MOSCOW — The Ukrainian government plunged into another round of turmoil over foreign aid and anti-corruption policy when the director of the nation’s central bank resigned this week, citing political pressure in violation of International Monetary Fund guidelines.
President Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian, won his office last year on promises to fight corruption. But his star has dimmed in recent months as high-level officials have quit or been fired, many accusing him of backsliding and insider dealing.
Still, the I.M.F. approved an emergency $5 billion, 18-month lending program for Ukraine last month, in part to help the country overcome the coronavirus crisis. In a statement, the fund noted three times that it expected Ukraine to maintain the independence of its central bank.
That independence is one safeguard preventing politically connected oligarchs from siphoning off aid. During a previous I.M.F. lending program, for example, the Ukrainian government bailed out a bank co-owned by a former business partner of Mr. Zelensky, a banking and media tycoon named Ihor Kolomoisky. The episode cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
The fund transferred the first, $2.1 billion installment of the new loan to Ukraine on June 12. Just under three weeks into the 18-month agreement, on Wednesday, the central bank director, Yakiv Smoliy, resigned, saying political pressure on the central bank had become intolerable. Mr. Smoliy, in his resignation letter, did not specify exactly how he had been pressured, or by whom.
In his resignation letter to Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Smoliy cited “systematic political pressure.” He wrote that, “I seek to warn against other attempts to undermine the institutional foundations of the Central Bank of Ukraine.”
The I.M.F. issued a statement on Thursday saying, again, that “the independence of the National Bank of Ukraine is at the center of Ukraine’s fund-supported program.”
In a joint statement, Western ambassadors in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, warned of undercutting the central bank’s independence. “To undermine this crucial institution would be a big step back and jeopardize the credibility of and support for Ukraine’s reforms,” the statement said.
Mr. Zelensky’s office issued a statement saying that “ensuring the independence of the National Bank of Ukraine remains our unconditional priority” but offering no explanation for Mr. Smoliy’s abrupt resignation.
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Vinnytsia, Ukraine.
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