Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said his country was “taken hostage” over the case of his imprisoned predecessor, Yulia Tymoshenko, which he said was overblown because of a “foreign plot” to prevent the country from getting closer to the EU.
Azarov deplored the “colossal moral prejudice” against his country over the handling of the Tymoshenko case, asking who will compensate Ukraine for the damage.
The Ukrainian minister spoke in the European Parliament at the invitation of the Socialists and Democrats group, with which the ruling Party of Regions in Ukraine is trying to develop relations.
Yesterday (15 May), Azarov attended an EU-Ukrainian cooperation council and met with the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner Štefan Füle.
Indeed, EU-Ukrainian relations have severely deteriorated in recent months, with some EU countries questioning the risks of growing Russian influence over Ukraine if too much pressure is applied over the treatment of Tymoshenko (see background).
Tymoshenko was imprisoned last year on charges of abusing her office in a trial broadly condemned as an effort to silence a leading opposition figure.
Asked by Polish Socialist MEP Bogus?aw Liberadzky to reveal details of the “foreign plot”, Azarov didn’t name any country and only said that sooner or later, the truth would be revealed.
“Mr Liberadzky, I wouldn’t like to complicate further a very complex situation around Ukraine. I can tell you privately my views. I have my opinion, and it is not groundless. But I won’t make statements. What is the most important is that sooner or later, all will become clear. Sooner or later, absolutely everything will become transparent and understandable,” he said, speaking in Russian.
Germany manipulated by Russia?
EURACTIV later contacted Liberadzky but it appeared that he had left the session for a political group meeting and had no direct contact with Azarov.
Sources told EURACTIV that Azarov was hinting that Russia was manipulating the EU via some of its member states – Germany in particular.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attaches great importance to his project for a Eurasian Union, comprising former Soviet republics. Analysts see Ukraine as key for the project to fly. It is widely believed that Russia is doing its utmost to get Ukraine on board by severing its ties with Brussels.
In the discussion with MEPs, which lasted 90 minutes, Azarov blasted Russia on a number of occasions and pointed a finger at Germany as the country to which Russia is selling its gas at “a twice-lower price” than to neighbouring Ukraine.
The Ukrainian prime minister also seized the opportunity to attack his predecessor, Tymoshenko, for a 2009 gas deal with Russia, blaming her for “people dying” in hospital because of lack of medicine because of the high price she had negotiated.
Azarov gave a lengthy explanation to illustrate that Tymoshenko had concluded the ruinous gas deal to compensate Russia for $405 million of losses which Tymoshenko allegedly embezzled years before, in a private capacity, from the Russian Defence Ministry. He said that this sum amounted to his country’s annual budget for public health.
“Why did Russia forgive this money? Is this little money? I think it’s quite a lot of money. But why did Russia show such generosity to Tymoshenko? Why did Russia abandon the criminal case against Tymoshenko, why such a liberal attitude – why?” Azarov said.
Azarov said that he had asked Putin, who was the Russian prime minister at the time, about the 2009 gas contract.
“There was a private interest by Tymoshenko,” he said.
Referring to Russia’s style of power politics, the Ukrainian premier also pointed as the more recent case, when Russia needed Turkey’s agreement to build the South Stream gas pipeline through its Black Sea neighbours’ territorial waters.
“Why did the price for Turkey fall down to $190, while for Ukraine it went up to $520? … I can give more such examples," Azarov said, implying that Russia was purchasing political influence through gas price discounts.
Waste of money?
Azarov said that the South Steam pipeline, designed with a maximum capacity of 68 billion cubic metres a year (bcm/y), would cost €20 billion. He said this was a waste of resources when the modernisation of his country’s three pipelines would cost €1.5 billion and supply to Europe with 120 bcm/y.
Because of its tense relationship with Russia, Ukraine was investing in developing shale gas, Azarov said. He estimated there were enormous reserves of shale gas in his country and Europe. But he added that Ukraine would prefer to invest elsewhere at this time, for example in modernising its economy and society.
“Russia too has tonnes of problems,” he said, hinting that Moscow was overspending on political pipeline projects and could make a better use of the resource for internal policy needs.
Asked if a solution to the Tymoshenko problem could be found in the form of a presidential pardon, Azarov gave the floor to a jurist, who spoke at length, saying that the former prime minister should first ask for such an option.