Meeting with journalists in Brussels yesterday (25 April), Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy said that if "all problems" between Ukraine and the EU were solved, the Parliament in Kyiv could pass extraordinary legislation to set former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko free from jail.
Khoroshkovskiy, a former head of the State Security Service of Ukraine and a close ally of President Viktor Yanukovich, said that if the Tymoshenko case was the only unsettled issue in EU-Ukraine relations "we'll settle it too".
Former Prime Minsiter Yulia Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison term for abuse of power, an issue which has strained relations between the EU and Ukraine and practically frozen negotiations over a much-anticipated free trade agreement.
Khoroshkovskiy, who is being thought of as a potential replacement for current Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, said Kyiv understood the position of the West over "selective justice". The expression –uttered in English – refers to a number of politicians from the previous government who are being targeted by Yanukovich while corruption appears to be widespread in the current government.
Khoroshkovskiy is a fluent English speaker, but preferred to express himself in Russian.
Asked if a change in legislation could solve the Tymoshenko case, he said that as a jurist, he was against adapting legislation to suit a single person. "But I am sure that when this problem becomes a major hurdle in our strategy to move towards the European Union, a majority of parliamentarians would favour adopting an extraordinary decision in this respect," he added.
Asked by EURACTIV whether what he said means that if the EU would sign the Association agreement, the authorities in Kyiv would set Tymoshenko free, he said he could not add anything to what he had already said.
Asked to specify what problems were left outstanding, he confirmed that the signature of the Association Agreement was an important "step on the way toward European integration".
However, Khoroshkovskiy expressed doubts as to the real intentions of the EU vis-à-vis his country. "If we didn't have the Tymoshenko case, would we be closer to the EU?" he asked.
Khoroshkovskiy then tried to change the subject, but almost all journalists focused their questions on reports in the Western press about Tymoshenko, who is on hunger strike, after she was beaten by prison guards. Khoroshkovskiy refused to comment before the prosecution produces a report on the allegations.
Ukrainian Ambassador Konstanin Yelisieiev highlighted the geopolitical advantages for the EU to integrate the Ukraine – the size of his country, the dynamism of its population and its economy. He was challenged by a remark that Turkey puts forward exactly the same kind of arguments, but hasn't been able to advance its EU membership.
Khoroshkovskiy intervened, saying that in such circumstances, Turkey said it was going to look elsewhere. Asked by EURACTIV if this means that Ukraine would look to Russia if it was not successful with its EU bid, he nodded affirmatively. Asked a second time, he repeated the same body language. Asked a third time, he said "no", amid laughter.
According to Ukrainian political insiders, Khoroshkovskiy, who is a very wealthy person, has personal interests in closer relations with Russia. He belongs to the so-called "team" of Dmytro Firtash, an oligarch. The team includes Minister of Foreign Affairs Kostyantyn Hrtyshchenko, Minister of Energy Yuriy Boiko and other top officials.
The Firtash group reportedly controls the Ukrainian chemicals industry that is one of the biggest user of Russian gas.
Asked about the gas price negotiations with Russia, he said that in spite of the fact that Ukraine pays a very high price as a result of the deal brokered by Tymoshenko, Kyiv would fulfill this contract until there is a new one.
EURACTIV apologises for an early version of this article, which quoted Mr. Khoroshkovskiy saying that Ukraine would set Tymoshenko free if the EU signs the association agreement. He never said that. The present version reflects exactly what was said on the occasion.