Monday

20th Jan 2020

Russia and Ukraine make nice after EU snub

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has told Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych he can jail his political rivals as far as Moscow is concerned, after the EU made him persona non grata.

Speaking to press following talks on gas in Yanukovych's home town of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday (18 October), Medvedev said the decision to jail former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko last week is "Ukraine's internal affair."

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  • Medvedev (l) and Yanukovych: Russia made a show of respect for the EU-snubbed Ukrainian leader (Photo: kremlin.ru)

He voiced "respect" for Ukrainian "sovereignty" and its "independent" courts, while indicating that EU criticism of the verdict is bad manners. "I was taught at university to try not to comment on court rulings, whether Russian or foreign, until they take effect," he noted.

The Russian dignitary did warn his host not to question a gas supply contract agreed by Tymoshenko in 2009.

But following the Donetsk event, which also involved energy ministers and the CEOs of gas companies Naftogaz and Gazprom, officials from both sides said Moscow and Kiev are close to reaching a new deal on prices.

For his part, Yanukovych kept cool after the EU embarrassed him earlier the same day by saying he is not welcome in Brussels on 20 October, as previously planned, because of Tymoshenko. "We will always do everything that agrees with our national interests," he told press when asked if he is still open to future EU talks.

His deputy prime minister, Sergiy Tigipko, was more outspoken.

"If the European Union gives an absolutely clear No, the possibility of reorientation to the Customs Union is very high," he told the Den newspaper, referring to the Belarus-Kazakhstan-Russia alternative to EU integration.

The Tigipko scenario is a nightmare for the US and Poland, which have in recent years endeavoured to pull Ukraine out of Russia's old sphere of influence. But diplomats have no illusions about the complexity of the task.

"For the time being, the Ukrainian oligarchs have decided to bet on EU integration. They think they will get a bigger share of the cake here than in Russia. But if Russia comes along and makes them a better offer, this could change overnight," a senior EU diplomat stationed in Kiev told EUobserver.

A European Commission spokeswoman said on Tuesday the EU's Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy will not meet Yanukovych because he has violated the rule of law and because Brussels wants to set an example to other post-Soviet countries.

"Our relations with eastern partners are based on fundamental values," she explained.

She added that "technical" level talks on an EU-Ukraine trade and association agreement will continue despite the problem. A Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman said trade minister Andriy Kliuyev will come to the EU capital for negotiations on Wednesday.

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