A positive outcome is expected in the case of the jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, which is currently the subject of negotiations between the Ukrainian government and the EU, Leonid Kozhara, Ukraine's foreign minister has told journalists in Kyiv.
"This year is extremely important for Ukraine," Kozhara said, referring to the expected signature of a landmark EU-Ukraine association agreement at the 28-29 November Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
The case of the jailed former Prime Minister is "one major political problem that remains," Kozhara admitted.
He highly praised the European Parliament's monitoring mission to Ukraine headed by former European Parliament President Pat Cox and former Polish President Aleksander Kwaniewski, pointing out that they had visited the country 23 times. "We hope very much that the mission is successful," he said.
On Tuesday (15 November) the mandate of the monitoring mission was extended until mid-November. "We think the Ukraine is implementing the requirements of the European Union quite successfully and there are a number of statements from the European Commission that the Ukraine has succeeded on the way of reforms," Kozhara explained.
There is a strong consensus on the association agreement within Ukrainian society as well as within the Parliament of Ukraine (Verkhovna Rada), according to the minister.
Vilnius united the opposition
"This is an issue that united all opposition parties in the parliament," said Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, an MP and member of the UDAR (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms) faction of Vitali Klitschko's party, last week. "For us there is no other choice, there is no other chance than signing the agreement."
But western EU countries have linked the release of Tymoshenko to the signing of the association agreement.
"We clearly understand that it is the personal responsibility of President Yanukovych to sign a pardon for Yulia Tymoshenko," Nalyvaichenko said. "We did everything we could, asking Yanukovych to actually free her. It's up to him now," Volodymyr Polochaninov of Ukraine's largest opposition party, Batkivshchyna, added. "It's not a good thing to bet on, but I really feel that he is able to do it."
Russia has repeatedly threatened retaliatory action if its former Soviet ally joins a free trade pact with the European Union, and Kozhara said he understood that there were "certain sentiments" from Russia towards Ukraine. But he hoped that after signing the association agreement "we will be able to settle all misunderstandings".
Kozhara suggested that the association of Ukraine with the European Union would lead to additional advantages for Russia as well, making it possible for Moscow to expand trade and political relations with the EU and leading to Ukraine becoming something of a link between the two.
"Russia remains a strategic partner for the Ukraine. Last year our bilateral trade exceeded $50 billion (€36.6 billion), which made Russia the number one trading partner for Ukraine," Kozhara said.
Russia and Ukraine – booze brothers
Polochaninov compared the relations of the Ukraine and Russia to that of "two friends who used to drink alcohol all day long and had hangovers the next morning. But now one of them decided to go training in the gym."
This would mean "trouble" for him in the coming months but he would become a better person, more competitive and with a better lifestyle, Polochaninov said. Nalyvaichenko emphasized that there was a necessity for the current Ukrainian government to speak with Russia.
"If you need to, invite European experts. Clearly and openly explain what we would like to change in our legislation," he said. The changes would contradict any sphere of Ukrainian-Russian relations, Nalyvaichenko said.