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Ukrainian official resigns, says reform efforts blocked

By KATHERINE JACOBSEN
Created: 02/03/2016 5:25 PM

MOSCOW (AP) — Ukraine's government, already under strain from political infighting, a frozen conflict in the country's east and a sagging economy, fell under scrutiny again on Wednesday when its economy minister handed in his resignation, saying the leadership routinely blocked his reform efforts.

The country's minister of economy Aivaras Abromavicius said he and his team could no longer drive forward much-needed reforms and received pushback on their efforts from government leaders including members of President Petro Poroshenko's party.

"My team and I have no desire to be a front for blatant corruption or puppets for people who want to take control over state funds as they did in the old government," Abromavicius told reporters at a press conference in Kiev. "It wasn't just a lack of political will. (They were) actively seeking to paralyze our work in the government."

Abromavicius, a Lithuanian native and former investment banker, advocated deregulation and wide-scale privatization in Ukraine. He was appointed as the finance minister 14 months ago along with a cadre of other political-newcomers from the private sector including finance minister Natalia Jaresko, an American. Their appointments were cautiously viewed as indicators that the new government would go through with long-overdue economic reforms.

However, the changes to Ukraine's government remain largely cosmetic and oligarchs still maintain huge sway in its decisions.

As he announced his resignation, Abromavicius said Ukraine needed a total reset of power.

"We know how Ukraine ended up in the condition that it's in today. It's not just Yanukovych, it's the total lack of reform over 20 years," he said in a reference to ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

A group of 10 ambassadors, including those from the United States, Britain and Canada, expressed their disappointment at Abromavicius' resignation in an open letter.

"During the past year, Abromavicius and his professional team have made important strides -- implementing tough but necessary economic reforms to help stabilize Ukraine's economy, root out endemic corruption, bring Ukraine into compliance with its IMF program obligations, and promote more openness and transparency in government," the ambassadors wrote.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Abromavicius had delivered real reform results and made a difference in Ukraine on many fronts.

"Ukraine's stable, secure and prosperous future is going to require the sustained efforts of a broad and inclusive team going forward of dedicated professionals like him, who put the Ukrainian people's interest above their own," he said.

Abromavicius said that Igor Kononenko, a Poroshenko-ally in Ukraine's parliament, put pressure on the economy ministry to appoint his allies.

Kononenko told Ukrainian TV channel Espreso that Abromavicius' comments were false and his resignation "emotional."

Ukraine's anti-corruption bureau said they would investigate Abromavicius' accusations against Kononenko.

Abromavicius' predecessor, Pavlo Sheremeta, resigned after spending under a year in office over frustrations with the slow pace of reforms.

(Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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