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Ukraine offered $18 billion in aid

Tymoshenko

– The world rushed Thursday to help Ukraine, with the International Monetary Fund pledging up to $18 billion in loans, the U.N. condemning the vote that drove Crimea into Russian hands and the U.S. Congress backing even harsher sanctions against Russia.

Meanwhile, Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the country’s most divisive figures, said she would run for president – a move sure to effect Ukraine’s turbulent politics.

“The time has come to tell the truth, to do difficult and unpopular things,” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in a passionate address to parliament in Kiev, adding that Ukraine was short $25.8 billion – “equivalent to the entire state budget for this year.”

The IMF loan, expected to be between $14 billion and $18 billion, hinges on structural reforms that Ukraine has pledged.

Ukraine’s new government finds itself caught between the demands of international creditors and a restive population that has endured decades of economic stagnation, corruption and mismanagement.

The reforms demanded by the IMF – which include raising taxes, freezing the minimum wage and hiking energy prices – will hit households hard and are likely to strain the interim government’s tenuous hold on power.

Other donors, including the European Union and Japan, have already pledged further aid to Ukraine, conditional on the IMF bailout and reform package. The total amount of international assistance will be about $27 billion over the next two years.

Separately, the 28-nation EU has prepared a wider aid package including loans and grants for Ukraine expected to total more than $10 billion over coming years.

In Washington, Congress overwhelmingly backed legislation in the House and Senate to aid cash-strapped Ukraine and punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea.

Meanwhile, in a sweeping rebuke of Moscow, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly affirmed Ukraine’s territorial integrity and deemed the referendum that led to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula illegal. The vote was 100 in favor, 11 opposed and 58 abstentions.

Russia shrugged off the torrent of criticism, announcing it would set up its own payment system to rival Visa and MasterCard after the two companies pulled their services from some Russian banks in the wake of international sanctions.

Tymoshenko, released from prison last month after the overthrow of her fierce rival Yanukovych, is variously admired as an icon of democracy or detested as a self-promoting manipulator.

This will be the 53-year-old Tymoshenko’s second attempt to win the presidency. She narrowly lost to Yanukovych in 2010 and spent two years in jail on charges that many in the West considered politically motivated.

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