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Ukraine allows Russian aid amidst Parliament turmoil

Reuters

As aid trucks are let in to Ukraine from Russia, problems stir in Parliament with the economy minister resigning, and a likely dissolution looming.

A car drives past trucks of a Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid for Ukraine near a Russia-Ukraine border crossing point on August 21 2014. (Alexander Demianchuk, Reuters)

Ukraine border guards on Thursday began checks on a Russian truck convoy, which is carrying aid earmarked for humanitarian relief in eastern Ukraine, the border guard service said.

“I can confirm that at 2.15pm the Ukrainian side began border-customs formalities relating to the Russian humanitarian cargo,” border guard spokesperson Andriy Demchenko told Reuters.

Asked on whose territory the cargo was, he replied: “On the territory of the Russian border point.” The convoy had been stranded at the Russia-Ukraine border for nearly a week due to Ukrainian concerns it could serve as a Trojan horse to infiltrate military supplies to separatists. 

Moscow denied the allegations and said it was keen to help alleviate a humanitarian disaster in the region.  

A ‘predator’ towards business
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Economy Minister Pavlo Sheremeta said he had tendered his resignation, voicing frustration at the poor pace of economic reform by a government which he said acted “like a predator towards business”. 

After months of fighting in its eastern regions, following the toppling of a government blighted by corruption and economic mismanagement, Ukraine’s economy has contracted sharply, even with a multibillion-dollar financial lifeline from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

That money comes with requirements for reform, which have been slow in coming. When he was appointed, soon after the ousting of a Moscow-backed president in February, Sheremeta vowed to slash red tape and eliminate corrupt practices that had helped to almost bankrupt Ukraine. 

But he has not managed to push substantive legislation through Parliament and on Thursday he said without reforms it would take three to four years for Ukraine to achieve flat growth if the economy falls by the expected 6% to 7% this year. “It’s sad ... The economy will never advance if the government continues to behave like a predator towards business,” he said at a televised briefing. 

Earlier, in a sign of frustration at the lack of broad support for reform, Sheremeta said on his Facebook page that he no longer wanted to “fight against yesterday’s system”. Sheremeta’s offer to resign follows comments from Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk on Wednesday that voiced dissatisfaction with the speed and depths of reforms. 

Parliament, which is still packed with many former supporters of ex-President Viktor Yanukovich, has managed to pass legislation on taxation and sanctions on Russia in recent weeks – but only after being pushed by Yatseniuk, who at one point also threatened to resign over the legislature’s inaction. The post of economy minister was the first political appointment for Sheremeta, a former economics academic. 

According to the terms of the $17-billion IMF loan package, Ukraine must implement set reforms, including deficit reduction targets and raising the price of gas to households and industry.

The IMF decides on the disbursement of the second tranche of $1.4-billion on August 29, and Kiev has asked it to take into account the extra financial burden of fighting the insurgency.

Possible dissolution of Parliament
The resignation of Sheremeta, who has not been a key negotiator with the IMF, will have to be approved by Parliament. This might be one of the last acts of the current Parliament, which is likely to be dissolved next week, paving the way for a new election in October. 

Sheremeta says that he has handed over his duties temporarily to his deputy, Anatoliy Maksyuta. 

The decision to dissolve Parliament would be taken when there was a constitutional basis for it, presidential spokesperson, Svyatoslav Tseholko, said in a Twitter post. “And that moment starts from Independence Day [August 24],” Tseholko said. 

Ukraine’s governing coalition collapsed on July 24, and the dissolution stemming from that event will set up a parliamentary election in late October. – Reuters

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