Ukraine is seeking to build self-confidence in its relationship with Europe. It hopes its October 28 elections will improve its prospects, if they are judged to be free of fraud.
However, EU heavyweights such as Germany say they will block an Association Agreement with Ukraine as long as former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko remains in jail.
Several countries concerned for the rule of law are keen to hold Kiev to account, but a parliamentary official downplayed this.
Leonid Kozhara, deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in the Ukrainian parliament, said: “The status of democracy and Yulia Tymoshenko can go in parallel with economic talks, with talks on cooperation in technical, cultural and other spheres. That’s why I don’t support position by the European Union that one question can overshadow the whole scope of relations.”
The EU wants the Ukrainian political environment to improve, making this a condition for enhanced cooperation. It does not want Ukraine’s current leaders to think they can ignore principles which the EU holds dear. It considers that a Ukrainian court conviction of Tymoshenko one year ago, of abuse of office, and jailing her for seven years was politically motivated.
German MEP Rebecca Harms said: “In the European Parliament, concerns about political developments in Ukraine have been growing for a long time – since the last presidential election. We are not satisfied with the development of the rule of law. We are not satisfied with development concerning values such as freedom of the press, freedom of expression, pluralism of opinions. The cases of Yulia Tymoshenko and Yurij Lutsenko throw a long shadow over these elections.”
Ukraine argues there is a lack of coherence among the EU member states. The last time top EU officials met the Ukrainian leadership was in December. Kiev prefers a softer stance adopted by several Central and Eastern European capitals, who are afraid Western Europe could “lose Ukraine” to greater Russian influence.
Oleksandr Sushko, with the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, suggested the imprisonment dispute may be keeping Ukraine at arm’s length for different reasons. He said: “There are some actors, some politicians for whom Tymoshenko is rather a personal issue. For them, the imprisonment of Tymoshenko is a personal challenge, but for the others it may serve as a pretext and taken together these issues are working for certain stagnation of the EU-Ukraine relations.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been offering his Ukraine counterpart Viktor Yanukovich membership in the Eurasian Customs Union for at least two years, along with Kazakhstan and Belarus. But a significant majority of Ukrainians want their country to get closer to the EU.
Ukraine is an essential transit country for Russian energy exports to the EU. Ukrainians feel the control of their own gas infrastructure is the key to their sovereignty.
Tymoshenko was put in prison ostensibly over setting terms for gas contracts which favoured Russia.
She has urged the EU to be wary of transactions with today’s government.