Tymoshenko's daughter urges tough line by EU on Ukraine

Sat, Oct 27, 2012, 01:00

THE DAUGHTER of jailed ex-Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has urged the European Union to take a much tougher line against the country’s president and his allies, ahead of elections tomorrow that she claims are bound to be rigged in favour of the ruling party.

Eugenia Tymoshenko has led the campaign for her mother’s freedom since she received a seven-year jail sentence last October, for signing a gas deal with Russia in 2009 that prosecutors claim is ruinously expensive for Ukraine.

Though not running for a seat in parliament, she has become the most recognisable face of her mother’s coalition, which is vying for second place with the newly formed Udar (Punch) party led by world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko.

Ms Tymoshenko says the Regions Party of President Viktor Yanukovich is using a toxic combination of vote-buying, pressure on free media and the judiciary, manipulation of state workers, multiple voting and dubious counting practices to ensure it wins the election.

Echoing her mother’s words, Ms Tymoshenko (32) said Mr Yanukovich and his party would create a “dictatorship” if they won tomorrow and were not confronted by the EU, with which Kiev hopes to sign major political and trade deals after the election – possibly during Ireland’s presidency of the bloc in the first half of next year.

“She believes Ukraine should go forward to Europe,” said Ms Tymoshenko when asked whether the EU should veto a landmark association agreement with Kiev while her mother is imprisoned.

“But I don’t know whether Europe will receive a dictatorship in its midst and have the poison of corruption spill out into neighbouring democracies that have striven so hard to throw off their post-Soviet legacy,” she said.

But threats from EU leaders not to sign the deal until Ms Tymoshenko is released appeared to be “not very strong leverage on the regime”, she observed, “because it is not changing its ways or releasing political prisoners. I believe stronger action should be aimed at the people around Yanukovich, those supporting him and driving the forces of repression.”

Ms Tymoshenko, who studied at the London School of Economics and was for a time married to a rock singer from Leeds, said “the corrupt functioning of Ukraine should be investigated internationally and it should be stopped”.

She noted that the European Parliament had this week approved a non-binding resolution recommending EU entry bans and asset freezes for Russian officials implicated in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

He was jailed after accusing police investigators of corruption and died in 2009 after being beaten in prison.

“If the European Parliament can go forward with sanctions as proposed by the Magnitsky list, then before long there should be a Tymoshenko and Lutsenko list,” said Ms Tymoshenko, referring to her mother’s former interior minister, Yuri Lutsenko, who was jailed this year.

Ms Tymoshenko said she hoped to visit Ireland soon for talks on her mother’s case and its implications for Ukraine.

“Ireland’s involvement has not been so direct or clear to us, and with the EU presidency coming up it is crucial for us to know the position of the Irish Government. I hope we can work out a plan for the release of political prisoners.”

Yulia Tymoshenko is also accused of tax evasion and is being investigated for alleged involvement in the murder of a business rival and his wife in the 1990s, when she ran a major energy firm and was dubbed the “Gas Princess”. She denies all the accusations.

Mr Yanukovich – who narrowly beat Yulia Tymoshenko in a broadly free and fair election two years ago – insists the cases against her are purely legal matters and rejects accusations that he is strangling independent media and political competition.

He is also confident that his allies will win what he asserts will be a fair fight, run under a modern new election law under the gaze of almost 4,000 monitors. He is steadily rebuilding Ukraine, he says, after years of costly mismanagement under Ms Tymoshenko and her team.

Eugenia Tymoshenko visits her mother regularly in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where she is “constantly monitored by hidden cameras and audio devices, when having supposedly confidential meetings with her defence team, in the treatment room, in the bathroom. Her rights are violated every day,” she says.

“But she is a strong person. An unbelievably strong person.”