Amid Russia’s Assault, Ukraine’s Interim Leaders Scramble to Reform Their Government

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a thirty-nine-year-old economist, lawyer, and now Ukrainian prime minister, is laboring to democratize his country while Russia, far better armed, works to subvert it. His job, Yatsenyuk has said, is “political suicide.” Russia has forcibly seized Crimea, while Ukraine desperately needs quick loans just to pay its debts. Yatsenyuk has only sixty-seven days before the May 25 election for a new president, which could re-ignite old battles among the political parties that, for now, support him.

Amid this turmoil, Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Sabine Freizer visited ministries and officials in Kyiv last week; she found them hustling to re-make Ukraine’s government as much and as quickly as they can – to stanch the theft of billions of dollars by Yanukovych’s kleptocracy, to publish budgets on the Web, to ease the creation of small businesses and otherwise revive a flat economy.

As Yatsenyuk’s team rushes to build more more responsive, transparent public services, Russia is speeding to disrupt all government in the ethnic Russian south and east. There, President Vladimir Putin has the troops, the thuggish provocateurs, the dominance of television and other public information, and the motive to undermine Kyiv’s control and replace it with his own influence. For Putin, who has characterized Ukraine as an appendage of Russia, a successful, democratic Ukrainian state would pose a danger to his vision of how large Russia should be, and how centrally controlled.

Here are excerpts from Freizer’s account, which you can read in full.

Related Experts: Sabine Freizer

Image: Economist and lawyer Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who is now Ukraine's interim prime minister, meets officials of his new government at parliament in Kyiv. March 1, 2014 REUTERS/Andrew Kravchenko/Pool