IMF to help Ukraine with up to $18 billion bailout

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Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, speaks to lawmakers during a session at the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, March. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, speaks to lawmakers during a session at the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, March. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Members of the Crimean self defense forces gather for their morning briefing prior to patrolling the city at Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin’s statue in Simferopol, Crimea, early Thursday, March 27, 2014. Crimea’s government has decided to disband self-defense forces which provided help to the Russian military which have been occupying since late February. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk,center, looks on during a session at the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, March. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, speaks to lawmakers during a session at the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, March. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Members of the Crimean self defense forces gather for their morning briefing prior to a patrol duty near Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin’s statue in the background in Simferopol, Crimea, early Thursday, March 27, 2014. Crimea’s government has decided to disband self-defense forces which provided help to the Russian military which have been occupying since late February. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The world rushed to help Ukraine on Thursday, 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 approving even harsher sanctions against Russia.

Yet even with such intensive help to prop up Ukraine’s teetering economy, the prime minister warned of painful times ahead from the necessary economic reforms — and home energy prices were certain to rise quickly.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the country’s most polarizing figures, announced she would run for president in the May 25 vote — a move sure to usher in strong emotions in Ukraine’s turbulent politics.

President Barack Obama called the swell of international support a “concrete signal of how the world is united with Ukraine.”

“The decision to go forward with an IMF program is going to require a lot of courage,” Obama said, speaking in Rome. “It will require some tough decisions.”

Russia shrugged off the torrent of criticism directed at its annexation of Crimea. President Vladimir Putin’s government announced 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.

In a passionate address to parliament in Kiev, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk warned that Ukraine was “on the brink of economic and financial bankruptcy” and laid out the fixes needed to put the country back on track.

“The time has come to tell the truth, to do difficult and unpopular things,” Yatsenyuk said, adding that Ukraine was short $25.8 billion — “equivalent to the entire state budget for this year.”

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

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.

Ukraine, a nation of 46 million people, is battling to install a semblance of normalcy since President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February after months of protests ignited by his decision to back away from closer relations with the EU and turn toward Russia. Over the last few weeks, an interim government has formed, Ukraine lost Crimea to Russia and further possible military incursions by Russia are feared.

“This is a kamikaze government that perfectly well understands that there is no other way to stabilize Ukraine,” said Viktor Zamyatin, analyst with the Kiev-based Razumkov Center think tank. “The catastrophic state of Ukraine’s economy has forced the government’s hand.”

But he said it could pay a steep price.

“It is hard to explain to the voter that the worsening of the economy has happened not because of the revolution, but because of Viktor Yanukovych’s policies,” he said.

In Washington, Congress spoke with one voice against Russia’s annexation of Crimea, passing legislation in the House and Senate giving help to cash-strapped Ukraine and imposing sanctions against Russia.

The Senate approved the legislation by voice vote at the same time the House was passing a different version on a 399-19 vote. Lawmakers intended to get a final measure to the White House by day’s end.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the votes were “critical for President Putin to hear.”

“We are in a dangerous moment in history with global consequences and the world is watching,” he said.

Menendez said the Senate bill would provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to help stabilize Ukraine’s economy and would authorize assistance for democracy, governance and civil society programs and enhanced security cooperation. It also would provide support for the Ukrainian government to help recover assets linked to corruption by former Ukraine government officials.

Targeting Russia, the bill would freeze assets and revoke visas of Russian officials and their associates who are complicit in or responsible for significant corruption in Ukraine.

The measure also would sanction those who are responsible for human rights abuses against anti-government protesters and those responsible for undermining the peace and sovereignty of the Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning the referendum that led to the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula as illegal. The vote was 100 in favor, 11 opposed and 58 abstentions.

Tymoshenko, who was released from jail last month following the overthrow of her fierce rival Yanukovych, is variously

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