Ukraine’s ambitions to join the EU were expected to take a big step forward this week during a visit by President Viktor Yanukovic to Brussels.
But relations between the two sides have been so severely strained by the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko that the trip has been postponed.
Europe suspects the seven year sentence for abuse of powers was politically motivated.
In an exclusive interview, our correspondent in Ukraine raised this and other contentious issues with President Yanukovich.
Sergio Cantone, euronews:
“According to the criticisms coming from other countries at an institutional level, not only at public opinion level, the judiciary system here, in this country, is not that independent and they are saying that you as a president have the power to influence these kind of decisions. What is your response to that?”
President Viktor Yanukovic:
“The reforms of the judicial system should not be an area of disappointment for the EU’s leaders; more than an year and half ago we started to address these issues and started thinking about systematic decisions. We are doing this as part of the process of EU integration, what we are doing is for our own sake. We realise that our legal standards need to change.”
“If there is this reform, maybe Mrs Tymoshenko will be released?”
“The Tymoshenko issue is rather controversial because it contains numerous abuses of the law. This is both a political and a criminal issue. And the second part is just a criminal issue, not political. It’s a violation of criminal law. We are talking about tax evasion, we are talking about losses to the national budget, we are talking about gas that did not go through proper customs procedures and then reached the Ukrainian people, we are talking about the losses sustained by the country.”
“So you are saying that the EU is wrong when it criticises Ukraine in this case, because the impression is that there are other reasons, like for example the fact that Tymoshenko closed a company that was very close to the interests of your own party…
“In the case of Tymoshenko it is impossible to jump to any conclusion, conclusions can only be drawn by courts. Here we have to take into account the court cases that took place abroad. There was the case of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko found guilty in the US of extortion, money-laundering and fraud and in Russia the case of General Georgy Oleynik found guilty of abuse of office.”
“The EU officials seem to ignore all this kind of allegations you are talking about. Because apparently, the allegation of the object of the trial was actually the signature, so what is considered to be a political approach and not a criminal one, by most of the international observers. What is going on?”
“I’ve never used my position to put pressure on law makers or courts in Ukraine. I wanted Tymoshenko to prove her innocence. If she made a mistake, and then the entire country suffered as a consequence then she should admit it. If she didn’t pay taxes she should admit it and pay them. That is just natural, you pay your taxes. By all means we want Ukraine to mature, to integrate and to adopt new, modern European standards and rules.”
“These accusations are coming from the international community actually.”
“Ukraine has to start changing for the better, but putting pressure on us to do it faster and in artificial way is wrong. It is the process and this process is still continuing and is leading to progress, and it’s bringing positive changes already.”