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2nd Mar 2024

Brussels rides to the rescue of Ukrainian 'gas princess'

  • Fuele makes eye contact with Tymoshenko in Kiev on Tuesday (Photo: byut.com.ua)

EU neighbourhood policy commissioner Stefan Fuele has waded into a bitter political dispute in Ukraine by speaking out in defence of the country's embattled former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, while on a mission to Kiev.

According to newswires, the Czech career diplomat said at a joint press conference with Ukrainian foreign minister Konstantyn Gryshchenko on Tuesday (11 January): "In the 21st century, democratic authority cannot exist without independent courts and independent media. It's a moral issue, which is why I want to repeat it is indispensable that criminal law is not exploited for political purposes."

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He added that prospects of an EU-Ukrainian Association Agreement are at risk if Kiev does not change its ways: "There is one issue on which we [the EU] will not compromise and on the basis of which we cannot build our common future - the lack of cohesion with our commonly accepted standards."

Mr Fuele made the remarks after a working lunch with Ms Tymoshenko, who faces criminal charges for alleged misuse of state funds relating to CO2 quotas while in power in 2009 and for buying overpriced Opel Combo minivans with government cash. Ms Tymoshenko thanked him for his support after the meeting.

The politician, who earned her 'gas princess' sobriquet after making a personal fortune in the Russian-Ukrainian gas business in the 1990s, is hated by the new administration of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych.

Mr Gryshchenko himself, when questioned about her by EUobserver at a meeting in Brussels late last year, became visibly angry and accused her of bringing Ukraine to the brink of ruin during the gas crisis with Russia in 2009.

Ms Tymoshenko has in recent months urged her friends in the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) in the EU to up their criticism of Mr Yanukovych by issuing resolutions accusing him of anti-democratic behaviour. The resolutions were timed to coincide with his visits to the EU capital to maximise embarrassment.

Independent NGOs and media in Ukraine have also complained that Mr Yanukovych has since coming to power in early 2010: used the secret services to intimidate critics; rigged local elections; and given back power to oligarchs with dubious reputations, such as Dmitry Firtash, a gas billionaire who himself told US diplomats that he had business ties with the Russian mafia in a cable published by WikiLeaks.

A group of human rights defenders from the city of Vinnytsia, in central Ukraine, in remarks to Polish daily Rzeczpospolita on Monday even called on the EU to impose a visa ban on selected Yanukovych officials.

For his part, Mr Gryshchenko told press that the best way for politicians to avoid criminal charges is to "not break the law."

At a later press event on Tuesday, President Yanukovych said: "It is a wonderful thing that the first international meeting I have this year is the meeting with the representative of European Commission ... I'm certain that 2011 will become the year of radical [pro-EU] reforms."

The negative trend in EU-Ukraine relations mirrors recent developments in EU ties with Belarus and Russia.

EU countries are currently gearing up to impose a fresh travel ban and other sanctions on the Belarusian authorities in response to a violent crackdown on opposition in Minsk in December.

Some MEPs this week also called for an EU visa ban on Russian officials involved in the jailing of oil-tycoon-turned-liberal-reformist Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The calls follow a general resolution by the EU parliament last month to put a travel ban on officials implicated in the suspicious death of Russian lawyer Sergey Magnitsky.

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