EU-Ukraine relations worsen amid Euro 2012 fanfare

Euro 2012 football cup Kyiv.jpg

Relations between Euro 2012 co-host Ukraine and the European Union have worsened over the case of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The political highlights of the week – in which Ukraine was kicked out of the Euro 2012 football cup following a loss to England – are murder accusations against Tymoshenko and suggestions of German pressure over a 2009 gas deal she signed with Russia.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Konstantin Grishchenko said in a recent interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, that Tymoshenko signed the gas deal at the request of Germany and other EU countries.

The 2009 accord put an end to a major gas crisis sparked by a payment dispute between Moscow and Kyiv. Supply interruptions deprived several EU countries of Russian gas imports during a harsh winter.

The EU receives about one-quarter of its gas from Russia and 80% of it travels through Ukrainian pipelines.

A deal ending the gas dispute was signed on 19 January 2009 in Moscow between Tymoshenko and then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia. Grishchenko said the agreement was concluded under pressure from Germany.

On 11 October 2011, a Ukrainian court sentenced Tymoshenko to seven years in prison on charges she abused her authority in signing the gas deal. Prosecutors contend that it committed the government to buy the gas at $450 (€334) per thousand cubic metres while the normal price was $185 (€137).

EU rejects accusations

The outgoing EU ambassador to Kyiv, José Manuel Teixeira, was quoted as saying that the Union had played no role in the 2009 gas accords, but did welcome efforts by Russia and Ukraine to settle their disagreements.

The present Ukrainian authorities accuse Germany of teaming up with Russia to prevent the country from advancing toward EU integration. On a recent visit to Brussels, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov warned of a “foreign plot” to prevent the country from getting closer to the EU.

Germany is spearheading the political boycott of the Ukrainian section of the Euro 2012 tournament.

But some politicians see the boycott as counterproductive. Rebecca Harms, a member of the European Parliament from Germany (Greens), held up a banner in support of Tymoshenko during the Germany-Netherlands match on 13 June in Ukraine. The banner was swiftly removed by the police.

Murder charge to be pressed

Meanwhile, Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin reiterated his intention to file murder charges against Tymoshenko for allegedly ordering the 1996 assassination of Yefhen Shcherban, a member of parliament and one of the richest people in Ukraine. In an interview to Kommersant on Monday, he repeated the statements he made to EURACTIV six weeks earlier, adding that only Tymoshenko’s poor health was preventing him from pressing the charges.

Shcherban and his wife were killed at the Donetsk airport in 1996 by people dressed as police officers. Prosecutors say the Shcherbans' murderers have confessed having received $1 million (€742,394) from a bank account linked to Tymoshenko and an earlier Ukrainian prime minister, Pavlo Lazarenko.

Lazarenko was president of the United Energy Systems, a private company importing Russian gas to Ukraine, when Tymoshenko was prime minister. Lazarenko was convicted of money-laundering and is serving a prison term in the United States.

Tymoshenko says the murder accusations against her are "absurd" and politically driven and has reportedly threatened to sue the President Viktor Yanukovich over the claims.

The European Union said it was "disappointed" with 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 has said, adding that it "would reflect" on its policies towards Ukraine.

The December 2011 EU-Ukraine Summit failed to initial the country's Association Agreement with the Union, largely due to the imprisonment of Tymoshenko.

On 30 March, the document was initialled, but full signature depends on changing the system of "selective justice" and the parliamentary elections in Ukraine due on 28 October 2012.

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