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23rd Feb 2020

EU may cancel top-level Ukraine meeting after Tymoshenko verdict

  • Yanukovych, who has hired US public relations advisors, on a previous EU visit with Van Rompuy (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU may un-invite Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from an upcoming trip to Brussels after the jailing for seven years of political rival Yulia Tymoshenko.

A senior EU source said the diplomatic snub "cannot be excluded" after a Ukrainian court on Tuesday (11 October) sentenced the former prime minister to prison, a $188 million fine and to be ineligible to run in upcoming elections. The judge - believed by EU institutions to take orders from the president - said she "exceeded her powers" in signing a gas contract with Russia in 2009.

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The 27 EU countries in a formal statement added that plans to initial an EU-Ukraine trade and association pact in December are in jeopardy.

"The way the Ukrainian authorities will generally respect universal values and rule of law, and specifically how they will handle these cases, risks having profound implications for the EU-Ukraine bilateral relationship, including for the conclusion of the Association Agreement," they said.

Yanukovych is due to come to Brussels to meet with European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy on 20 October to discuss outstanding details of the treaty.

He will have a chance to repair damage on 18 October, when the Ukrainian parliament considers changing the law to decriminalise the charges against Tymoshenko. If the Verkhovna Rada passes the legal amendments, Yanukovych could sign them into life the same day or up to 15 days later, letting Tymoshenko walk free.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry could not immediately be reached for comment. But foreign minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko is in the EU capital on Tuesday to give his side of the story. A Ukrainian diplomat told EUobserver last week the court is independent and Yanukovych is trying to set a precedent that no one is above the law.

Meanwhile, Tymoshenko allies are to launch an appeal against the Pecherskiy district court verdict in the coming days. They can also appeal at a higher court down the line if the first appeal is thrown out.

Her former deputy prime minister Hyorhiy Nemyria told this website from Kiev on Tuesday the EU should give Yanukovuch an ultimatum.

"[They] need to make clear there can be no signing of the [association] agreement unless the situation is remedied. I would say it's time to give a clear deadline [for him to free Tymoshenko], not just to say again that we expect this or that," he said.

He added that Brussels should set wheels in motion to impose travel bans and asset freezes on anti-Tymoshenko prosecutors on the model of Belarus in order drive the message home: "He [Yanukovych] doesn't understand diplomatic niceties. But when he sees that sanctions are being applied against his subordinates and he becomes aware that he could also be punished for this political trial - this is action he would understand."

The sanctions idea was dismissed as unrealistic by EU sources.

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