Yulia Tymoshenko urges Ukrainian president to sign EU deal

Jailed former PM vows to drop demands for her release if Viktor Yanukovich changes approach

Protesters attending a rally to support EU integration in central Kiev yesterday. The EU’s enlargement chief said  he had “not fully given up” on signing a landmark trade and co-operation agreement with Ukraine at a summit next week, despite Kiev saying it was suspending work on the accord. Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Protesters attending a rally to support EU integration in central Kiev yesterday. The EU’s enlargement chief said he had “not fully given up” on signing a landmark trade and co-operation agreement with Ukraine at a summit next week, despite Kiev saying it was suspending work on the accord. Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

 


Jailed former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has offered to drop demands for her release if president Viktor Yanukovich signs a trade and political pact with the European Union next week, as EU officials said they had not given up hope of salvaging the historic deal.

Ukraine’s government, which is loyal to Mr Yanukovich, announced on Thursday that it would not sign an association and free trade agreement with the EU due to fears of economic retaliation from Russia, Ukraine’s huge neighbour, traditional ally and main trading partner.

Kiev and Brussels have negotiated the deals over several years, but they appear to have collapsed due to Mr Yanukovich’s refusal to release Ms Tymoshenko from jail and his fear that the EU and IMF would not compensate Ukraine for the economic damage done by Russian reprisals.

One of the EU’s key demands is that Ukraine end all politically motivated prosecutions, and both Brussels and Washington see opposition leader Ms Tymoshenko as the most prominent victim of such persecution. She was controversially jailed in 2011 for seven years for abuse of power.

Open letter
In an open letter to Mr Yanukovich, Ms Tymoshenko urged him to call an extraordinary meeting of Ukraine’s national security council and decide to sign the EU pact.

“I give you my word that if you decide in the national security council to sign the deal, I will that same day appeal to European leaders to sign the agreement without the fulfilment of some criteria, including those relating to my release,” she wrote. “It is your only chance to survive as a politician because now, killing the agreement, you are making the biggest mistake of your life.”

Ms Tymoshenko also called on her compatriots to protest against the government’s rejection of the EU deal, a pact that surveys show is favoured by most Ukrainians. “I am calling on all people to react to this as they would to a coup d’etat – that is: get out on to the streets,” Ms Tymoshenko said in a letter read by her lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko.

Street protests
Demonstrators gathered in several Ukrainian cities last night. To jeers of “Shame” from opposition deputies, Ukrainian prime minister Mykola Azarov told parliament yesterday that the government had made a “tactical” decision not to sign the EU deal due to pressing economic concerns, but had not changed its strategy of EU integration.

Ukraine is banking on immediate help from Russia, in the form of cheap credit and lower gas prices, which would support an ailing economy and help Mr Yanukovich win re-election in 2015, without the conditions attached to aid from the IMF or EU.

Some leading EU politicians refused to accept defeat, however. “We have not fully given up,” said EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele.

Former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski, now an EU envoy to Ukraine, said he hoped for a change of heart from Mr Yanukovich: “There are still a few days left,” he said. “Hope dies last.”