WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukraine's new prime minister vowed Thursday to root out corruption and urged Russia to abide by a peace agreement meant to end a two-year conflict between Moscow-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces.
Volodymyr Groysman spoke to The Associated Press in an interview one day after meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and other U.S. officials. Biden announced that the Obama administration, a staunch supporter of Ukraine, was pledging $220 million in assistance this year to help the former Soviet nation implement reforms.
Change has been slow in the two years since the previous Ukrainian government fell amid pro-Western protests. Ukraine has been shaken by Russia's annexation of Crimea and lost more than 9,300 people in fighting with the separatists in the eastern part of the country. But critics say domestic changes also have stalled amid political infighting and say corruption remains a major problem.
In the interview, Groysman dismissed the criticism and blamed Russia for most of Ukraine's ills.
"Ukraine is a victim of aggression from the Russian Federation," said the 38-year-old Groysman, whose past experience includes serving as mayor of a provincial city and being parliament speaker.
Groysman said he was working to deregulate the economy, make the judicial branch more independent, increase good governance and transparency, and privatize state enterprises. "We must target not only those who are corrupt, but also the system so that new corruption does not replace old corruption," he said.
Groysman said he was hopeful that in the near term, Ukraine would receive the next $1.7 billion loan installment from the International Monetary Fund as part of a $17 billion bailout package.
Groysman accused Russia of violating a shaky cease-fire under a peace accord negotiated in 2015 by Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany. Groysman said Russia must ensure that all the weapons in eastern Ukraine are pulled back and that fighting stops completely before Ukraine passes the necessary legislation to hold an election in the separatist-held areas, as stipulated by the accord.
"Normalization of the Donbass now fully depends on decisions made by the Russian Federation," Groysman said, referring to the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.
Moscow denies it is backing the rebels in Ukraine and says Kiev must first hold the vote in order to advance the peace process.