YALTA - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich sought on Friday to play down the impact of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko onUkraine's ties with the European Union, but a top EU official said her case still blocked completion of key deals.
Yanukovich told an international conference on the Black Sea coast that the way would be clear for completing a deal on political association with the EU after a parliamentary election on Oct. 28.
The 27-member bloc, which represents a huge market for the former Soviet republic’s steel and chemicals exports, froze negotiations with the Yanukovich leadership on political association and free trade, because of the prosecution and jailing of Tymoshenko last October.
A former prime minister and now opposition leader, Tymoshenko, 51, was jailed for seven years on abuse-of-office charges in a case that Brussels said was politically-motivated and smacked of selective justice.
Yanukovich told the gathering in Yalta, which included senior EU officials, that he expected suspended deals with the bloc to be signed soon after the October election which would underscore Ukraine’s commitment to democracy.
He did not explain how the election would resolve the issue.
Election monitors expect the election to return Yanukovich allies as the majority in parliament.
“We are actively moving towards signing the association agreement with the European Union,” he said.
“At the moment, our European partners have some additional questions to Ukraine but I am sure that after the upcoming parliamentary election all concerns will disappear and the path towards full association between Ukraine and the European Union will be completed.”
Asked about the Tymoshenko case by former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewskiwho moderated the meeting, Yanukovich ignored all mention of her and responded with a list of his government’s economic achievements and reforms.
“We are approaching European standards,” he said. “Of course, it is impossible to do everything quickly, the path of reforms is not an easy one.”
But EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, after talks with Yanukovich, said the Tymoshenko case remained a stumbling block.
“We made it very clear that for the association agreement to be signed, ratified and (for us to start) benefitting from it… certain issues (need to be addressed) like free and fair elections, redressing the issue of selective justice and, third, continuation of the reform process as we have agreed in association agenda,” he told journalists.
Fule’s reference to “selective justice” clearly meant the Tymoshenko case.
A political firebrand with a sharp tongue, Tymoshenko became Yanukovich’s nemesis when she lead the 2004 “Orange Revolution” protests which derailed his first bid for the presidency.
She went on to serve twice as prime minister but lost the 2010 presidential vote to Yanukovich in a close run-off.
Soon afterwards, she was charged with abuse of office over a 2009 gas deal withRussia which she had negotiated as prime minister and which, according toYanukovich’s government, saddled Ukraine with an exorbitant price for vital energy supplies.
Tymoshenko, who is challenging the sentence in the European Court of Human Rights while standing trial in a fresh tax evasion and embezzlement case, denies the charges against her. She says she is the victim of a vendetta by Yanukovich.
Despite Brussels’ calls for her release and concerns that her imprisonment would render the October vote unfair in the eyes of Western observers, Yanukovich has refused to intervene in Tymoshenko’s case.