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Western Leaders Urge Kyiv To Keep Pursuing Economic Reform

Ukrainian Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius said in a statement to reporters that he had "no wish to be a cover for open corruption or puppets under the control of those who want to establish control over state money in the style of the old authorities."

Western leaders have praised the reform efforts of a Ukrainian economy minister who resigned and called on Kyiv to keep pursuing the reforms he championed.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby lauded Aivaras Abromavicius on February 3 for implementing tough economic policies that delivered "real reform results for Ukraine," and urged Ukraine's leaders to press ahead with his anticorruption measures.

"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," Kirby said.

A group of Western envoys in Kyiv, including the U.S., German, and British ambassadors, said they were "deeply disappointed" by the resignation, and hoped reforms would continue.

The reforms have been tied to some $17 billion in loans Kyiv has received from the United States, European states, and the International Monetary Fund.

Lithuanian-born Abromavicius said he resigned on February 3 out of frustration that major reforms were being blocked, telling reporters in Kyiv that there was a “sharp escalation in efforts to block systemic and important reforms.”

He said that he had "no wish to be a cover for open corruption or puppets under the control of those who want to establish control over state money in the style of the old authorities."

He singled out Ihor Kononenko, a senior lawmaker close to President Petro Poroshenko, saying Kononenko had lobbied to get his people appointed to head state companies and at top government positions.

Kononenko rejected the allegations as "completely absurd" and accused Abromavicius of trying to shift the blame for his own failures atop the Economy Ministry.

Meanwhile, Poroshenko urged Abromavicius to stay at his post and push ahead with reforms. Poroshenko deputies insisted that they remain devoted to carrying out the reforms sought by western allies.

But there was no sign that the minister was reconsidering his decision to quit. Several of his deputies said they would leave as well following his announcement.

"I would like to make clear that each and every member of this cabinet for the last 14 months has been doing everything in their power and sometimes even more," Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a cabinet meeting.

Stillborn Reforms

Abromavicius, a 40-year-old former asset manager, was one of several foreigners appointed to official posts as part of Ukraine's attempts to pull the country away from its Soviet past, recover from Russia's seizure of Crimea, and kick-start a reform process.

His departure leaves two foreign-born ministers, U.S.-born Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko and Georgia-born Health Minister Aleksandr Kvitashvili.

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has since taken on Ukrainian citizenship, is governor of the Odesa region and has played an oversize public role in Ukrainian politics.

Abromavicius's resignation comes amid parliamentary anger with Yatsenyuk's government and infighting among political interests tied to powerful tycoons.

There has also been growing public discontent that the pro-Western government has not delivered on promises to stamp out corruption, raising the prospect of a ministerial reshuffle.

In a tweet upon news of the resignation, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt described Abromavicius as "one of [the] main reformers" and said, "Reforms must continue."

The government is "a fire and Yatsenyuk himself is in the ring of fire," political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko told Reuters news agency. He also suggested there is currently insufficient support in parliament for an alternative to Yatsenyuk.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's eurobonds slumped on the news of Abromavicius's resignation over concern among investors that Kyiv's commitment to implement reforms might fade, threatening to derail a $40 billion aid-for-reforms deal championed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), United States, and European Union.

Initial government estimates show Ukraine's economy shrinking by more than 10 percent last year.

The country has struggled economically since pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in a popular revolt in February 2014.

His departure was followed by Russia's occupation and annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and a conflict between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in the country's east that has killed more than 9,100 people.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, AP, TASS, and Bloomberg
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