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9th Dec 2023

EU parliament chief puts trust in Ukrainian PM

  • Azarov (l) and Schulz - the two men invented the Tymoshenko deal without consulting EU diplomats (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

EU-Ukraine diplomacy reached new heights of confusion during a visit by Prime Minister Mykola Azarov to Brussels on Tuesday (15 May) and Wednesday.

A few days before he came, EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy had told him on the Euronews TV channel to "stay home." German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a speech to the Bundestag accused his boss, President Viktor Yanukovych, of running a Belarus-type "dictatorship."

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Azarov came anyway.

He held at least six meetings in which he repeated the line that Ukraine's jailing of opposition leaders is in the interest of establishing law and order.

Time and again, he had the line thrown back in his face.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton told press: "If you have all these international organisations saying that your judicial system is not of the quality it should be then you need to address that."

Socialist MEPs, whose group is supposed to be friends with Azarov's Party of Regions, told him they are "unconvinced" and that Ukraine should free "political prisoners."

Contacts indicate that his meeting with neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele and Danish foreign minister Villy Sovndal at one point saw "serious shouting" and at another point "an awkward five-minute-long silence in which neither side knew what to say each other."

But the 62-year-old Azarov, who sarted his career in the Soviet coal industry in the times of Nikita Khrushchev, went on unfazed.

His tour of the EU capital ended in an impromptu deal with European Parliament chief Martin Schulz.

The two men - after talks described by Schulz as full of "a mutual trust I didn't expect" - decided that parliament will nominate a group of doctors to monitor the health of jailed former leader Yulia Tymoshenko, as well as a "highly-respected personality" to make sure her legal appeal is handled fairly.

The deal took everyone by surprise - it was made up on the spot and neither side knows how it will be implemented in practice. One MEP noted that a team of German doctors is already doing the same thing.

Ukrainian diplomats saw Azarov's visit as a personal mission to end a political stalemate which threatens to freeze EU integration for years, or for good if Russia takes advantage of the opportunity.

Meanwhile, EU institutions are at odds with each other on how to handle Kiev.

Even Ukraine-critical EU diplomats think Van Rompuy went too far with his Euronews insult. Some think that Merkel's jibe was made to win votes after she saw how much positive media coverage German President Joachim Gauck got for boycotting a summit in Yalta.

Ashton on Monday endorsed the European Commission's boycott of the Euro2012 games in Ukraine.

But some of her staff think it will make the EU look silly when it - inevitably - declines to boycott the 2014 winter Olympics in the equally repressive but more powerful Russia.

For her part, Olga Shumylo-Tapiola - an analyst at the Carnegie Europe institute whose work is closely followed by Ashton's advisors - believes the Yanukovych clan is a lost cause.

"The most effective step [to put pressure on Yanukovych] would be to scrutinise the financial and other assets of The Family and oligarchs that are held in EU countries. Cyprus would be the perfect place to start," she wrote in a commentary on Monday.

"Or perhaps the best option will be to let Ukraine drift where it drifts. The EU can only help those states that want to be helped - is Ukraine one of them?" she added.

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