Ukraine wins support at U.N. and IMF

Tymoshenko to run for president in May

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KIEV, Ukraine -- Yulia Tymoshenko, who for a decade has made Ukrainian politics an impassioned melodrama, said Thursday that she would run for president in the May 25 election.

The former prime minister, who was freed from prison a month ago and released from the hospital a week ago, is facing what may be her last opportunity to reclaim the affection of Ukrainians that she squandered after the Orange Revolution of 2004 thrust her into a position of power.

On a day when Ukraine reached an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that will bring the country as much as $18 billion in loans as well as a day when the U.N. General Assembly voted 100-11 in favor of a nonbinding resolution declaring Russia's annexation of Crimea illegitimate -- Ms. Tymoshenko asked for another chance.

A new poll suggests that it's a slim one.

She has always been a bundle of contradictions. But that hasn't necessarily been a handicap in Ukraine.

She was the chief nemesis of ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych, who ensured that she spent most of his presidency incarcerated. Yet she has tended to get along well with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Yanukovych's sponsor. She made her fortune in the natural gas business. She met her downfall over a natural gas deal with Russia, which Mr. Yanukovych said was too generous to Moscow.

Mr. Putin said last year that Ms. Tymoshenko should be released from prison, where she had been sent for "abuse of office."

On Thursday, she said, "I consider Vladimir Putin to be Ukraine's enemy number one."

That, of course, comes after Russia's takeover of Crimea and Mr. Putin's threats against the rest of Ukraine.

Ms. Tymoshenko, who is from the eastern, Russian-speaking city of Dnepropetrovsk, portrays herself as a Ukrainian heroine, with her unmistakable blond braid wrapped around her head like a loaf of artisanal bread.

If she is to make headway in the eight weeks before the election, she has to overcome two rivals: Petro Poroshenko, the "chocolate king" of Ukraine, and Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing champion turned politician.

The IMF deal, to extend over two years, is part of a far-reaching effort to keep Ukraine from plunging into default and steady the country as it attempts to build democratic institutions.

Politicians in Washington are also trying to do the same thing. The House and the Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve a $1 billion aid package for Ukraine, but Congress' near unanimity on its modest package of aid and sanctions on Russia masked deep divisions on what the government should do next to confront Mr. Putin.

The bills, which were nearly identical, passed by 399-19 in the House and by 98-2 in the Senate. President Barack Obama has said he will sign the legislation, which includes new sanctions against Russians and Ukrainians who provided support to Russia in its annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.

The money from the IMF comes with stringent conditions. Ukraine is facing a period of sharp cutbacks in social spending. The interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said Thursday that the government expects the gross domestic product to decline 3 percent with the new package of loans and reforms. He said it would decline 10 percent without it.

At a news conference in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, President Barack Obama called the IMF agreement "a major step forward."

The country is unable to borrow money on private markets, raising the risk of default when foreign debt payments fall due in the coming year.

Meanwhile in New York, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution declaring that Crimea's vote to secede from Ukraine was not valid. Azerbaijan, also a former Soviet republic, voted with Ukraine. Kazakhstan abstained, as did China and 56 other nations.

Ukraine and its backers won support from little more than half the members of the U.N. General Assembly to declare invalid Crimea's referendum to secede, as Russia wielded diplomatic and economic pressure for members to abstain or cast no ballot.

The 193-member General Assembly voted 100-11 to pass a nonbinding resolution describing the Crimean referendum as "having no validity" and calling on all states and agencies to not recognize "any alteration of the status" of Crimea. While the resolution makes no mention of Russia for its invasion or annexation of the peninsula, the 46 sponsors sought to win a clear majority as a symbol of the country's isolation from the international community. Instead, many members averted a commitment after aggressive lobbying by Russia.

The New York Times contributed.

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