21st Sep 2023

Full text of Yulia Tymoshenko interview with EUobserver

  • Tymoshenko in court reading her iPad, while flanked by police officers (Photo: Ridge Consulting)

Q. It is normal judicial practice to punish somebody for the kind of behaviour that you displayed in court. So why are you complaining?

A. I did not stand before the judge as I do not recognise the legitimacy of this court as it does not adhere to the legal process. It would be inappropriate to recognise the court unless it follows due process. Basically I have not been allowed a proper defence. The judge has broken court procedure, Ukrainian law and international law on numerous occasions. He is merely following instructions from above.

My defence lawyers were not given sufficient time to familiarise themselves with 16 volumes of case materials. They asked for two months and got only two days. I have been denied the opportunity to question material witnesses. While the prosecution was allowed to present as many and all the witnesses they wanted, the judge allowed only two witnesses out of 32 requested by the defence. At one stage, the court even continued proceedings without me or my lawyers present in the courtroom.

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This is not justice. This is a lawless legality. I would not dream of showing the slightest disrespect to a genuine court, but this is a show trial where the verdict has been written in advance. For me to lend the slightest legitimacy to these proceedings would only serve the interests of a regime that holds the rule of law in contempt.

Q. On the 2009 gas deal. Why did you sign a take-or-pay contract which could potentially hand Ukraine's state-owned gas firm Naftogaz to Russian supplier Gazprom?

A. At the time of the gas dispute, people in EU countries were shivering as gas supplies were cut off. It was an intolerable situation, for Europe and Ukraine. The president showed no leadership in trying to resolve the dispute. Indeed, he was actively disruptive of a solution. I was left no option but to take the political lead on the behalf of the country and in order to preserve Ukraine’s good name in Europe.

The agreement for the first time established a direct contractual relationship between Naftogaz and Gazprom. At the time our gas infrastructure was close to collapse and would have been damaged if the standoff continued. The agreement got the gas flowing again, it delivered a healthy 20 percent discount on the prevailing European market price, the price Gazprom had been insisting that Ukraine pay, and it established a framework for future negotiations between the two state gas companies in accordance with contracts Gazprom has with other European states.

At no time was the state's ownership of Naftogaz put in question and at no time did I break the law in concluding the agreement. Indeed, this agreement ended the intolerable intrusion of the shadowy intermediary, RosUkrEnergo, from the gas trade between Ukraine and Russia.

Q. You say Yanukovych is an enemy of democracy. But he has implemented more pro-EU reforms than your government - how can you reconcile this?

A. Let's look at the facts. It was my government that launched the DCFTA [Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement] talks and made tremendous headway. Without that progress, an agreement would not be nearly as close as it is today. The government of [current Prime Minister] Azarov technically continued that process, that is all. Reforms were announced, but not implemented.

The evidence that Yanukovych is a threat to democracy is irrefutable. Parliament is a rubber stamp; the judiciary is under his control; the media faces censorship; the security services are used to intimidate and harass NGOs, academics and students, protesters, journalists and opposition figures. He ignored a clear constitutional provision in forming his government, and then decided to junk the constitution altogether so as to consolidate all power in the presidential office.

And I am not alone in saying that dictatorship is on the march here. Earlier this year [US NGO] Freedom House downgraded Ukraine from 'free' to 'partly free.' Last October Ukraine dropped 42 positions to 131st place in the Reporters Without Borders media freedoms index. The local elections last year were fixed and assessed by the international community as not complying with international standards. More recently [US think-tanks] the NDI and IRI withdrew from the committee advising on drafting a new election law. PACE's [the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe] recommendations on judicial reform were not implemented. At the risk of being boring, I could go on. But I think I have made my point.

Q. How important are the Association Agreement (AA) and DCFTA for Ukraine's future wellbeing?

A. The AA and DCFTA are important stepping stones that draw Ukraine closer towards Europe so they are hugely important to Ukraine's economic, social and political development. However, if the DCFTA is to stand for something more than a piece of paper governing bilateral trade, the EU and EU member countries need to ensure that Ukraine does not just espouse, but actively practices, European values and norms of behaviour. At the moment this is not the case.

Q. Do you think the EU should finalise them this year no matter what happens to you?

A. It would be a setback for Ukraine's European future if they were not finalised but policy makers will no doubt take full stock and ask themselves what kind of state would they be wedding themselves to? Interestingly, the EU has never concluded a deep free trade agreement with a non-democratic country. And for good reason, because if a government will not obey its own domestic laws and constitution, why should European governments have any faith that it will abide by its treaty obligations?

Q. Do you have any fears about your personal safety while in detention?

A. Of course I do. I am aware of the Stalinist saying that you get rid of the man, you get rid of the problem. There have been too many 'accidents' in the past like the supposed suicide of former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko who somehow seemed to have shot himself in the head twice.

But there is one advantage to being in a prison cell, one that Martin Luther King identified when he was jailed in Birmingham during the American civil rights movement. He said it was a time to 'think long thoughts and pray long prayers.'

I intend to fight for justice in my country and see it a free member of the European family. I have gone on record that suicide is not on my agenda. I will not be bowed. I will not be broken. I will never surrender. I intend to live to a ripe old age and see Ukraine as a respected member of the European Union. That is my dream.

Q. Do you think that Russia will try to sabotage the AA/DCFTA process and what kind of tricks do you think it could use?

A. Clearly, Russia would like to see Ukraine in its Customs Union but I cannot see that happening and you can't be in two Customs Unions at the same time. Ukraine's European choice has already been made. Ukraine's people will hold to account those who carelessly throw away their European aspirations in pursuit of their own narrow and nasty political interests.

The question now is whether Ukraine exhibits the European values, norms and standards of behaviour that make it a worthy partner? Ordinary Ukrainians do hold true to those values. That is the bedrock of my faith and why I will continue to stand against this regime.

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