into the Presidential Secretariat in 2006. Yatsenyuk co-founded a law firm during his second year of university, the clients of which included Papiyev. These SDPU(o) ties were later echoed on the respected political talk show Svoboda by Shufrych, who also used to be in SDPU(o). Yatsenyuk denied Shufrych's accusations, but the ties to Papiyev, at a minimum, seem to be more broadly confirmed.
Leshchenko wrote that Yatsenyuk moved to Kyiv in 1997 to enter the banking industry, and was then put forward to be the Crimean Minister of Economy by the then head of the Crimean government, who was a member of oligarch Viktor Pinchuk's Working Ukraine (Trudova Ukraina) -- Leshchenko says Yatsenyuk and Pinchuk remain close. (Note. Serhiy Tihipko, Yatsenyuk's boss at the NBU before Yatsenyuk took over as Acting Governor, was also from Working Ukraine. End note.) The article says Yatsenyuk attends every Davos and Yalta (YES) event hosted by Pinchuk. Leshchenko says that Yatsenyuk also formed ties to Defense Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, Deputy Secretariat Head Oleksandr Shlapak, Yushchenko backer Petro Poroshenko, and former Presidential Chief of Staff Oleh Rybachuk -- and when Yekhanurov became PM in September 2005, he recommended Yatsenyuk to be Minister of Economy. Yatsenyuk also has ties to Vitaliy Haiduk and Katerina Yushchenko, according to Leshchenko.
According to the publication Novynar, Yatsenyuk was the twelfth largest philanthropist in Ukraine in 2007. Much of this money may have gone to fund a think tank Yatsenyuk co-founded with a Polish businessman called Open Ukraine Foundation. The foundation's mission statement says its goal is to support public diplomacy and to raise the profile of Ukraine internationally. To that end, it organizes conferences on key security issues, such as energy security, frozen conflicts, the Black Sea Region; it also sponsors a program on young leaders in a variety of fields. According to the organization's website and conference materials, its two key financial sponsors are the Pinchuk Foundation and Industrial Union Donbas (co-owned by Haiduk). The two organizations' financial support for Yatsenyuk's project could merely be a meeting of the minds on this issue, but it does suggest that he has ties to major businessmen, should he need to reach out to them if he decided to run a campaign. Pinchuk gave a long interview to Dzerkalo Tyzhnya in which he said that Ukraine needed a new generation of leader to fix the country. He did not mention Yatsenyuk by name, but the Speaker fit the profile of the type of leader Pinchuk expressed a desire to find.
Rada speaker Yatsenyuk was ousted during a fractious parliamentary session on 12 November 2008, which included two legally questionable votes and a physical confrontation between MPs. The Party of Regions, Lytvyn Bloc, Communist party and a handful of Our Ukraine-People's Self Defense bloc MPs joined forces to alter Rada procedural rules and remove Yatsenyuk. A scuffle occurred between Party of Regions and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc MPs when the latter tried to shut down the Rada's electronic voting system to prevent the vote against Yatsenyuk.
Speculation in the Rada was rife over the end goal of removing Yatsenyuk, but it was clear that most MPs are not privy to the decisions being made by their party leaders. Rumors about the true reason for Yatsenyuk's ouster and what, if any, role President Yushchenko played were rife in the Rada corridors. Some believed Yatsenyuk's removal had Yushchenko's blessing and was a prelude to either a new push for early elections or a legally questionable coalition between some part of OU-PSD, Regions and Lytvyn Bloc. Others speculated that Yushchenko pushed Yatsenyuk's dismissal in an attempt to weaken any authority not controlled by the President. Regions MPs were not informed why they should vote for Yatsenyuk's ouster, but all fell in line because none wanted to jeopardize their chance of being included on the party list if a new election is called.
While the end goal of Yatsenyuk's dismissal was unclear, his removal further destabilized the political situation in Kyiv. Yatsenyuk was an effective Speaker. His absence allowed more maneuverability for those in the Rada wanting to either push through legislation facilitating early elections or the creation of a legally questionable coalition between some part of OU-PSD, Regions and Lytvyn.
Front for Change [Front of Change] was the first step in Yatsenyuk's plan to form his own political party. A March 2009 a poll showed him beating current presidential front-runner, Party of Regions leader Yanukovych, in a second round. The poll showed that Yanukovych would defeat PM Tymoshenko by eight points. Yatsenyuk sas himself as Tymoshenko's principal rival for votes in western and central Ukraine, and intended to compete throughout the country. A poll commissioned by Party of Regions showed Yatsenyuk with 12.6 percent support, just 4 percent behind Tymoshenko. More significantly, it showed Yatsenyuk as far more competitive against Yanukovych in a potential second round match-up than Tymoshenko. Yatsenyuk beat Yanukovych by two points; Tymoshenko lost by eight.
In early 2009 he asserted that through his new political movement, "Front for Change," he would "create a new political elite" that could move beyond the "over-personalized" politics that currently dominate Ukraine. He decried the political populism that hindered necessary economic reforms, and said that the country should improve the current constitution rather than start over with a new one. Yatsenyuk said he wanted to see Ukraine move to a parliamentary republic "within five to ten years," rather than return to a strong presidential system.
Yatsenyuk polled well in the summer and seemed a viable challenger to Tymoshenko for second place and entry into the second round against Yanukovych. But by December 2009 the Front of Change campaign was falling apart after its impressive late spring/early summer launch. Disappointment and disillusion had overtaken the majority of th local campaign team. Yatsenyuk's announcement at Front of Change's 28 November 2009 party congress that he would not seek the Prime Ministership dashed hopes staffers had of finding jobs in the next government. Many were already looking for other options.
Associates characterized Yatsenyuk the candidate as stubborn and difficult to advise. "He believes he already knows everything and does not listen to us." One group he did listen to, however, was his Russian campaign consultants. According to Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) operatives, this team came onto the scene and quickly alienated the campaign's base of grassroots volunteers. Yatsenyuk changed teams, changed messages, and seemed to retreat into his "own little world." The Russians convinced Yatsenuk, previously known as a pro-Western liberal and Yushchenko protege, to advocate an amorphous "Greater Europe" concept, with Ukraine at its core, rejecting NATO and the EU as unachievable for Ukraine.
The Russian team was led by Vladimir Granovskiy, who, analysts said, worked under Party of Regions MP Andriy Klyuyev on Yanukovych's team in 2004. The Russians were blamed for the campaign's failure, as they mistakenly believed that the unorthodox style, colors and messages of the campaign would appeal to Ukrainians. Indeed, there was a rumor that the Granovskiy team was planted by the Kremlin to specifically sabotage Yatsenyuk.
Yatsenyuk turned eastward instead of strengthening his traditional base of support in the west. Yatsenyuk's shift to the east cost him his base of support in the west, which was comprised of disenchanted voters who looked to him as a western-minded alternative to the disappointing President Yushchenko and PM Tymoshenko. Attacks from other candidates and political figures, such as the statements and poster campaign backed by the mayor of Uzhhorod that Yatsenyuk was of Jewish decent, lowered Yatsenyuk's support in the polls.
Police and protesters clashed in Ukraine over the night of January 26, 2014, hours after embattled President Viktor Yanukovych tried to ease tensions by offering key government posts to two top opposition leaders. Yanukovych offered the position of prime minister to Arseniy Yatsenyuk, one of the leaders of the political opposition, which had waged two months of anti-government protests. Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko, a former international boxing champion, was offered the post of deputy prime minister responsible for humanitarian issues.
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