Ukraine hopes to sign the pact with the European Union at the 28-29 November Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. The other Eastern partner countries are Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, whose delegates will also attend the summit.
The extension of the mission’s mandate was announced yesterday (15 October) after European Parliament envoys, former Parliament President Pat Cox and former Polish President Alexander Kwaśniewski briefed European lawmakers on their mission.
Two years ago, Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of office in a case described as “selective justice” against a political rival, the incumbent Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovich.
Western EU countries, Germany in particular, have linked her release to the signing of the association agreement, which contains a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), expected to link Ukraine to the EU market. Russia is putting pressure on Kyiv to join its Customs Union, which is incompatible with the DCFTA.
Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner Štefan Füle said he expected Ukraine to allow Tymoshenko to go to Germany for medical treatment before the Vilnius summit.
Yanukovych said on his part that he believed that "a final decision on how to solve this question" will be made "in the near future".
Something more than association?
At the European Parliament conference yesterday, Kwaśniewski said he hoped the Tymoshenko case would be solved in time for the Vilnius summit.
The conference was organised by Polish MEPs Paweł Zalewski (European People's Party), Wojciech Olejniczak (Socialists and Democrats) and Paweł Kowal (European Conservatives and Reformists) and titled “Integration of Ukraine with the EU”.
“She needs treatment, she needs an operation,” Kwaśniewski said, according to a translation.
Kwaśniewski praised Ukraine for having achieved a very broad political consensus on the country’s EU future and appealed to political forces "to make this front even stronger”. Lately, the Ukrainian parliament has been able to pass pro-European legislation, opposed mainly by the Communist Party, which has 32 out of the 445 seats.
“Most Ukrainians really want this agreement”, he said.
Russia instead claims that a majority of Ukrainians prefer to see their country as part of the post-Soviet rapprochement project called the “Eurasian Union”.
Full-fledged member of the EU?
Kwaśniewski also expressed his hope that Ukraine would become a full-fledged member of the EU, in a more distant future.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, present at the event, also made reference to the EU’s future relationship in his speech.
Assuming that the agreement will be signed in Vilnius, he said the aim of Ukraine was not EU association, but EU membership.
“This goal needs to be enshrined in something concrete,” he insisted. Gryshchenko also stressed that the new pro-European consensus in the Ukrainian parliament was the merit of the country’s President Vikor Yanukovich.
“The most important factor in Ukraine is the leadership of President Yanukovich. He places his authority at stake. We don’t want to be partly in Europe, partly somewhere else,” he said.
It may appear that Ukraine wants more in exchange for the release of Tymoshenko than the EU is prepared to offer. EurActiv spoke to several Ukrainian journalists present at the event, some saying that they doubted that Kyiv was going to release Tymoshenko in time for the Vilnius summit.
Dirk Schuebel, head of the Eastern partnership division in the European External Action Service (EEAS), said that the EU decision on whether to sign the agreement in Vilnius would be taken at the EU foreign affairs ministers’ meeting on 18 November.