Embattled Ukraine PM Yatsenyuk resigns

Kiev (AFP) - Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced his resignation Sunday in the wake of a months-long political crisis that has paralysed the government and frozen the release of vital Western aid.

The tough-talking prime minister's decision comes barely two months after he survived a parliamentary no-confidence hearing in which lawmakers took turns takings jabs at his seeming inability to fight corruption since assuming office in February 2014.

Parliament is expected to approve Yatsenyuk's resignation on Tuesday and start crafting a new pro-European government that is likely to continue pulling the former Soviet country out of Russia's orbit and toward the West.

"Having done everything to ensure stability and make a smooth transition of power possible, I decided to step down from the post of prime minister of Ukraine," the 41-year said in a weekly television address.

Yatsenyuk said President Petro Poroshenko's party had already nominated parliament speaker Volodymyr Groysman to succeed him and that he would not stand in the way.

"From today onwards, I see my goals in a broader light than just heading the government," the former banker said.

He vowed to lobby for the "international support for Ukraine and its membership in the European Union and NATO".

But he failed to mention what future role he saw for himself in politics or how he would achieve those goals.

- Meteoric rise and fall -

Yatsenyuk's strident condemnation of Russia's alleged backing of the two-year pro-Moscow uprising in eastern Ukraine and his ability to clinch a vital IMF rescue package helped his party become parliament's second largest in October 2014 polls.

He formed a ruling coalition with the president's bloc and several junior partners that was able to push through unpopular belt-tightening measures prescribed by the International Monetary Fund under its $17.5-billion (15.4-billion-euro) rescue plan.

But his party's approval rating has slumped to just two percent because of the painful transition away from a state-sustained economy and his seeming lack of will to fight graft that has permeated all levels of government.

Yatsenyuk oversaw a dire economic stretch in Ukraine that saw the currency lose about two-thirds of its value against the dollar and the economy shrink by nearly 10 percent last year.

The coalition fractured after the February 16 no-confidence vote and the prime minister's days seemed numbered ever since.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde said days after the vote that she could not see how lending to Ukraine could continue with the government in such a state of disarray.

- 'Suicide' mission -

Yatsenyuk became premier in the chaotic days that followed the February 2014 ouster of Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych -- a corruption-tainted leader who sparked three months of protests over his decision to walk away from a landmark EU pact.

He immediately admitted that he was committing "political suicide" by taking on the job.

Yanukovych's flight to Russia was followed a month later by the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea and the April 2014 outbreak of a separatist revolt that has claimed nearly 9,200 lives and plunged Moscow's relations with the West to a post-Cold War low.

But the nation of around 40 million has continued to break its reliance on Russia and has now geared its trade toward European states.

Poroshenko said in a television interview taped before Yatsenyuk's resignation that he expected Groysman to head the cabinet next.

"But I will work with any prime minister," the president added.

- New finance chief? -

Analysts and the Ukrainian media predict that one of the most important changes in the government will involve the departure of Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko.

The US-born former State Department worker and private banker has been widely praised by the West for being able to pull together a crucial debt restructuring deal in August 2015.

Jaresko said in March she was ready to head the government under strict conditions that would give her the freedom to fight the decades-long links between politicians and a handful of powerful tycoons.

But her candidacy seemed unlikely to win the required parliamentary majority and Poroshenko's group soon nominated 38-year-old speaker Groysman to the post.

Slovakia's former deputy prime minister Ivan Miklos has provisionally agreed to join the new government if he is able to keep his citizenship and be given the freedom to fight corruption and pursue the plans outlined by the IMF.

Analysts believe he will probably take Jaresko's place.

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