Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych reflected on achievments and challenges of his first two years as leader of the country during a rare and long television interview.
Aired on state television channel First National, Inter and ICTV, the Ukrainian leader also hinted during the two-hour long interview that his standoff with the European Union over the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko could be defused later this year.
Under fire in Ukraine and abroad for allegedly waging a campaign of political persecution to sideline opponents,Yanukovych claimed that he more than anyone has suffered due to the controversial 7-year sentence handed down upon Tymoshenko. Yanukovych said that he had the most to gain by finding a proper solution.
The EU has continued this year to press Yanukovych's administration hard on its concerns about politically-motivated prosecutions and selective justice. Brussels has urged Yanukovych to find a way to release Tymoshenko and other jailed opposition politicians, and to allow them to take part in the October parliamentary elections. Failure to deliver on this would jeopardize closer relations through signing of association and free trade agreements, EU officials have said.
Without going into too much specifics, Yanukovych said that legislation that will be adopted soon to reform Ukraine's criminal procedural code and judicial systems could provide a new opportunity for Tymoshenko to further appeal her verdict. Yanukovych also said he would consider pardoning Tymoshenko if all her appeals in Ukrainian courts fail.
In the interview, Yanukovych discussed a broad range of issues with three television talk show hosts. He said negotiations with Russia in which Kyiv is seeking fair natural gas import prices were difficult, but stressed that his administration would not give up on its demand for lower prices. Referring to relations with Russia, he said:"It is not wise to fall asleep next to a big bear."
During the interview, Yanukovych denied that mass media and democracy were at risk under his rule. He was upbeat on the chances that his Region's Party had in the upcoming parliamentary election. He also explained the logic behind a recent round of reshuffing in the government and said a decision was made to retain Prime Minister Mykola Azarov as head of the Cabinet of Ministers in the near-term.
Click here to watch the 2-hour interview which was conducted in Ukrainian and Russian languages.