News / Europe

Europe Presses Ukraine Leader on Tymoshenko Deal

People pass by a poster of Ukraine's imprisoned former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko at a tent camp of her supporters in central Kyiv, Ukraine, in this April 30, 2013, file photo. The text on top reads:
People pass by a poster of Ukraine's imprisoned former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko at a tent camp of her supporters in central Kyiv, Ukraine, in this April 30, 2013, file photo. The text on top reads: "No to political repressions."
Reuters
He might be ready to let her out. But he can't afford to let her back.

As deadlines near on the future of Ukraine's ties with Europe, President Viktor Yanukovych is under pressure to put aside personal animosity and let his jailed opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, go to Germany for medical treatment.

Softening Yanukovych's hardline stance on his arch-rival is seen as crucial if Ukraine is to secure the signing of landmark agreements, including a free trade deal, with the European Union at a November summit.

But, diplomats say, the 63-year-old former truck driver knows that allowing her to rejoin the political fray would endanger his run at a second term in 2015, given her formidable populist appeal and her organizational skills.

“The proposal is for Tymoshenko to go for treatment in Germany on condition that she does not take part in Ukraine's political life,” wrote Dmitry Korotkov in Segodnya newspaper.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, second left, inspects navy ships with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in the Crimea, July 28, 2013.Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, second left, inspects navy ships with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in the Crimea, July 28, 2013.
x
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, second left, inspects navy ships with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in the Crimea, July 28, 2013.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, second left, inspects navy ships with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in the Crimea, July 28, 2013.
Others were more blunt. “He wants her politically dead,” one diplomat told Reuters.

The bile between Yanukovych and the sharp-tongued Tymoshenko has poisoned Ukrainian politics for years. The former prime minister emerged as his nemesis in the 2004 “Orange Revolution” when she used her powerful skills as an orator to lead street protests against vote-rigging, dooming his first bid for power.

Her defeat by Yanukovych in a bitterly-fought run-off vote in February 2010, in which she heaped insults on him, led her to a prison cell, say her supporters.

Since late 2011 she has been serving a seven-year jail term after being convicted of abuse-of-office, most of it under guard in a hospital where she is being treated for back trouble.

Political revenge

Tymoshenko denies any wrongdoing and says her prosecution is political revenge - a view shared by the European Union which has denounced her case as “selective justice” in the former Soviet republic.

From her hospital room, Tymoshenko continues to berate Yanukovych, accusing him of plundering the country's resources to enrich himself, his family and his coterie of favorites.

At a March news conference Yanukovych declined to give a direct answer about his wealth or that of his elder son, Olexander, a wealthy businessman, but routinely dismisses such charges as politically motivated.

Tymoshenko's critics lay similar charges at her door, pointing to the personal fortune she amassed in the 1990s as a businesswoman operating in a murky gas industry - activity which earned her the nickname of 'the gas princess.'

'Humanitarian' gesture

For some months now, E.U. heavyweight Germany has been formulating a plan to provide Yanukovych with a way out - quietly pushing a “humanitarian” solution in which Tymoshenko could be received for medical treatment in a Berlin hospital.

This formula - so the logic goes - would allow Yanukovych to show himself in a good light and might ensure signing of planned agreements on political association and free trade with the European Union at the Vilnius, Lithuania, summit.

“In his intensive exchanges with counterparts in the Ukrainian government, Foreign Minister [Guido] Westerwelle has reiterated the government's offer of medical treatment for Yulia Tymoshenko in Germany,” the German Foreign Ministry said in Berlin.

Envoys from the European Parliament who also last April helped secure the release of a Tymoshenko ally, visited Ukraine again last week, pushing “the German option” as a way of breaking the deadlock over Tymoshenko.

But it is still unclear which way Yanukovych will jump as his administration continues to pile up charges against her.

Fearing a Tymoshenko comeback

Yanukovych's fears Tymoshenko could re-emerge as a political threat to him, no matter what the conditions attached to a humanitarian pardon, have led to tortuous negotiations, an E.U. insider said.

According to this source, the Yanukovych camp is insisting as part of any deal that she must pay back more than 1.5 billion hryvnias (about $188 million) in estimated damages to the Ukrainian economy caused by her alleged reckless conduct as prime minister.

“The thinking is that that would prevent her [from] financing any campaign against him,” the source said.

Brushing off E.U. charges of “selective justice”, Yanukovych's aides repeat the mantra that the rule of law has to be respected.

Potential rewards

Yet an end to the impasse promises Yanukovych rich rewards.

The free-trade agreement potentially on offer from the European Union would open up a huge market for Ukrainian exports - steel, grain, chemicals and food products - and provide a powerful spur for much-needed foreign investment.

That would be a boon for a country traditionally reliant on trade with Russia and guarantee Yanukovych a place in the history books, something aides say he still aspires to.

An E.U. deal is also in the interests of influential power brokers in Ukraine such as steel billionaire Rinat Akhmetov and others, and Yanukovych has consistently set European integration as a foreign policy priority.

Nevertheless, only a change of power in 2015 and the end of the Yanukovych leadership is likely to secure early release for the ambitious Tymoshenko.

She is under family pressure to protect her health but knows departure might end her political career in politics.

Second term within reach

For despite low ratings due to popular anger over low wages, high prices, poor social services and endemic corruption, Yanukovych looks well placed for re-election in 2015 - as long as Tymoshenko remains out of the running.

Opposition figures such as world heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko and former economy minister Arseny Yatseniuk have failed to agree on a single candidate to challenge him.

Though opinion polls now show Yanukovych well behind in any straight fight with Klitschko, most commentators believe he will be able to marshal the resources of wealthy entrepreneurs and a tamed press to ensure a second term.

So as time for a deal runs out - the mediation mandate of two European parliament envoys expires at the end of September - Yanukovych has yet to signal he is ready to compromise.

“The cost of letting her go is too much to President Yanukovych personally,” said Olha Shumylo-Tapiola, visiting scholar of Carnegie Europe in Brussels.

“If Tymoshenko gets out somehow, this would be a real threat for Yanukovych. Even if she could not run in the election, she has very strong organizational powers. She is still considered a very dangerous person for the authorities,” she said.

You May Like

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs