EU mulls cancelling Yanukovich Brussels visit

Viktor Yanukovych

With the future of Ukraine-EU relations at stake, conflicting signals surrounding jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are putting a planned Brussels visit of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich in doubt.

Asked by EURACTIV to confirm that the visit of President Yanukovich in Brussels, scheduled on 20 October, was still on the agenda, a Commission spokesperson suggested that the visit could be canceled.

"In the coming days a final decision will be taken, whether he is coming or not," Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said today (14 October).

The Commission's weekly programme, published today, makes no mention of the planned vist.

Ukraine hopes to conclude and sign an Association agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU by the end of the year.

Yanukovich's visit to Brussels is seen as the final mile ahead of the signature, expected on the occasion of a 14-15 December EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv.

However, the recent sentencing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in prison for abuse of office in the negotiation of a gas deal with Russia in 2009, when she was prime minister, has poisoned EU-Ukraine relations.

In an apparent effort to salvage his EU agenda, Yanukovich said yesterday he would back changes to Ukraine's criminal code that could see Tymoshenko's charges decriminalised. According to Tymoshenko's lawyers, such a development would cancel her verdict.

Western officials in Kyiv said the president has been promising such a solution for several weeks.

According to Nikolay Tomenko, Deputy Chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament, who was elected in 2007 from the lists of 'The Block of Yulia Tymoshenko' (BYT), dropping charges against Tymoshenko is technically feasible before Yanukovich's visit to Brussels, scheduled for 20 October.

The decriminalisation would take place after BYT would introduce a draft bill, which would be supported by the Party of Regions and become effective on 20 October.

But almost simultaneously, new criminal charges against Tymoshenko were filed.

“The head prosecution of Ukraine's Secret Services has opened a criminal case against the citizens of Ukraine Tymoshenko and Lazarenko," Ivan Derevianko, head of the prosecution of Ukraine’s Security Service was quoted as saying by the Ukrainian press yesterday.

He explained that Tymoshenko, in conspiracy with the former prime minister of Ukraine, Pavlo Lazarenko, had transferred 405.5 million dollars in debt owed by United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU), a private energy company she headed in the 1990s, to Ukraine’s federal budget.

Lazarenko, who was prime minister of Ukraine in the early 1990s, and was known as a mentor to Tymoshenko, is serving a nine-year prison sentence in the United States for money laundering and other financial crimes.

In a further blow, a US company, Universal Trading & Investment Co. Inc (UTICo), has reportedly charged Tymoshenko with having concealed profits and assets from creditors, as well as kickbacks and bribes in favour of Lazarenko to the amount of $100 million. She is also charged of abuse of office in pushing UESU into bankruptcy. 

Positions

British Prime Minister David Cameron warned the Ukrainian authorities about aggravation of the relations with Britain, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the European Union if the situation with former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko does not change for better, the press in Ukraine rported.

"We completely agree that the treatment of Mrs Tymoshenko, whom I have met on previous occasions, is absolutely disgraceful. […] The Ukrainians need to know that if they leave the situation as it is, it will severely affect their relationship not only with the UK but with the European Union and NATO," Cameron is quoted as saying.

According to Alyona Getmanchuk, who contributed a commentary to the Kyiv Post, Yanukovych had two motives to send Tymoshenko to jail. One was to get rid of an opposition leader whose presence in the political arena has been a source of acute discomfort for him since the days of the Orange Revolution.

The second motive, Getmanchuk writes, was to use the Tymoshenko case as leverage against Russia to lower the price of gas sold to Ukraine. In the trial, Russia figured as an accomplice in an illegal transaction, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev as allies of Tymoshenko — an ironic reversal of Yanukovych’s reputation in the West as the Kremlin’s ally, she explains.

Yet the prosecution of Tymoshenko could end up as a political sentence for Yanukovych, Getmanchuk argues. According to her, she would probably be the most convenient sparring partner if he runs for re-election in 2015.

"Public distrust of Tymoshenko is higher than of most other Ukrainian politicians, so she would be less dangerous as an active opponent than as a political martyr," she concludes.

 

The Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy 'People First' said "Yanukovich, obviously, has decided that he doesn't want to understand that, firstly, it is all about principle. By the specific resonant example of Tymoshenko's case, Europe and the USA only gave him a chance to demonstrate his readiness to improve the general situation of the observance of human rights and democratic standards in Ukraine."

"Under such circumstances a refusal of the Western leaders to communicate with the Ukrainian president looks quite natural," it added.

Background

The European Union said it was "disappointed" by the sentencing of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in prison over allegations that she abused her office in relation to a gas deal signed with Russia in 2009.

The trial was "politically motivated" and did not respect international standards, the EU said, adding that it "would reflect" on its policies towards Ukraine.

Štefan Füle, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy recently said that there were "no limits" to the possible depth and scope of Ukraine's integration with the EU, adding that the country was on the cusp of signing an Association Agreement with a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU.

Following this step, according to Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty, Ukraine would be eligible to apply for EU membership.

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