As the May deadline for signing a EU-Ukraine association agreement approaches, some EU countries are prepared to overlook the imprisonment of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, arguing that the Union should not lose Ukraine over the fate of one person.
Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip recently opened a Pandora’s box by saying that EU-Ukraine relations should not hinge on “one lady”, referring to Tymoshenko who is serving a press sentence for abuse of office.
Ansip’s comment, made three weeks ago on a trip to Ukraine, unleashed a barrage of criticism. But many concurred with him.
Before leaving for Kyiv, Ansip also hinted that the EU was not in a position to say whether Tymoshenko was indeed victim of “selective justice”, a term referring to the alleged vendetta by President Viktor Yanukovich against Tymoshenko and her allies.
"As onlookers we are not prepared to say whether Tymoshenko is guilty or not," he said, adding: “We know that a few Estonian businessmen also suffered when she was prime minister, having made their investments in accordance to a licence receive from the state and suddenly Tymoshenko's government said that activities in certain areas are prohibited, rendering the investments worthless. The money was lost.”
Ansip was criticised from many circles, one Estonian commentator even writing a piece titled “The prime minister's political prostitution”.
On 17 April Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to Ansip while he visited Berlin. She made it plain in his presence that until the Tymoshenko case is not solved, an association agreement with the EU could not be signed.
Tymoshenko is ‘no angel’
Diplomats from other countries, who asked not to be named, expressed views similar to those of the Estonian prime minister.
“[Tymoshenko] is no angel either. Europe should not be hostage of one person … The EU should not loose Ukraine geopolitically … Europe should not be a victim of its procedures,” one EU diplomat said.
Another diplomat pointed out that countries were now split between “two extremes”, one being the position expressed by Ansip and backed by some other countries, and Germany. He also said that tensions were mounting ahead of the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on 28-29 November, with some countries questioning the May deadline for deciding whether the association agreement with Ukraine can be signed (see background).
On selective justice, Ukraine has made a step forward by freeing former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko and five other people, including former environmental protection minister Heorhiy Filipchuk, the diplomat said. Regarding Tymoshenko, he saw it as unrealistic that any positive developments could take place in the short term.
Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of office, pronounced on 11 October 2011. Two other cases were brought against her concerning state fund embezzlement and tax evasion which allegedly occurred in 2001 and an attempt to bribe Supreme Court judges in 2004. In addition, she was charged in January with commissioning the murder of Yevgen Shcherban a powerful lawmaker in 1996.
Tymoshenko rejected the charge, calling it “hysteria”.
Female supporters lose vote
A recent appeal sought by women members of the Ukrainian parliament was unanimously rejected on Monday by the country’s presidential pardons commission. The presidential pardon act can only apply to convicts, whereas Tymoshenko is still a defendant in "three criminal cases," commission Chairman Hennadiy Vasyliev said, Ukrainian media reported.
Several prominent former Ukrainian diplomats recently filed a separate petition to release Tymoshenko, addressed to Yanukovich. They argue that Tymoshenko's release would mean “the end of political repression, the restoration of the rule of law, and the return of Ukraine to the circle of civilised democracies, which will finally allow Ukraine to give life to its historical European choice”.
Press agencies quoted Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov saying that requests for Tymoshenko to be pardoned would be considered at the end of the court proceedings in the murder case in which she is a defendant.