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20th Aug 2022

EU gives Ukraine a chance for u-turn on Tymoshenko

  • Ashton. The EU is trying to steer a middle way between exerting influence on Kiev without throwing four years of Association Agreement talks in the bin (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU institutions will continue to hold talks on a trade and association pact with Ukraine despite President Viktor Yanukovych's jailing of political rival Yulia Tymoshenko.

Foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton delivered the message in a statement to MEPs in Brussels on Wednesday (12 October), saying: "I believe the offer of concluding the association agreement should remain on the table."

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"I believe we shouldn't walk away from the technical negotiations but continue with the aim of having before us on the table a document which makes it clear to both sides what is possible and also what could be lost."

She noted that Yanukovych has the chance to undo some damage by signing into life a draft bill on decriminalising the charges against Tymoshenko on 18 October ahead of his planned visit to Brussels on 20 October. "I was interested to see that President Yanukovych has expressed unhappiness with the criminal code in Ukraine and recognises the need for change," Ashton said.

An EU source earlier indicated the 20 October visit could be cancelled if he does not take the step. For his part, Estonian President Hendrik Ilves on Wednesday punished Kiev by cancelling a meeting with foreign minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko in Tallinn.

EU capitals voiced anger on Tuesday after the court gave Tymoshenko a seven-year sentence for "exceeding her powers" as prime minister when she agreed a gas deal with Russia back in 2009. But the bloc is wary of playing into Russia's hands by halting integration with the former Soviet country.

Intimidation of Tymoshenko's allies continued in the run-up to Ashton's speech when police in Kiev on Wednesday raided the office and parents' house of pro-Tymoshenko MP Jevgeny Suslov.

Even if Tymoshenko goes free on the gas deal charges, the Yanukovych camp is preparing a second wave of attack to fine her $405 million that her old company, United Energy Systems of Ukraine, allegedly owes to the Russian defence ministry in a deal dating back some 14 years.

A pro-Tymoshenko MP who asked to remain anonymous said acting prosecutor general Renat Kuzmin has visited her former business partner, Pavel Lazarenko, in jail in the US on money laundering charges, to dig up dirt. Authorities last month in Kiev also arrested Isabella Kirichenko, the wife of ex-Tymoshenko associate Petro Kirichenko, to pressure him to hand over compromising materials. Isabella Kirichenko is in remittance from cancer and was visiting Ukraine from the US to sell an appartment.

Despite the public outcry, the Tymoshenko verdict came as no surprise to EU diplomats.

If Yanukovych decriminalises the charges while imposing heavy fines he might be able to have his cake and eat it. The end result could still see the EU initial the association pact in December while damaging Tymoshenko financially. The outcome could also give him a pretext to challenge the pricey Russia gas supply contract from 2009 at the Stockholm court of arbitration.

A source at the Stockholm tribunal told this website "it is as a matter of principle possible to use the conclusion and findings in the [Tymoshenko] trial in the arbitration proceedings" even if the charges are a posteriori changed from criminal ones to administrative ones.

The contact said Ukraine has not yet filed the gas case and is unlikely to do so until the Tymoshenko side lodges, and likely loses, its appeal in Kiev.

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