After verdict, Ukraine has stark East-West choice

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Oct. 13, 2011, 7:46 a.m. | Ukraine — by Associated Press
The seven-year prison term handed down to Ukraine's former prime minister highlights the stark choice faced by President Viktor Yanukovych: Does he turn the country east or west? Twenty years after Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union, does he end the experiment with democracy and send opposition politicians like Yulia Tymoshenko to languish in jail, or does he embrace Western values and allow political competition and the rule of law to thrive?

Freeing Tymoshenko, a possibility raised by the president himself, would speed up Ukraine's integration with the European Union, which harshly condemned Tuesday's verdict.

But deepening ties with Europe would likely lead to economic hardships as an angry Russia would refuse to sell its natural gas at a discount, leaving Yanukovych with millions of impoverished Ukrainians squeezed by higher gas bills ahead of elections next year.

Tymoshenko, the country's top opposition leader, was found guilty on Tuesday of abuse of office in the signing of a natural gas supply contract in 2009. She was sentenced to seven years in prison and banned from occupying government posts for three years after her release. Denouncing the trial as a move to silence a political opponent, Tymoshenko compared herself to the victims of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's purges.

The United States condemned the verdict as politically motivated and demanded Tymoshenko's release. The European Union warned that failure to secure a fair appeals process for Tymoshenko would cost Ukraine a long-awaited association agreement with the 27-nation bloc.

Acting in rare unison with Western countries, Russia also condemned the ruling, although for a different reason. Russia said the gas deal that Tymoshenko concluded was legitimate and will not be revisited — something Yanukovych has lobbied for.

Since becoming president last year, Yanukovych has played a careful balancing act between Moscow and Brussels, actively lobbying for EU membership while also repairing relations with Russia, which were ruined by his pro-Western predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko.

Ukraine itself has been riven by historical and cultural divisions, with the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country yearning to shake off Russian influence and to be part of Europe, and the Russian-speaking east and south largely wanting to maintain Ukraine's historic ties to Moscow. Yanukovych, 61, draws his support from the east, where the country's heavy industry is concentrated.

Even though Yanukovych declared a commitment to Western values and went to Brussels on his first foreign trip, he has steadily undermined the democratic achievements of the 2004 Orange Revolution: Press and civil freedoms have waned, elections have not been clean, and the opposition has been squeezed.

With Tymoshenko's verdict he apparently crossed the line with Western governments, who made it clear they cannot be friends with that kind of Ukraine.

"This was done deliberately to cripple her (Tymoshenko) politically and remove her from future political participation," David J. Kramer, executive director of the Washington-based democracy watchdog Freedom House, said of the verdict. Ukraine "is moving in the wrong direction, that's for sure."

Kramer said that cleansing the political field of opponents was reminiscent of the democratic rollback that has taken place in Russia over the past decade under the presidency and then premiership of Vladimir Putin.

"In a certain respect, this is the Putin model and it's not a good model to follow, not if you want to look to Europe for your future."

Faced with harsh words from Western capitals, Yanukovych signaled that Tymoshenko's verdict was not final since she planned to appeal and upcoming legal reforms could turn her case around.

Analysts suggested that Yanukovych still had some face-saving solutions that would secure Tymoshenko's release but allow him to hold his ground politically. One option would be to adopt legislative changes that would turn Tymoshenko's violation from a criminal offense into an economic crime. Another would be an acquittal by an appeals court.

But if Yanukovych remains defiant and Tymoshenko continues to sit in jail, Ukraine, once lauded as a rare democratic success story among post-Soviet nations, would fall back under Russia's sway both psychologically and economically.

If the EU stalls the free-trade agreement with Kiev, Yanukovych would be pushed to join a Moscow-led customs union, which would boost trade with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan at the expense of economic cooperation with EU neighbors.

Moscow, eager to draw Ukraine back into its sphere of influence, has offered to lower prices for gas exports to Ukraine in exchange for the customs union membership. Yanukovych is under great pressure to secure a lower gas price as he faces popular discontent with rising utility prices and anger from the tycoons who supported his presidency, whose industries are highly energy dependent.

In fact, some experts believe that the Tymoshenko case was orchestrated in order to undermine the credibility of the 2009 gas agreement and help Ukraine get a better price.

"I think it goes like this: 5 percent political revenge on the part of the current authorities and 95 percent money," said Mikhail Barshchevsky, a senior lawyer for the Russian government, speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio. "Blow up the contract ... Ukraine wants to renegotiate the contract."

But Kramer said that trading EU integration for a return to the Russian gas subsidies of the past was a short-lived strategy. Instead, Ukraine should accept the higher prices, reform its highly inefficient energy sector and end its economic dependance on Russia.

