Devoted Yanukovich ally is new PM

KIEV: Mykola Azarov, appointed today as Ukraine’s new prime minister, is a faithful servant of President Viktor Yanukovich and untroubled by his image as a grey bureaucrat fond of number-crunching.

Born in Russia and resident in Ukraine only since the 1980s, Azarov has been mercilessly mocked by Yanukovich’s more nationalist foes for his inability to speak Ukrainian and his readiness to swear in public.

But Yanukovich’s supporters point to Azarov’s wide economic experience that has seen him serve as head of the tax service and also as finance minister when Yanukovich was prime minister. As a sign of the huge trust Yanukovich invests in Azarov, he headed the election campaign that helped the new president defeat his sworn rival Yulia Tymoshenko in February 7 polls. White-haired, bespectacled and rarely seen out of a suit, Azarov could hardly be a greater contrast to his glamorous predecessor Tymoshenko who was known for her designer dresses and iconic golden hair braid.

“Azarov is more a bureaucrat than a politician. He can be described as the classic accountant,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, director of the Penta centre for political research.

Seemingly devoid of ambitions to rise any higher up the political tree, Azarov is expected to fulfill orders and make no attempt to challenge the president — possibly a relief for a country tired of political infighting.

It was as finance minister that an exasperated Azarov notoriously told deputies in parliament who were criticising his draft budget to “piss off”, an unguarded comment not forgotten in Ukraine.

If confirmed as prime minister, he will be playing a prominent role in delicate talks to secure further tranches of a standby credit from the International Monetary Fund to rescue Ukraine from economic crisis.

Azarov, 62, was born in the Russian city of Kaluga outside Moscow and was educated as a geologist at the prestigious Moscow State University.

He moved to Ukraine when it was still part of the Soviet Union in 1984 to head a geological research institute. In 1994 he was elected an MP in a newly independent Ukraine and became head of parliament’s budget commission.

Subsequently he worked as head of the tax service from 1996 to 2002.