A move by the European Parliament to extend its observation mission in Ukraine, led by the former presidents of Ireland and Poland, has been viewed as a sign of hope that the country can finalise its association agreement with the EU by the end of year.
The Parliament's conference of presidents of political groups extended yesterday (18 April) the term of the mission, driven by Pat Cox and Aleksander Kwaśniewski, until Autumn, a decision warmly welcomed by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara.
The EU legislative appointed Cox and Kwaśniewski last June as observers to the appeal proceedings involving Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who is serving a seven-year prison sentence.
The EU has delayed the signing of an EU-Ukraine association agreement for many months until it sees progress in several political areas. Both the EU and US have expressed concern about the treatment of Tymoshenko and the legitimacy of charges that she abused her office.
But the EU recently welcomed the release of allies of Tymoshenko, including the former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko, calling it a "first but important step to deal with selective justice".
Speaking in Parliament, Cox said that he hoped the mission with Kwaśniewski would bring “meaningful progress” in the Tymoshenko case.
The Cox-Kwaśniewski mission has held 14 meetings with Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, eight with President Viktor Yanukovych, seven with Tymoshenko and another 17 with opposition figures.
Paweł Kowal, a Polish MEP of the European Conservative and Reformists (ECR) group, praised the mission in an interview with Interfax-Ukraine, a Kyiv-based news agency, saying that sending special envoys was a “successful tactic”.
He said that the pardoning and release of Lutsenko was "a political success" that it was decisive in prolonging the mission's term.
"We decided to prolong the mission and the next report, the third one, will be presented at the Conference of Presidents in September," he said.
Yanukovych received recently a petition from female MPs calling on him to pardon Tymoshenko. But the president said this week that a pardon of Tymoshenko was "impossible" while court proceedings were ongoing.
In the past Yanukovich had said that he could not pardon Tymoshenko if she did not make such a request herself.
The president of the Gorshenin Institute Vadym Omelchenko said that the prolongation of the mission was important for Ukraine if it was to maintain its European prospects.
"The situation in Ukraine has not become less tense or less complicated. Official diplomacy is in a dead end, since the demands by Europe are really hard to implement in the current situation," Omelchenko said.
"This is why the role of such an informal diplomacy tool as the Cox-Kwaśniewski mission is very important for the preservation of communication, for the EU to have a chance to influence Kyiv, and for the Ukrainian authorities to have a chance to explain their position to Brussels. The Cox-Kwaśniewski mission has succeeded in creating stable communication on the highest level of the Ukrainian authorities. The leaders of the Ukrainian state, including the president, the prosecutor-general, the prime minister, etc always meet them. When communication is preserved there is hope and perspective. We can see on Belarus's example, what happens when it is lost."