Ukraine PM warns of ‘foreign plot’ against Kyiv

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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.

MEP Ana Gomez (S&D, Portugal), told Azarov that he hadn’t convinced her at all.

“I failed to be persuaded. The way you are dealing with Ms Tymoshenko and the other political prisoners is unjustifiable. I failed to see the reasons, except the political revenge, against Ms Tymoshenko. This is bringing tremendous bad image on Ukraine”, she said.

Gomez also said she was concerned about “plutocracy” in Ukraine as well as widespread fraud over the parliamentary elections to be held in October. She said she made these comments with the only intention to help the EU-Ukraine relations, which she said she saw as “indeed strategic”.  

Ana Gomez also said that she was not a fan of Tymoshenko, by no means.

“I’m not an admirer at all of Ms Tymoshenko. I never met her personally. I don’t like her. And I don’t like her Evita style,” she said, speaking in English, amid laughs from the audience. But Gomez insisted that she saw the process against her as politically motivated.

MEP Andrei Kovachev (EPP, Bulgaria) appeared to speak in defence of Tymoshenko, but said said that under a previous government, his country had signed “exactly the same gas deal with Russia”.

 

By pointing at a "foreign plot" against Ukraine, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has admitted the weakness of the present, commented Roman Rukomeda, analyst at the Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy People First.  

“Who is able to dictate their scenarios to Ukraine? The head of the Ukrainian government indirectly hints at Russia. But this would show, first of all, the absence of new arrangements between presidents of Russia and Ukraine at the CIS summit in Moscow, held on 15 May.

“Secondly, such thesis doesn’t appear to be confirmed by the position of the president of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin who has repeatedly called unacceptable the imprisonment of the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

“Germany is another potential foreign force which Azarov hinted at. Its role cannot be excluded, but the weakening of internal positions of Angela Merkel’s party and the financial and political problems of the EU in the context of the situation with Greece don't really support such thesis.

“Could it be the US? Probably, since according to the last statements of American high-ranking officials, Washington speaks out against the isolation of Ukraine because of the political prosecution of leaders of the opposition. But the priority of the US is preservation of democratic development of Ukraine, instead of its isolation under "the Belarus" scenario.

“However, there are more chances that by voicing the threat of the "foreign plot", the Ukrainian government aspires to conceal responsibility for its own political actions and both their present and future consequences. Just the same way as the Ukrainian opposition hasn't been able to offer an alternative plan of development of Ukraine by this time.”

 

“We also pay more than Germany pays. We also have this catastrophic for us nuclear power plant project in Belene, where we lost I don’t know how many billions. But nobody’s in jail, because this is governed by political responsibilities. But you said there is a personal benefit for Ms Tymoshenko. If you can prove this, she needs to go to jail, yes”, Kovachev said, speaking in English.

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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