Ukraine’s EU Neighbors Oppose Kyiv’s EU Bid Over Tymoshenko Case

Posted October 14th, 2011 at 1:20 pm (UTC-5)
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The prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary say they will not support Ukraine's efforts to join the European Union as long as Kyiv keeps opposition leader and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko in jail.

Meeting Friday in Prague, the leaders of the three central European countries said Ms. Tymoshenko's imprisonment had raised questions about Ukraine's commitment to human rights.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas, who hosted the meeting, said the leaders cannot imagine ratifying an EU treaty with Ukraine while Ms. Tymoshenko is in prison.

A Ukrainian court earlier this week sentenced Ms. Tymoshenko to seven years for exceeding her powers as prime minister when she signed a 2009 gas deal with Russia that her opponents say was overly beneficial to Moscow.

The state security service opened a new criminal case against her on Thursday, accusing her of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds.

The European Union has warned Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych that the case will have a major impact on Ukraine's aspirations for gaining EU membership. EU diplomats have warned that planned bilateral agreements on political association and free trade may never be ratified if Ms. Tymoshenko, who was expected to be the main opposition candidate in the 2012 elections, is jailed or is barred from running for office.

Ms. Tymoshenko's lawyers plan to appeal that verdict. She has denounced the case as a “political lynching” by the government of President Yanukovych, a longtime rival who narrowly defeated her in last year's presidential election. Western powers criticized the sentencing of Ms. Tymoshenko and called for her release.

Mr. Yanukovych said Thursday the jailing of the former prime minister is hurting Ukraine's prospects for integrating with the EU, and he is unhappy about that.

The Ukrainian president also said Ms Tymoshenko's fate may be determined by proposed amendments to Ukraine's criminal code that would decriminalize her abuse-of-office offense. He said such amendments will be considered by an appeals court if they are approved before her appeal process begins.

In its new corruption case against Ms. Tymoshenko, Ukraine's SBU security agency accuses her of having a co-conspirator — former prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who served in 1996 and 1997. Lazarenko is serving a prison term in the United States for money-laundering and other offenses.

The two are accused of embezzling government money to settle the debts of natural gas company Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine. Ms. Tymoshenko ran the company in the 1990s, before serving two terms as prime minister in 2005 and from 2007 to 2010.