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29th Jan 2023

Ukraine leader gives Barroso a football

  • Yanukovych (l): 'I completely believe in Ukraine's European future' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych gave EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso a football while visiting Brussels on Monday (13 September). But the EU-Ukraine feel-good factor is being undermined by accusations of creeping authoritarianism in the former Soviet country.

Mr Yanukovych handed over the white, black and yellow Euro 2012 ball at a press conference in the EU commission headquarters following lunch with Mr Barroso and an earlier meeting with EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

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"This is a reminder that this is a joint project with the European Commission," he said, referring to the Euro 2012 finals, which are due to be played in Poland and Ukraine. A smiling Mr Barroso said: "Football and sport, when they are played with fair play, can give a great contribution for communication among people."

The diplomatic gift is highly symbolic: Mr Yanukovych needs to ensure economic and political stability in Ukraine, in line with EU demands, if he is to build the roads and stadiums needed to host the football championship in time. Ukraine also hopes by 2012 to clinch a trade pact and a political "association" treaty with the EU so that it can use the positive atmosphere around the football event to file an EU membership application.

"I completely believe in Ukraine's European future. Integration with the EU is the road to Ukraine's future," Mr Yanukovych told Brussels-based media.

He promised there will be no repeat of the 2009 gas crunch on his watch, saying: "This will never again happen in Ukraine's history and in its relations with the EU and Russia."

And he underlined that, together with the upcoming EU-Ukraine summit in Brussels on 22 November, he is becoming a frequent visitor in the EU capital. "Mr Van Rompuy told me frankly that in his first year [in office] he has not met the leader of any country ... more often than he has met me," the Ukrainian politician said.

In between the smiles and handshakes, the EU urged its guest to respect the democratic legacy of the 2004 Orange Revolution.

A joint statement agreed between Mr Barroso and Mr Yanukovych noted "the vital role of a free media and an independent judiciary for the continuing consolidation of Ukraine's democratic development." Mr Van Rompuy, while praising Mr Yanukovych for bringing "stability" to Ukraine, said: "Ukraine's legacy as an open society is an important one and needs to be further built upon."

'Potemkin democracy'

Mr Yanukovych's political opponents are this week in Brussels doing what they can to puncture his image as a pro-EU reformer.

Hryhoriy Nemyria, a former deputy prime minister and currently Yulia Tymoshenko's right-hand-man in the opposition Fatherland party, arrived in the EU capital on Monday to push for an anti-Yanukovych resolution by the centre-right EPP group in the European Parliament.

Mr Nemyria told EUobserver that Mr yanukovych's first seven months in office have been marked by harassment of civil society, attacks on independent TV and print media and obstruction of the Fatherland party's attempt to field candidates in upcoming local elections.

"In this Potemkin democracy you have Potemkin-type parties that imitate democracy and do not really respect it," he said, referring to the apocryphal story of an 18th century Russian minister, Grigory Potyomkin, who is said to have erected facades of fake villages to impress a Russian empress.

"The stability he [Mr Yanukovych] is talking about is stability achieved through authoritarian measures ... I don't think this is the kind of stability that Ukrainian people need or that the EU needs," he added.

He singled out recent actions by Ukrainian secret service chief, Valery Khoroshovsky, as being of particular concern. Mr Khoroshovsky's officers have in recent months interrogated NGOs, journalists and their sources. The spy chief, in what Mr Nemyria called "a striking conflict of interest," also co-owns Ukraine's top-rated TV channel, Inter TV, and sits on a panel which hires and fires the country's judges.

Mr Nemyria dismissed Mr Yanukovych's claim to have a special relationship with Mr Van Rompuy. "He [Mr Yanukovych] has met with the Russian leaders eight times since coming to power. So I don't think President Van Rompuy can compete with [Russia's] President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin as far as frequency of meetings is concerned," he said.

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