Tymoshenko’s trial and Ukraine’s future

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Aug. 12, 2011, 12:33 a.m. | Op-ed — by Carl Bildt

Carl Bildt

The show trial of the ex-prime minister risks turning Ukraine into an estranged cousin in Europe. STOCKHOLM – There is little doubt that the embarrassing spectacle of the trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko – and her recent arrest on contempt charges during the proceedings– is causing great damage to her country.

And there is little doubt that how Ukraine develops will be of great importance for Europe’s future.

Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 ignited the hope of a new wave of democratic reforms in the countries to the east of the European Union – a period of so-called “color” revolutions.

Soon, however, those forces that feared losing power in this vast and important region began a determined counter-offensive.

Nonetheless, Ukraine continued to stumble in a European direction, preserving important parts of the gains made in 2004. The 2010 comeback of President Viktor Yanukovych was essentially the result of a free and fair election.

A democratic Ukraine with an open economy and close ties with the European Union could not fail to influence Russia’s future path as well.
It took some time, but Yanukovych’s determination to press on with the European integration efforts begun by his predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko, has become increasingly clear – in the face of repeated calls (and sometimes thinly veiled threats) by Russia to join its customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Indeed, tension with Russia could well escalate towards the end of the year, because Ukraine’s foreign-policy orientation is of clear consequence to the Kremlin.

A democratic Ukraine with an open economy and close ties with the European Union could not fail to influence Russia’s future path as well.

Negotiations for an association agreement between Ukraine and the EU, which includes far-reaching provisions for trade and regulatory integration, are well advanced, and could even be concluded this year.

The agreement could become a model for similar agreements with other countries belonging to the EU’s Eastern Partnership. Georgia and Moldova are lined up to start similar negotiations.

Ukraine, reasonably enough, wants this agreement to be accompanied by an acknowledgment of its European destiny, and by clear steps towards reciprocal visa-free travel.

Such an acknowledgement could be seen as formal recognition of the fact that membership of the EU remains a long-term option for Ukraine.

All of that has been put in profound jeopardy by Tymoshenko’s trial. Of course, few saints grace Ukrainian politics. Indeed, large-scale corruption has become entrenched in the country’s political system, with various oligarchic groups often battling each other.

The corruption networks surrounding the old Soviet pipeline system carrying gas from Siberia to Western Europe have obviously impeded Ukraine’s political development. But, whether saint or sinner, everyone deserves a fair hearing, not a show trial.

The rule of law must apply to all, and very few believe that any of the charges against Tymoshenko would stand the slightest chance of being upheld in a Western court. It all smacks of a politically directed attempt by Yanukovych and his supporters to rid themselves of a powerful opponent before the next election.

Together with other similar cases, these trials raise serious questions about Ukraine’s judicial system and law enforcement agencies. They provide the clearest indication yet that Ukraine, despite assurances by Yanukovych’s government, is developing in the wrong direction.

Negotiations on the EU association agreement should proceed – this is an issue of strategic importance to Europe – but subsequent steps will inevitably depend on Ukraine’s commitment to the values and principles underpinning European integration.

If the bizarre scenes now being witnessed in Kyiv continue, even Ukraine’s closest friends in Europe will find it very difficult to make the case for a deepening of relations. Tymoshenko’s trial, and how she is treated by the Ukrainian authorities, must not only be fair, but also must be seen to be fair.

Ukraine’s moves in the direction of the EU reflect its efforts to modernize and reform its economy. Indeed, the country could develop into a mini-China, placing massive manufacturing capacity immediately adjacent to the global economy’s largest integrated market.

Freedom House concluded earlier this year that, since Yanukovych came to power in 2010, Ukraine “has become less democratic and, if current trends are left unchecked, may head down a path toward autocracy and kleptocracy.”

And Ukraine’s potential as an agricultural producer is equally impressive.

Yet Ukraine currently is struggling to meet the conditions of its IMF assistance program.

Parliament watered down a proposal for far-reaching pension reform to the point that it borders on useless, and repeated promises to stop subsidizing wasteful energy consumption through low gas prices have not been honored.

Determined reform policies could overcome these obstacles; but, if Ukraine wants to proceed on the EU path, it must understand that the rule of law is a precondition for substantial integration.

Yanukovych’s government must take stock of its behavior.

Freedom House concluded earlier this year that, since Yanukovych came to power in 2010, Ukraine “has become less democratic and, if current trends are left unchecked, may head down a path toward autocracy and kleptocracy.” But its assessment also noted that “political and cultural diversity is a bulwark against any one force dominating political space throughout the country.”

So Ukraine’s future remains open. It is a great country that deserves a secure and prosperous future as a member of Europe’s family. The show trial of Tymoshenko, unfortunately, risks turning it into an estranged cousin.

Carl Bildt is foreign minister of Sweden. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011; Project Syndicate granted the rights to reprint this column to the Kyiv Post.

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Anonymous Aug. 12, 2011, 9:46 a.m.    

The Tymoshenko trial proves that Ukraine is no part of Western Europe and will never be. You are a nation of kleptokrats, thieves and with a parliament which is nothing but your own version of Cosa Nostra.

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Anonymous Aug. 13, 2011, 5:17 p.m.    

Thank you Mister Moscow. Ukraine's situation is all Russia's fault.

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Anonymous Aug. 12, 2011, 5:49 p.m.    

Ukraine heads back towards Russia:

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Anonymous Aug. 13, 2011, 6:59 p.m.    

The problem is not Russia nor the Eu but lays directly on Yanukovych. If Yanuk truly wants Ukraine to integrate into the European Union than it could happen. Yet, all signs from his regime is they want integration into the EU but with all his dirty baggage included. The man is so arrogant and cannot function well in diplomatic channels to even be considered on par with leaders of the EU. His involvement with the wealthy seems to guide a lot of the unwise decisions being made by the regime. His has to break ties with people such as Firtash. There is no doubt that both Yanukovych and Firtash are exercising revenge against Tymoshenko for events that went against them in the past. The wealthy in Ukraine have too much influence on government which can only lead to misuse and abuse of government. Yanukovych will not break those ties because he is receiving lots of financial support. His life style dictates a lot of his actions and also, it dictates as how he wants to be perceived by the influential. Greed and power is the heart beat of Yanuk.

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Anonymous Aug. 13, 2011, 10:46 p.m.    

Mr Bildt, you use a lot of &quot;IF's.&quot;

If you have been paying attention, it is pretty obvious that Yanu has no intention of opening up Ukraine to a fair and honest govt and judicial system.

He will soon find himself in the same situation as Belarus, having to give up more than he wants to Russia, as he will always be unwilling to make the changes necessary to be acceptable to the West.

What you don't understand is that people like him are only interested in power and wealth and nothing for the people they represent.

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Anonymous Aug. 27, 2011, 4:43 a.m.    

it is not the fault of russia nor of american. it is just yanu is from the old days with the old ways. Move past them and the world will be at your beck and call. However linger in the USSR and neither Russia or the EU will take you in.

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