Ukraine crisis: PM gets US support and pushback on aid package

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk met top US lawmakers and administration officials Thursday to galvanize support for a billion-dollar aid package that is facing headwinds in some quarters of Congress.

Having secured President Barack Obama's backing a day earlier at the White House, Yatsenyuk met with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to discuss the US$1 billion (S$1.26 billion) in loan guarantees for Ukraine that are widely supported in Congress, as well as IMF reforms seen as a controversial part of the aid package.

The reforms were agreed to in 2010, but the United States - the largest stakeholder in the IMF - has so far refused to approve them, essentially blocking them from taking effect.

Yatsenyuk and Lew "agreed that securing passage of IMF quota legislation is needed to maximize the international community's support to Ukraine," Lew's office said in a statement.

The reforms would change the International Monetary Fund's lending policies, expanding US power in the body and increasing the amount it could lend out - which could increase Ukraine's immediate access to lending by 60 percent.

On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed an aid package for Ukraine that, in addition to loan guarantees and economic sanctions on Ukrainian and Russian officials, included the IMF reforms.

But Republicans have complained the IMF changes, which would require shifting US funds held at the fund, would cost an estimated US$315 million.

The House of Representatives last week passed legislation greenlighting only the loan guarantees.

House Speaker John Boehner opposes including the IMF element in the aid, and reiterated his position Thursday after meeting with Yatsenyuk.

He said he understands the administration wants the IMF reforms, "but it has nothing at all to do with Ukraine," he said.

Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi also met Yatsenyuk and said she personally conveyed her desire to see the IMF reforms approved.

"It's my hope that that would be in the final comprehensive financial package," she told reporters.

The delay means Congress will not pass Ukraine aid or sanctions legislation before Secretary of State John Kerry meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ahead of Sunday's controversial referendum on whether Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula should revert to Russia.