Ukrainian minister: Tymoshenko’s trial is not a witch-hunt

Pavlo Klimkin.jpg

The ongoing trial against Ukraine's former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is not political and EU circles should not link this issue to a possible freezing of negotiations on the Free Trade Area Agreement, said Ukrainian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin in an exclusive interview with EURACTIV.

Pavlo Klimkin is a career diplomat. He has worked as deputy head of mission in the Ukrainian embassy in London and as director of ministry of foreign affairs' EU department in Kyiv, before being appointed deputy minister for foreign affairs of Ukraine in April 2010.

He was speaking to EURACTIV Germany's  Michael Kaczmarek and Ewald König

The detention of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been qualified by European politicians and media as "political motivated". Several EU foreign affairs ministers warned Ukraine over the Tymoshenko 'show trial'. How do you respond to your EU colleagues?

Firstly, Ukraine's European perspective is not only a foreign policy priority; it is a rationale of national development. I don't see any reason to link this issue and developments around the negotiations on the Free Trade Area Agreement.

Secondly, I want to underline that we understand the importance of the differentiation of political and criminal responsibility. If someone is acting in his or her political capacity there should be political responsibility, normally expressed in elections.

If someone is acting in order to falsify government documents, and I understand this is the rationale for the court case, it is definitely a criminal responsibility. It is up to the court to decide. In my capacity as deputy foreign minister I cannot comment on the court case itself. It is not appropriate for me to link important developments on the EU related issues to the perception of the internal situation Ukraine.

But the EU does see a link. I think of the statements of France's Alain Juppé, Britain's William Hague or Sweden's Carl Bildt some days ago. They declared that the free trade and association agreement might be blocked as long as Yulia Tymonshenko's 'show trial' continues.

I understood the messages after the last Foreign Affairs Council in Sopot [Poland] [as saying] that they have talked about a probability and not defined a clear link. But let me be straight: Who will be punished in the case that we stop negotiations on the association agreement, especially on the most important part on free trade?

The future association agreement is about framing reforms in Ukraine based on European-like models. It should be our joint commitment for Ukraine and for the EU to establish a framework of such a kind. It will be one of the most ambitious agreements, in the political and economic sense, for the EU and Ukraine.

Ukraine and EU representatives have underlined the importance of this agreement. Nevertheless, the Tymoshenko case has changed the atmosphere. The political rivalry between the current president Viktor Yanukovych and Yulia Tymoshenko is well-documented. Are we currently witnessing a witch hunt for political rivals in Ukraine?

No. It is a misperception of what is going on in Ukraine. I will answer this question from another angle: If someone – and I underline the word if – would have wanted to put pressure on the opposition, for me it would be the weirdest strategy to take.

In the Ukrainian mentality people under pressure become popular. As regards to future elections this would be the completely wrong strategy. Different opposition groups are now talking about uniting their forces. The court case is about the question whether or not there have been infringements of governmental procedures in preparing and signing the famous gas agreement with Russia.

Since the detention of Yulia Tymoshenko officials from the United States, the European Parliament and several politicians in the EU have declared their concerns about the politically-motivated nature of this case. Are the external voices biased while your view is neutral?

No, I never said that the statements of our friends are biased. At the contrary, we welcome very much their engagement to bring forward the reforms in Ukraine. The precondition for the rule of law is the clear division of powers.

The government cannot influence the court proceeding. Nobody, even the former prime minister of Ukraine, can be taken out of the juridical system. Everyone should be accountable for his or her actions.

I do not qualify Ukraine's current system as a perfect one. Otherwise we would not think about further justice reforms. But the current court procedure is fully open.

Ukraine celebrated last month the 20th anniversary of independence. According to recent polls the dissatisfaction of Ukraine's people with the current government and the general political dissatisfaction is the highest since its declaration of independence. Are you worried?

The Ukrainian leadership has started a lot of deep and comprehensive reforms in different spheres. We are working on a new tax law, pension reform, the coming education and health reform. It cannot be expected that everyone be happy with such a reform drive. The sooner we implement the reforms the sooner we will have the results.

The political tensions between Russia and Ukraine are rising. Ukraine is demanding lower prices for Russian gas. Russia is putting pressure on Ukraine to join its customs union and sell Naftogaz. Will Ukraine resist the pressure?

Russia is an important strategic partner for Ukraine and our relations are also key for European security. We have to act as responsible and predictable partners. We have a number of issues on our agenda, but we will try to solve these issues in negotiations. One issue concerns energy because the current contracts that have been signed back in 2009 are highly asymmetric.

The disputed gas contract of 2009 is a result of the Ukrainian-Russian gas conflict in winter 2008-2009. This issue has not been solved. Should the EU be prepared for a new dispute with gas supply interruptions?

Not at all. This is a total misperception. It is important for us to reach new gas agreements including new gas prices but we are responsible partners. We will find a way without any gas crisis – not this winter, not at any other moment of the year.

Will Ukraine change its attitude to the Russian customs union if the EU does not sign the Free Trade Agreement this December?

I do not see any relation between the EU-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement and our cooperation with the customs union. We are fully committed to finalising the negotiations with the EU. There are still some issues, especially regarding agriculture, but we look forward to finding a solution on that. Our approach to the customs union is fixed in the 3 plus 1 formula.

We are not striving for full customs union membership. We strive for effective bilateral economic and political relations with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus and with the customs union.  We strive for our integration into the common market. At the end of this path there should be Ukraine's full integration into the European Union, including full EU membership.

Ukraine has proposed a 3 plus 1 approach to the customs union. Russia insists that Ukraine should join the customs union as a full member. Can you exclude this option?

We have a clear position and a clear formula for our cooperation with the customs union. We do not strive for full membership but for effective cooperation with the customs union.

Ukraine is a member of the Eastern Partnership. Do you feel comfortable in the same circle as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova?

I have always underlined that our approach should be more ambitious and more comprehensive. We need a more targeted approach. The Eastern Partnership should reflect the different levels of EU integration. Think of the Balkans: On the one hand you have Croatia; on the other hand you have Balkan countries that are quite far away from the EU membership. Why should we not use the same approach for the Eastern Partnership?

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