EU raises pressure on Ukraine to free Tymoshenko before key summit
EU warns that key political and free trade deals are at stake if former PM not freed
Yulia Tymoshenko photographed in June 2011: the former prime minister said she would accept the offer to “ease the situation ahead of the Eastern Partnership summit, for the sake of a successful Vilnius and a successful Ukraine, for the sake of a historic and crucial agreement with the EU”. Photograph: /Sergei Chuzavkov/AP Photo
European leaders are increasing pressure on Ukraine to release its former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko from jail, ahead of a major summit at which the EU hopes to prise the country from Russia’s grip and firmly align its future with the west.
The issue will surely top the agenda when Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich meets counterparts from Germany, Italy and Poland today to discuss Kiev’s chances of signing key political and free trade deals with the EU at its Eastern Partnership summit in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius next month.
Today’s meeting in Krakow comes three days after EU special envoys to Ukraine – Ireland’s former European Parliament president Pat Cox and ex-Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski – formally asked Mr Yanukovich to pardon Ms Tymoshenko. He has yet to respond to their request. Mr Cox and Mr Kwasniewski, who are monitoring Ukraine’s court cases against Ms Tymoshenko for the European Parliament, also asked the jailed opposition leader to accept Germany’s offer of treatment for her back problems. Ms Tymoshenko said she would accept the offer to “ease the situation ahead of the Eastern Partnership summit, for the sake of a successful Vilnius and a successful Ukraine, for the sake of a historic and crucial agreement with the EU”. The EU has warned Ukraine that it will not sign the landmark deals next month unless Ms Tymoshenko is released from a seven-year conviction for abuse of power, which the EU and the United States see as the most egregious case of the courts being used to crush Mr Yanukovich’s critics. Mr Yanukovich, who has a long history of bitter enmity with Ms Tymoshenko, says he is determined to sign the EU deals but has no power to overrule the court’s verdict against his most charismatic and popular opponent.
‘I will not hide abroad’
He has suggested that he may be willing to pardon Ms Tymoshenko if she “co-operates” with the authorities – perhaps hinting that she should admit her guilt. But she has vowed never to do that. “I have struggled and will struggle for my full legal rehabilitation, for the annulment of all the false charges against me, for my return to political life,” Ms Tymoshenko said last Friday. “I clearly state that my possible departure to Germany is not emigration. I will never ask for political asylum anywhere and I will not hide abroad. I exhausted all my fear a long time ago. I will play the most active part in the process of liberating Ukraine from dictatorship.”
Russia has warned Ukraine to expect counter-measures if it signs the EU deals, which would prevent it joining Moscow’s customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan and the Kremlin’s planned Eurasian Union of former Soviet states.