Ukraine PM Yatsenyuk: We're nothing like Greece

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is grappling with an effort to restructure his country's upcoming debt payments and keeping one eye on the other country caught in a similar—but far more clamorous—process elsewhere on the fringes of Europe: Greece.

Ukraine PM: Delivered everything we promised to the IMF
Ukraine PM: Delivered everything we promised to the IMF

And Yatsenyuk, who was in Washington to meet with President Barack Obama and American corporate leaders Monday, is not impressed by what he sees of the Greek process. The Greeks, he said in an interview with CNBC, should never have put their debt negotiations up for a national referendum.

"Look, it's unacceptable to play this kind of brinkmanship game, and for example to put the responsibility, not on the politicians and on the political elite, but to derail it from politicians to the people like (the) Greeks did in the referendum," Yatsenyuk said in an interview conducted in a conference room of Washington's Willard Hotel. "If you are a strong leader, if you are a statehood person, you need to undertake bold and strong and decisive actions."

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Yatsenyuk, who was appointed to office by Ukraine's president in the wake of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, is a national leader caught between titanic forces at either end of his country. To the east, Ukraine is struggling to contain Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Russian separatists fighting inside Ukraine, and to the west, it faces financial creditors demanding that Ukraine pay what it owes on the country's national debts.

Ukrainian officials were scheduled to meet with creditors in Washington this week, and Yatsenyuk's mission was to rally American businesses to step up their investments in his country.

His message: The fighting in the east—while having killed thousands—does not affect business prospects in the large, Eastern European nation. The government controls 93 percent of Ukraine, he said. "We managed to contain (the) Russian military and preserve peace and stability in the rest of the country. Just go to Kiev … the life is stable, so we are doing everything possible to secure the situation."

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk speaks at the first U.S.-Ukraine Business Forum, co-hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Commerce, July 13, 2015, in Washington.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Yatsenyuk said he met with executives from Cargill, Westinghouse and a number of energy companies during his visit to Washington. But he added that many companies don't know what to expect from his country.

"For some Americans investors, it's like a terra incognita—what they see, what kind of footage they see in the international media due to the conflict with the Russians," Yatsenyuk said. "This is not the best, I would say, signal for private investors to invest into Ukraine."

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Still, he cited "progress" in talks with Ukrainian bond holders, and he drew a distinction between what is going on in Ukraine with what he saw of the negotiations in Greece.

"It's entirely different cases," Yatsenyuk said. "Because we are making our job. And we do not blackmail anyone. We do understand that the world is to support Ukraine only ... if we support ourselves, if we show the real progress on the reform agenda. So it's up to us."