Yatseniuk, 39, who stepped in as interim prime minister last month
after Viktor Yanukovich and his ministers fled the "Euromaidan"
protests, conceded that it would be very difficult "under the
current Russian presence" to undo what he described as Russia's
"international crime" in seizing Crimea.
But he said Ukraine would never recognise the Russian takeover in
exchange for re-establishing good relations.
"I want to be perfectly clear. We will never recognise the
annexation of Crimea ... The time will come when Ukraine will take
over control of Crimea," he said, speaking in English, seated in his
cavernous, Soviet-built government headquarters beneath the blue and
yellow Ukrainian flag.
He has called himself the leader of a "kamikaze" government, doomed
by unpopular austerity measures it must take, but he said Ukraine
would stick to the measures, which include doubling gas prices for
domestic consumers from May 1 and holding down state pensions and
salaries against a background of a 3 percent contraction of the
economy and double-digit inflation.
IMF support — a $14 billion to $18 billion financial lifeline in return for
tough economic reforms — would be a "tremendous step forward", he
"We will regain trust and credibility from foreign investors. This
is the roadmap for Ukraine," he added.
The Kiev government has said that without the IMF-mandated austerity
measures, the economy could shrink by up to 10 percent this year.
Yatseniuk, a former economy minister, lawyer, and economist by
education, has often been regarded as too aloof and intellectual to
be a contender for high office in Ukraine, which he told the Kyiv
Post newspaper in December 2012 was "because I'm bald and wear
Like most of the former opposition leaders, he had difficulty
connecting with the thousands of angry Ukrainians massed on Kiev's
Independence Square — the Maidan — during the three months of
protests that finally toppled Yanukovich.
But he is also working hard to improve his image at home, especially
by reaching out to the Russian-speaking population, which is
concentrated in the east and south of the country and seen as
fertile ground for Russian troublemakers to foment unrest against
the Kiev government.
Commentators say he also impressed Western leaders during visits to
Washington and Brussels last month with his clear-sightedness.
When asked about the support Kiev was getting from the West in
dealing with Russia after the Crimean annexation, he replied. "Is
the world ready for World War III? I am absolutely sure it is not
[to top of second column]
He said that though Western sanctions against Russia, which were
limited to targeted travel and financial restrictions against a list
of individuals and a few businesses, were understandable, they had
allowed Russia to apply stronger pressure.
This took the form of trade pressure as well as incitement of unrest
among the Russian-speaking population to undermine and destabilize
the central government.
Referring to Moscow's move on Thursday to
raise the gas price for Ukraine for a second time in a week,
Yatseniuk said: "There is no reason why Russia would raise the gas
price for Ukraine ... other than one — politics. We expect Russia to
go further in terms of pressure on the gas front, including limiting
gas supplies to Ukraine.
"They press, press, press," he said.
The subtext of Russia's message to Ukraine's Russian-speaking
population, he said, was that they would enjoy higher living
standards in Russia, with higher wages and better pensions and
without the austerity that the Kiev government was now offering.
"They're saying: if you go to Russia, you'll be happy, smiling, and
not living in a Western hell," he said.
"They (the Russians) are trying to compensate (for the Western
sanctions). But we can pay the price of independence," he said, with
financial support from the West.
Yatseniuk portrayed Moscow's annexation of Crimea as part of a wider
plan by Russian President Vladimir Putin to re-impose control over
states that had once fallen under the control of the Soviet Union.
He said the seizure of Crimea, along with Russia's war with another
ex-Soviet republic, Georgia, in 2008, was part of this wider plan.
He recalled Putin's comment in 2005 that the biggest geopolitical
disaster of the last century was the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"My quote is this," he said. "The biggest disaster of this century
would be the resurrection of the Soviet Union. This is his idea.
This is his goal."
(Writing by Richard Balmforth; editing by Will Waterman)
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