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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kiev Vote 'Major Step' to Reform

The Ukrainian parliament has approved President Leonid Kuchma's radical economic reform program in a major step toward unlocking billions of dollars in foreign aid to help revive the former Soviet republic's basketcase economy.

Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz described the vote, held late Wednesday, as "a major step forward which will result in big changes in Ukraine."

Presidential advisers, however, warned that Kuchma may still face difficulties implementing reforms now agreed on paper.

"It's a positive step, but all is going to depend on how quickly the president's team can implement" the reforms, said Alexander Karpov, adviser on regional relations.

The program calls for sharp reductions in state subsidies to the agricultural and industrial sector to help reduce Ukraine's unwieldy 20 percent budget deficit by half. Prices and taxation are to be liberalized, though Kuchma has promised that social welfare programs will be introduced to protect the poor.

One of the most controversial points in the program is private land ownership. Moroz has in the past described private land ownership as "a crime" and said that he was personally opposed to its introduction in Ukraine.

The program also pledges Ukraine to a comprehensive program of privatization, but the Ukrainian parliament has not yet lifted a moratorium it imposed on privatization in July.

Kuchma must now issue a series of presidential decrees to implement the program. Advisers say the decrees are expected to include measures liberalizing prices on oil, gas and bread, and unifying the currency rate so that the market rate of exchange for Ukraine's currency, the karbovanets, becomes official.

The decrees are not subject to parliament's approval, but parliament is capable of blocking them at any stage.

Bohdan Boiko, member of the Rukh opposition movement, said that the fact the parliament has passed the general program "doesn't necessarily mean the realization of the economic program of the president."

Parliament's backing is crucial for Kuchma, who is angling for foreign cash to support his policies.

Next Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund will hold an important vote to release the first half of a $700 million loan promised to Ukraine. The IMF has said that the money will only be released with proof reforms are in place.

The funds pledged by the IMF will be given to Ukraine's national bank and in theory could be used to stabilize Ukraine's currency during the turbulent period of economic transition, according to international monetary sources.

If issued soon, the presidential decrees, with the vote of approval for reform from the parliament, will be positive signals for Western donor countries. Combined, they have pledged a total of $4 billion in aid to Ukraine but have so far hesitated to release the funds.

Kuchma is due to attend a meeting of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations in Canada next Thursday to discuss Ukraine. If his plans proceed smoothly, he may be greeted as the president of a reform-oriented state instead of the leader of the laggard among former soviet republics.