Friday

3rd Feb 2023

EU divided on how to handle never-ending Tymoshenko trial

  • Pro-Tymoshenko protesters will resume work outside court on Tuesday (Photo: byut.com.ua)

EU countries are split into two camps on how to handle the Ukrainian government's persecution of its political enemies as former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko goes back to court on Tuesday (11 October).

Lithuanian foreign minister Audronius Azubalis at an EU meeting in Luxembourg on Monday spoke out for one side, which also includes Poland and other former Communist nations, who believe geopolitical strategy outweighs concerns over democratic standards.

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"We think this agreement should be signed as soon as possible ... We should move forward on bringing Ukraine into the Western hemisphere because we think our decision about the Association Agreement could change European geopolitics for decades to come," he said, referring to EU plans to finalise a landmark trade and political association pact with Ukraine at a summit in Kiev in December.

The other camp, which includes Germany, the Netherlands and the EU institutions in Brussels, are already taking the EU-Ukraine integration process backward to punish President Viktor Yanukovych for his authoritarian methods.

The Netherlands is reportedly trying to reopen negotiations on Association Agreement chapters that were earlier closed. The EU diplomatic service is planning to cancel an upcoming meeting between senior EU military officers and Ukrainian counterparts. And EU diplomats are raising fresh concerns about Tymoshenko allies, such as former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko, who is receiving poor medical care in prison for cirrhosis of the liver.

For its part, Russia is sending out the message that nobody should build closer relations with Ukraine because its entire political class is rotten.

At the same time, its embassy in Kiev is laying on caviar-and-vodka suppers for Yanukovych envoys in which it says the EU pact will cost them billions by flooding the country with tariff-free EU imports while seeing new tariffs imposed on exports to the Belarus-Kazakhstan-Russia Customs Union.

Meanwhile, seasoned observers of Ukrainian politics say Yanukovych and his oligarch friends do not ultimately care about EU integration.

"The ideal situation for them would be to get an EU free-trade deal and visa-free travel and to stay parked on the edge of the EU. They want to make money in Europe and to come and go more easily. But the last thing they want is the dysfunctional bureaucracy in Brussels getting more control over the way they run the country," a Western businessman living in Kiev for 15 years told EUobserver at an investment fair in Yalta last week.

Tymoshenko was woken up at 5am Kiev time in her jail cell on Tuesday and will spend all day in police vans and in court in a repetition of events that have been going on for the past two and a half months.

One of her loyalists, MP Sergiy Pashynskyi, told this website Yanukovych has not yet decided how to instruct the judge and that the final decision is unlikely to come this week.

One probable scenario is she will sooner-or-later get a seven year jail sentence for signing an allegedly illegal gas deal with Russia in 2009. But the verdict would open a new chapter in the affair rather than ending it. Her lawyers say they would appeal the ruling, lose the appeal, appeal again at a higher court and lose again.

At the same time, parliament is already reading a bill to change Ukrainian law to void articles 364 and 365 - the basis of her prosecution - in a move which could let her go free and run in next year's elections. But Yanukovych is expected to let her walk only if she pays fines of around $600 million, in order to save face in front of his hardman business partners and weaken her political machine.

EU sources say the union would most likely accept this scenario and ink the trade and association pact at the December summit. But if Yanukovych takes a harder line, all bets are off.

Asked by EUobserver if top EU officials Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy would be happy to shake hands with Yanukovych at the December meeting while Tymoshenko remains locked up, the EU ambassador to Ukraine, Jose Manuel Pinto-Texeira, said: "We should still be optimistic that the summit will take place."

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