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- November 18, 2013 at 2:00 pm #345957
Editorial from yesterday's New York Times…A protester in Kiev last month showing support for former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has been in prison since 2011.
November 16, 2013
Waiting to See if Ukraine Tilts East or West
By SERGE SCHMEMANN
Curiously, the ferocious tug-of-war between Russia and the European Union over Ukraine has come down to whether Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister who is serving a seven-year prison sentence, is freed in the next few days.
In less than two weeks, Ukraine is supposed to sign an “association agreement” with the European Union at an E.U. summit meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania. The agreement is far short of E.U. membership, or even candidacy for membership, but it includes a free-trade pact and promises of financial aid that Ukraine, in dire straits, desperately needs.
The agreement is essentially ready, the Ukrainian Parliament has voted for it, and President Viktor Yanukovich says he is prepared to sign. But it may not be.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia is fiercely opposed to the agreement. While a large majority of Russians seems to accept the idea that Ukraine is a separate country, Mr. Putin has become increasingly emotional in asserting that Ukraine belongs with Russia, and only with Russia. His pet international project is a Eurasian Union, which he depicts as a sort of eastern E.U. but Western critics view as an incipient Soviet reincarnation.
At this fall’s annual meeting with Russia experts and journalists in Valdai, Russia, Mr. Putin spoke of Ukrainians and Russians as one people, and he has threatened Ukraine with severe consequences if it signs the agreement with the E.U.
Last August, the Kremlin fired a warning shot, ordering tough customs restrictions against Ukraine and all but halting Ukrainian imports for a week. (This month, Ukraine halted Russian natural gas imports, but that seems to be more of a dispute over payments than tension over the E.U.)
On the E.U. side, East European members like Poland and Lithuania have been particularly keen to pull Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit as a further buffer against Moscow’s ambitions. Other members farther west, like Germany and France, already suffering from pronounced “expansion fatigue” and the euro crisis, have been less enthusiastic about Ukraine, especially given its rampant corruption and cronyism. (Ukraine ranks a dismal 144th out of 176 nations and territories on the corruption perceptions index compiled by Transparency International, an organization that monitors corruption around the world.) The United States, which in the first years after the breakup of the Soviet Union ardently courted Ukraine, has basically lost interest.
Nonetheless, there is a shared sense in the E.U. that its members carry responsibility for extending the values of democracy, human rights and rule of law to countries still quite distant from these values on the far reaches of the Continent, and so a formal signing of the association agreement — and the initiating of similar agreements with Moldova and Georgia — was scheduled for the European Partnership Summit in Vilnius. The summit meeting is the third under the partnership program, which was begun in 2009 to strengthen ties with former Soviet republics.
Basically, the E.U. is prepared to accept President Yanukovich’s corrupt business dealings and practices in the faint hope that working with the E.U. will have a remedial effect on Ukraine. But it has made a singular demand of Mr. Yanukovich: Release Ms. Tymoshenko or no deal.
Ms. Tymoshenko, a major political force in Ukraine since the 2004 Orange Revolution, has her own dubious past, but there are not many people who gained power or made fortunes cleanly in Ukraine in the chaos of the early post-Soviet years. More to the point, the Orange Revolution denied Mr. Yanukovich a rigged election victory, but five years later he turned the tables and beat Ms. Tymoshenko for the presidency.
In October 2011, Ms. Tymoshenko was convicted on abuse-of-office charges in negotiating a 2009 gas deal with Russia that were widely perceived as political score-settling by Mr. Yanukovich. (Ms. Tymoshenko is now hospitalized under guard, suffering from a slipped disk.)
Despite visits and pleas by several E.U. delegations, Mr. Yanukovich has refused to release her. By most accounts, he so despises Ms. Tymoshenko that he simply cannot abide the idea of her being at large — not to mention running against him in the 2015 presidential elections.
“I think it’s visceral, and somewhat irrational,” said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “He just thinks she needs to sit in jail — and now he’s playing chicken with the E.U.”
One jailed politician in a country as corrupt as Ukraine may seem a strange issue on which a matter as important as an E.U. association would turn, but it does have symbolic power.
“The Yulia case goes well beyond Yulia,” said Carl Bildt, the foreign minister of Sweden and one of the European leaders who met with Mr. Yanukovich. “She is a symbol of the way the law is treated in Ukraine,” he said, and a test of whether the government abides by the rule of law.
In itself, the Nov. 28 deadline for the association agreement is arbitrary; it could be signed anytime. But after all the passions aroused, failing to reach a deal in Vilnius would be a victory for Mr. Putin’s bullying and might further convince skeptical members of the E.U. that Kiev is too messy to bother with.
At the same time, allowing Mr. Yanukovich to win in this standoff and signing the agreement with Ms. Tymoshenko still in prison would be an unacceptable retreat. The only solution is to turn the heat up on him, and to impress on him that imprisoning his political rival will deny his country its best chance for growth and democracy.November 18, 2013 at 7:38 pm #423754
This is a very interesting article. Thank you for posting it hereNovember 21, 2013 at 11:56 am #423755
AnonymousQuote:This is a very interesting article. Thank you for posting it here
You are welcome, Sunniva89. The news next week should be interesting! (The EU Partnership Summit in Vilnius will be Thursday, 28th and Friday, 29th.)
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