Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has warned that international donors cannot dictate laws to the country, amid a stand-off over demands for Kyiv to set up an independent anti-corruption court that has delayed vital financing.
“If anybody can imagine that foreign donors will form Ukrainian courts, this is against the constitution,” Mr Poroshenko said in an interview with the Financial Times.
He pointed to a breakthrough on Thursday as parliament passed his own, different bill on the anti-corruption court at first reading. Parliament could discuss amendments to the bill, he said: “I am absolutely happy if all our partners can . . . exchange arguments and find a definite compromise.”
The president said he was ready to sign an amended bill into law if it complied with Ukraine’s constitution. “I hate the idea that the very next day, anyone [could] go to the constitutional court and suspend or stop this law,” he said. “That would be a catastrophe.”
The court dispute, and Ukraine’s failure to make a further increase in once heavily subsidized household gas prices, have delayed the next, $1.9bn, tranche of IMF support.
Ahead of the elections set to be held in 2019, Ukraine remains particularly vulnerable to a populist surge, which could torpedo further reforms.
Read alsoUkrainian households reduce gas consumption by 6% in 2017Some Ukrainian officials are privately warning the IMF not to push the Kyiv government too hard on politically unpopular issues such as the gas price rises.
In a late-evening interview, Mr Poroshenko insisted that reforms were continuing despite approaching elections, citing sweeping healthcare, education and pension shake-ups.
The president also pointed to overhauls of the military and security services, creation of an independent anti-corruption investigative agency and an online procurement system that has saved billions of dollars.
Read alsoUPDATED: Ukraine's bill on anti-corruption court passes its first reading“We did reform not for the IMF, but for the Ukrainian people and the future of my state,” Mr Poroshenko said. “And I am proud that the IMF said that we’ve done more reform in the three years of my presidency than in the previous 25 years.”
But he acknowledged that many Ukrainians, facing higher prices owing to devaluation of the national currency and previous IMF-mandated gas price increases, were not feeling the effects of reforms.
“If the people want populists, if they want to have a Venezuelan-style economy, they should not vote for me,” he said. The government had a duty to act responsibly, he added.
Mr Poroshenko said that to maintain the lofty ratings he enjoyed when he was elected, he would have “needed not to have a war, and to be a populist”.“[But] I said frankly to the people, OK, we’re going to do a painful reform, which is what’s happened.”
Read alsoSenior prosecutor says no way Ukraine's new Anti-Corruption Court to launch work this yearThe president said he had not decided whether to run again in next March’s ballot, though expectations are widespread that he will. “I promise you I will make a responsible choice. I won’t allow anybody to destroy what my team and I and, mainly, the Ukrainian people [have] changed over the last four years,” he said.