YALTA, Ukraine (AP) — European Union officials warned Ukraine on Friday that the ex-Soviet nation can't integrate with the EU as long as former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko remains in jail.
The jailing of Tymoshenko, the country’s top opposition leader and the heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution, has strained Ukraine’s relations with the 27-member bloc, which has condemned the move as politically motivated and frozen a key cooperation agreement with Kiev.
“The issue of selective justice needs to be addressed in order to move ahead to a new level of our relations through the association agreement,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said in a joint statement.
The statement dealt a blow to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who vowed earlier in the day that the conduct of October’s parliamentary election will convince the EU that Ukraine is on the right track.
“We are actively moving toward signing an association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union,” Yanukovych told a conference devoted to Ukraine’s EU integration in the Black Sea city of Yalta. “At the moment, our partners have some additional questions for Ukraine, but I am convinced that after the current parliamentary elections, all those concerns will disappear and the path toward full integration of Ukraine and the EU will be completed.”
In the elections, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions will struggle to retain its parliamentary majority against the opposition, united and re-energized by Tymoshenko’s jailing.
Bildt and Fule expressed concern that the election will take place without Tymoshenko and another top opposition leader who served in her government and stressed that the legitimacy of the vote will depend on whether it is free and fair.
“Of course, it’s impossible to do everything as fast as we would like to do,” a visibly irritated Yanukovych said. “The path of reform is not a simple path, but we have been following it and will continue following it.”
Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s fiercest critic, was sentenced to seven years in prison last October on charges of abuse of office while negotiating a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009. She denies all the charges against her and accuses Yanukovych of throwing her in jail to bar her from the election.
Tymoshenko was the heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution mass protests, which annulled Yanukovych’s fraud-tainted election victory and brought a pro-Western government to power. However, Yanukovych was able to return to power, narrowly defeating Tymoshenko in a 2010 presidential vote by riding a public irritation over slow reforms and constant bickering in the Orange camp.
The opposition and rights groups accuse Yanukovych of concentrating too much power in his hands and undoing many of the democratic achievements of the Orange Revolution.
Tymoshenko’s top aide Hrihoriy Nemyria said that Ukraine is doomed to isolation as long as Tymoshenko is kept in jail. “It means that Yanukovych does not have an answer, it means that Yanukovych and Europe are still incompatible,” Nemyria told the AP.