A fresh wave of uncertainty has hit the shore of EU-Ukraine relations, as the EU has issued an ultimatum to the Ukraine: release Yulia Tymoshenko or you will not sign the Association Agreement next month. It was a choice emphasised by Deputy of the European Parliament, Vice President of the European People’s Party Jacek Saryusz-Wolski and reiterated by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Kyiv on Friday, during his speech at the “The Way Ahead for the Eastern Partnership”. So, what happened exactly?
German FM Westerwelle spoke encouragingly of Ukraine’s progress in the lead up to the Vilnius summit, saying:
“At the Vilnius Summit, Ukraine has the unique opportunity to open the door to the most comprehensive association agreement the European Union has ever embarked upon. It is a choice for the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government to commit itself to our shared values. Only a few days ago, the Rada here in Kiev voted in favor of the EU association with an overwhelming majority. Public support for the agreement is strong, also among the opposition and in civil society. We share a strategic interest in signing the negotiated agreement now. I have therefore encouraged the Ukrainian leaders to clear the remaining stumbling blocks on the road to a successful Vilnius summit.”
Elucidating on the stumbling blocks he was referring to, Westerwelle continued:
“We acknowledge the significant progress that Ukraine has achieved. We also acknowledge the many difficult decisions which have already been taken. But some clear expectations remain. They include free and fair elections and sound electoral laws, reforms, particularly in the judicial sphere, and an end to selective justice. Some individual cases have gained significant attention across Europe and we need further progress. The Vilnius Summit can mark the true beginning of a renewed European partnership.”
— Galina Fomenchenko (@GFomenchenko) October 11, 2013
The imprisonment of ex-Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko is perhaps the most outstanding example of selective justice in Ukraine–with many panning her incarceration as baseless and entirely politically motivated. Her release was always cited as one of the EU’s criteria for Ukraine to sign the DCFTA in November–but a firm deadline has not been set, until now.
But, will Ukraine be able to fulfill the new deadline by next week? Jacek Saryusz-Wolski explains why it is essential that they do just that:
“EU foreign ministers will hold the meeting on November 18, a few days before the Vilnius summit… This is Ukraine’s strategy to decide at the last moment: some say you are used to it, but the EU isn’t. This will be a fatal error if it happens at the last minute … We would like the requirements to be fulfilled before October 21… Everything that will come later will pose a serious risk.If Ukraine fails to meet the requirements, there will be no maneuvers and possibilities to sign the Association Agreement.”
— Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (@JSaryuszWolski) October 12, 2013
However, Westerwelle has expressed his opinion that Tymoshenko’s release is easier said than done, explaining that are many political and legal obstacles. According to reports, during Westerwelle’s meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Yanukovych did not give a firm answer to the EU’s demand that he release his opponent and allow her to leave for Germany to receive medical treatment. Westerwelle, however, has said that he felt that “serious attempts and serious efforts” were under way to overcome the Tymoshenko issue..
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara, standing with Westerwelle, said Tymoshenko’s release had to be in accordance with the country’s constitution and laws. He said it also represented a political problem “since millions of people in this country sincerely believe that Mrs Tymoshenko carried out a crime which was confirmed by a Ukrainian court”.
Yulia Tymoshenko can be released next month -German FM Westerwelle
— Russian Market (@russian_market) October 11, 2013
Westerwelle still appeared optimistic about the near-future for Ukraine in the EaP, and the pivotal culmination Vilnius offers, saying in Kyiv:
“Next month in Vilnius we can open a new chapter in the history of Ukraine and of Europe together. Let us continue to work hard to make it happen.”
Nevertheless, Germany’s seemingly committed attitude towards Ukraine’s EU-aspirations have also come under fire. Ukrainian-German relations expert, Andreas Umland, published an article yesterday taking a look at Germany’s policy towards Russia, particularly as it applies to natural gas, and its implications on Ukraine. Umland explains:
“How should Berlin behave towards Moscow in light of the increasingly authoritarian trends in Putin’s third presidential term? Germany’s policy towards Russia has been tested, over the last months, regarding its ethical and political implications. In contrast, the geostrategic intricacies of Germany’s close economic cooperation with this post-imperial autocracy have received less attention. What consequences for Eastern Europe, as an economic and political space, does Germany’s close cooperation with Russia have?”
“On the surface, these joint ventures seem to be purely Western European-Russian undertakings. Their geopolitical effects are however, closely linked to the future integrity and sovereignty of some non-Russian former Soviet republics – most of all Ukraine. While this nexus remains mostly unknown to the German public, the close connection between German-Russian economic cooperation and the future of the Ukrainian state is an obvious issue for Ukrainians.”
Umland elaborates on the impact close ties between Germany and Russian elites are perceived in Ukraine:
“The ominousness of the special political and economic relationship a part of Germany’s elite has with Russia is, of course, known and occasionally a topic of snappy journalistic commentary, in Berlin. However, because the political and ethical ambivalence of this relationship is so obvious, serious discussions about its potential collateral damage, geostrategic implications and long-term consequences occur – if at all – mostly in the quiet. In Ukraine, on the other hand, the seeming German-Russian political friendship and considerable economic links between the two former empires have become a consistent feature in the media. There is a Ukrainian perception that Germany is conducting its energy policies in Eastern Europe at the cost of Ukrainian sovereignty. To be sure, this accusation is, as such, misleading.”
Under such circumstances, the strength of Germany’s influence over Ukrainian internal affairs, such as Tymoshenko, remains a subject for debate.
— GermanForeignOffice (@GermanyDiplo) October 11, 2013
The European Parliament’s monitoring mission to Ukraine, headed by former Polish President Alexander Kwaśniewski and former European Parliament President Pat Cox, are still vying for her prompt release. Kwaśniewsk and Cox held a conference regarding the EP and its mission to Ukraine, marking a year and a half of trying to find a “humanitarian” resolution in the case of Tymoshenko. It was decided that the mission will continue until mid-November, some days before the Vilnius summit, when a decision about Tymoshenko’s release and move to Germany for medical treatment will be decided upon.
It was also decided by Kwaśniewsk and Cox and the EP that it was possible to draft a letter with Tymoshenko which could be given to President Yanukovych as a step in brokering a deal to obtain her release. The EP ruled that such a measure was not without precedent–citing the previous case of Yuriy Lutsenko, who was imprisoned for 4 years after a trial which was not considered to meet international norms.