Ukraine considers law to clear Tymoshenko obstacle to EU deals
Legislation would allow jailed former prime minister to receive medical treatment abroad
US ambassador Jeffrey Payette speaks to the media outside the hospital where jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is being held, after his meeting with her, in Kharkiv last Wednesday. Photograph: Reuters/Dmitry Neymyrok
Ukraine’s parliament is preparing to debate a new law that would allow jailed former premier Yulia Tymoshenko to receive medical treatment abroad, and potentially clear the way for Kiev to sign landmark political and trade deals with the European Union.
Brussels and several EU states have said Ukraine will not be offered political association or free trade pacts next month unless there is a major shift in Kiev’s handling of Ms Tymoshenko, whom the EU and United States regard as the victim of a politically motivated prosecution.
The opposition leader and fierce critic of President Viktor Yanukovich was sentenced to 11 years in jail in 2011 for abuse of power, in relation to a gas deal she signed with Russia. A court ruled that the deal was ruinously expensive for Ukraine, but Ms Tymoshenko denied wrongdoing.
Two EU envoys – Pat Cox, Ireland’s former president of the European Parliament and former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski – recently asked Mr Yanukovich to pardon his bitter rival, and also asked Ms Tymoshenko to accept a German offer of treatment for her back problems.
Ms Tymoshenko agreed to go to Germany and Mr Yanukovich – while remaining silent on prospects for a pardon – said he would let her leave the country on medical grounds.
“Today Ukraine does not have a law which would allow Tymoshenko to go abroad for treatment . . . Political forces represented in parliament have now prepared a Bill which will allow the solving of this task,” Mr Yanukovich said.
“Naturally, if parliament adopts such a Bill, I will sign it. Most likely, it will be a court that will take a decision about an exit procedure, about maintaining some guarantees.”
The draft law due to be debated in parliament this week states that a Ukrainian court must decide whether a prisoner is ill enough to qualify for treatment abroad, and define the length of time allowed for treatment.
“On the expiry of the term, defined by the court for treatment abroad, the convicted person would return to Ukraine to continue serving the punishment,” the draft says.
Commenting on the draft text, parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak said: “This law must be such that convicted people do not avoid punishment because treatment is not a pardon.”
While EU officials believe Mr Yanukovich is determined to find a way to sign deals with the bloc that could realign Ukraine’s future away from Moscow and towards Brussels, he is also seen as being wary of the consequences of allowing his most dangerous rival to leave prison.
Ms Tymoshenko, when accepting the offer of German treatment, vowed to continue her fight to clear her name and topple Mr Yanukovich, whom she accuses of leading a corrupt oligarchy.
Russia has warned Ukraine that economic and political ties between the neighbours could suffer if Kiev signs the deals at the EU’s Eastern Partnership summit in late November. Mr Cox and Mr Kwasniewski are expected to continue talks in Kiev today and tomorrow.