Ukraine frees Tymoshenko allies in bid for EU deal

Under pressure from EU on selective justice, president seeks to sign key deal with Brussels

Ukraine's former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko leaves prison yesterday in Makoshino

Ukraine's former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko leaves prison yesterday in Makoshino

Mon, Apr 8, 2013, 06:25

Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovich has pardoned two allies of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, drawing cautious praise from the European Union and boosting Kiev’s chances of signing a key deal with Brussels this year.

Yuri Lutsenko, a former interior minister, and former environment minister Heorhiy Filipchuk were both convicted for abuse of office in cases which – like that of Ms Tymoshenko – the EU and United States called examples of selective justice being used to attack critics of Mr Yanukovich.

Mr Lutsenko, who had served more than half his four- year sentence, was freed following appeals to Mr Yanukovich by Pat Cox, the Irish former president of the European Parliament, and former Polish president Alexander Kwasniewski.

They are in Ukraine for the European Parliament, monitoring the cases against Ms Tymoshenko. She was jailed for seven years in 2011 for abusing her power as prime minister and is now also being investigated in corruption cases and for alleged involvement in a murder plot.

Ms Tymoshenko says the legal onslaught against her is part of Mr Yanukovich’s plan to sideline his most popular and dangerous political foe.

“Today’s event for me is a victory of Ukrainian democracy, of the world democracy which has achieved in making sure that Ukraine begins making the right steps in stopping political repression in our country,” Mr Lutsenko said.

Addressing several thousand opposition marchers in Kiev by phone link, Mr Lutsenko evoked the spirit of 2004’s pro- western Orange Revolution.

“Policy is not made by the presidential administration, nor by parliament. It is made out there on the squares. We triumphed there before and we will triumph there again.”

Mr Yanukovich hopes to sign a trade and political association deal with the EU this year. Stefan Fuele, the EU’s enlargement commissioner, said the pardoning of the ex-ministers was “a first but important step to deal with selective justice”.

Analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said Mr Yanukovich has no intention of freeing Ms Tymoshenko, but called yesterday’s pardons “key decisions for securing the signing of agreements with the EU in November”.