- guardian.co.uk, Thursday 11 March 2010 15.35 GMT
Ukraine's new president, Viktor Yanukovych, today completed his takeover of power by forming a new government and appointing his close ally Mykola Azarov – a dour figure likened to Gordon Brown – as prime minister.
In the final nail in the coffin of the Orange Revolution, Ukraine's parliament voted for a new coalition led by Yanukovych's pro-presidential bloc, the Party of Regions. The vote followed the collapse last week of the coalition headed by Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine's Orange prime minister.
Today's vote in the finely balanced Rada or parliament follows a change in the law by Yanukovych on coalition formation – allowing deputies to support a coalition individually rather than as a political bloc. Yanukovych defeated Tymoshenko in February's presidential election.
Yanukovych's move ends the acrimonious standoff between president and prime minister that has characterised Ukraine's chaotic politics over the past five years, after Tymoshenko fell out with Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's former Orange president. Yanukovych and Azarov, by contrast, are close allies.
A figure-loving technocrat, Azarov is a former head of the tax inspectorate who served as finance minister from 2002-4. In January 2005 he briefly became prime minister; his only significant act was to give a generous retirement package to Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine's retiring president, including a 50% discount off his electricity bill.
"He's like Gordon Brown," one Ukrainian official noted today. "He's extremely boring and an anti-populist. He's not charismatic like Tony Blair or Yulia Tymoshenko. But that's what we need at the moment. The worst thing is to have a prime minister who treats issues like they are a political campaign."
Describing the state's finances as dire, Azarov said that Ukraine would meet all its obligations before the International Monetary Fund and push through a "realistic" 2010 budget. "The country has been plundered, the coffers are empty, state debt has risen threefold," Azarov said, pledging to restart talks with the IMF over a suspended $16.4bn bail-out package.
Azarov was born in Russia and is viewed as the most Russophile member of the new cabinet. Yanukovych unveiled other key members of his government todayand named Kostyantyn Khryshchenko, Ukraine's urbane English-speaking ambassador in Moscow, as the new foreign minister.
Former central bank chairman Sergey Tigipko, who came a strong third in the first-round presidential election on a reformist platform, is one of six deputy prime ministers.