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Ukraine Under Increasing Fire Over Jailed Ex-PM


Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko waves to supporters from a prison window in Kyiv, Ukraine, November 4, 2011.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko waves to supporters from a prison window in Kyiv, Ukraine, November 4, 2011.

MOSCOW - The government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has given the European Union permission to send specialists to assess the condition of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who says she was beaten by prison guards last month while being transferred to a hospital for treatment of a back condition. Meanwhile, criticism in connection with Tymoshenko's incarceration is mounting in the West, with some European leaders threatening to boycott the Euro 2012 football championship in Kyiv next month.

Tymoshenko was convicted last year on charges of abusing power while in office -- charges she and her supporters, along with the EU and the United States, say were politically motivated.

Tymoshenko, who was sentenced to seven years in prison, went on a hunger strike last month after accusing prison staff of beating her while she was being transferred to a hospital. Ukrainian officials deny the charges.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov alluded to the controversy about Ms. Tymoshenko's treatment in a speech he gave to the European Parliament while visiting Brussels Wednesday. He accused political opponents of "unscrupulously misinforming and deluding" European officials.

The EU has warned Kyiv it will not sign agreements on political association and a free-trade zone if Ms. Tymoshenko remains in prison. Earlier this month, Ukraine's government was forced to postpone a Central and Eastern European summit in Yalta after European leaders threatened to boycott it. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said he will not attend the Euro 2012 football ((soccer)) championship in Kyiv next month and other European leaders could follow suit.

But some observers question whether such actions will have an impact on President Yanukovych's government.

Taras Kuzio of Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, says there is no way the government will free Ms. Tymoshenko or other jailed opponents, such as former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko -- at least before Ukraine's parliamentary elections in October.

"The priority for them is to obtain a parliamentary majority, because they see that as a stepping stone to Yanukovych winning a second term in 2015. So there will be no softening of the official position on these individuals who are incarcerated for political reasons, because the priority for Viktor Yanukovych is not European integration. The priority for Viktor Yanukovych is a political and economic monopoly of power."

Olexiy Haran, a political science professor at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in the Ukrainian capital, says the boycott of the summit in Yalta and the threatened boycott of the Euro 2012 football championship are important symbolically, but that further steps are needed.

"What I believe now is important are targeted sanctions, not against the country, and not even against Yanukovych at this point, but against some people in law enforcement bodies in Ukraine -- at least one or two -- in order to show what would be the result if the present course would continue," Haran said.

Haran says Yanukovych does not want to be seen in the West as an illegitimate leader and, therefore, what he hears from officials at the NATO summit taking place in Chicago on Sunday and Monday will be "really important."

Speaking to VOA's Ukrainian service after visiting Yulia Tymoshenko in the hospital earlier this week, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Tefft said Washington continues to view her prosecution and the prosecution of other opposition leaders as politically motivated. He also stressed the importance of conducting free and fair elections for parliament this coming October. He noted that U.S. President Barack Obama raised these issues with Mr. Yanukovych when they met at a nuclear summit in Seoul earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Yevgenia Tymoshenko, the jailed former prime minister's daughter, told a U.S. congressional panel in Washington, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, or U.S. Helsinki Commission, Thursday, via live video link from Kyiv, that she is "very afraid" for her mother’s life in the hospital. She called on U.S. legislators to "keep the pressure on" Ukraine's government.
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