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Ukraine Changes Premiers But Problems Remain

  • Jan de Weydenthal

Prague, May 28 (RFE/RL) -- Pavlo Lazarenko has today become Ukraine's new Prime Minister, the sixth since the country gained independence five years ago.

Lazarenko was appointed by President Leonid Kuchma to replace Yevhen Marchuk, who had yesterday been blamed for Ukraine's economic problems and summarily ousted.

Kuchma charged in a dismissal statement that Marchuk had failed to do "stable and efficient work as head of the government." He also said Marchuk "concentrated his time on building an independent political image," rather than on dealing with the country's economic problems.

The ouster follows a long political feud between the two politicians. Kuchma has long questioned Marchuk's loyalty, suspecting him of harboring political ambitions. Public opinion polls have repeatedly showed that Marchuk was seen as a popular politician and potential presidential contender.

The feud became particularly acute last week, when Marchuk came out against Kuchma's call for a referendum on a draft constitution. Ukraine is the only former Soviet republic which has not yet adopted a new constitution. The adoption of the charter has been Kuchma's political priority.

But the straw that broke the camel's back appears to have been Marchuk's last week meeting behind closed doors with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. This prompted speculation that Marchuk might have been striking some sort of political deals with Moscow behind Kuchma's back.

Marchuk is still a member of parliament, and he may try to build his political base from there. He might now even challenge Kuchma openly.

Lazarenko, on the other hand, is known to be a close and loyal ally to Kuchma. He once served as the governor of the Dniepropetrovsk region, Kuchma's home political base.

Until yesterday, Lazarenko was First Deputy Prime Minister in Marchuk's cabinet. He dealt with energy questions, and was involved in negotiations with Russia over gas supplies. It is assumed that he will follow Kuchma's directives without any protest or opposition. At least for now.

Whether this change in the government's leadership alone will contribute to the improvement in Ukraine's economic performance and the enhancement of political stability is indeed uncertain.

Last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) halted loans to Ukraine, citing poor management and meager progress in the move toward a market economy. But the situation has recently improved somewhat.

Last month, the IMF reversed its stand and granted Ukraine a major stand-by loan. Its disbursement has been made conditional on monthly checks of the country's economic performance.

The change in the composition of the government is unlikely to affect that decision. But neither is there any assurance that the Lazarenko-led government would assure a more efficient management that the one maintained by Marchuk.

Yesterday, Viktor Semyonov, the mayor of Sebastopol, told reporters that "considering Ukraine's economic situation, being appointed prime minister is not a reward."

And there is a vexing lack of clarity in the allocation of political responsibilities within the government itself, and between the government and the parliament. In the absence of a constitution, respective positions and responsibilities of all these institutions remain dangerously vague.

That alone provides a ready-made prescription for continuing feuds and conflicts, endangering the political stability and making effective decisions difficult.