"When you take off a Band-Aid it's better to rip the thing off all at once. It's like with energy subsidies — better to eliminate them right away."

Some experts believe that even if Yanukovych decides to turn toward Russia now, Ukraine will still eventually integrate with the European Union because of its geographical proximity and cultural heritage. Ukraine borders EU members Poland, Slovakia and Hungary and its western territories were once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and Poland. Also, it lacks the proceeds from natural resources like oil and gas that authoritarian governments around the world use to offset public discontent, they say.

"Ukraine today has no alternative — it will be closer to Europe," said Valery Chaly, a senior analyst with the Razumkov Center in Kiev. "But how long will it take it to get there?"
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Anonymous Oct. 13, 2011, 9:23 a.m.    

Ukraine must remove power and authority from the office of president. The presidential system has failed Ukraine.

Ukraine should follow in the footsteps of Estonia and Latvia and adopt a full Parliamentary system of governance as was recommended by PACE and the Venice Commission.

The Parliament should be reformed making it more accountable and representative. The establishment of 45 local electorates each electing 9 members of parliament on a 10% quota by a system of Single Transferable proportional representation.

Then the judiciary and system of law need to be changed. Adoption of Common law and british judicial system is worthy of consideration.

But the first step is Constitutional reform. Get the foundations right then begin to rebuild the state.

Not adopting a parliamentary model when Ukraine first declared independence was is biggest mistake. Electing Yushchenko and not removing presidential authority was its second mistake.

If Ukraine want to be a member of the EU it should adopt European values and European systems of government. 25 out of 27 WU states are Parliamentary democracies.

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Anonymous Oct. 15, 2011, 4:53 a.m.    

The most recent members of EU are corrupt countries. EU does not need another one. It has problems with Greece. Fuck yourself.

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Anonymous Oct. 13, 2011, 9:49 a.m.    

It is not for President Yanukovych to choose between East and West. The choice should it need to be made must be by the people. We have been promised a referendum by two governments both of which have found reason not to allow. The west should concern themselves with their own issues and not interfere in ours. I make no claim to have asked a thousand people what they think about the matter so I am not in a position to speak for the 45million of us that actually live here. I can however say that of the many people I have daily contact with only two have talked about wishing to be a part of the EU and both believing there would be visa free travel enabling them to work in Europe. We have only had our independence back for twenty years and I for one have no intention of giving it to Brussels without a fight.

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Anonymous Oct. 13, 2011, 5:12 p.m.    

Good for you,if you guys want to join eu or customs union or neither it should be your choice.

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Anonymous Oct. 13, 2011, 11:56 a.m.    

Tymoshenko is Vladimir Putin's personal b*tch, all these morons think she is pro-Western, Putin is playing them like a fiddle...

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Anonymous Oct. 13, 2011, 2:46 p.m.    

Exacalty and Putin's much helped by European dependence on Russian gas and the murky ties between Gazprom and European politicians and officials.

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Anonymous Oct. 14, 2011, 12:19 a.m.    

Don't be so rediculous and quit b*tching!

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Anonymous Oct. 13, 2011, 1:27 p.m.    

Ukraine has just one choice! Send the dictator to the gallows!

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Anonymous Oct. 13, 2011, 3:44 p.m.    

&quot;Moscow, eager to draw Ukraine back into its sphere of influence, has offered to lower prices for gas exports to Ukraine in exchange for the customs union membership.&quot; This says it all. Ukraine must stop its chronic dependence on cheap Russian gas that seems to dictate the politics inside Ukraine and the direction of its future! It is crippling to be a constant hostage to Russian external economic policy. Ukraine should indeed follow the example of the Baltic states and take charge of its own destiny. It may be painful in the short term, but it will do Ukraine a lot of good in the long run. Yanuk will not take this step as he is afraid of his paymasters - the self-serving Donetsk oligarchs who will sell their mothers for next to nothing to be rich. Ukraine needs a new president and a new government brave enough to make tough decisions! Ukraine future lies in the EU, not the customs union. Ukraine should learn to stand on its own feet!

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Anonymous Oct. 15, 2011, 4:52 a.m.    

&quot;Ukraine future lies in the EU, not the customs union&quot;

You bastard. Your mother is a whore. Ukraine SHOULD NEVER JOIN THE EU. IT HAS NO BUSINESS. It should remain as it is. EU took too many countries and taking one other big one is a HUGE problem. Fuck yourself faggot.

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Anonymous Oct. 21, 2011, 7:39 p.m.    

Clearly, you are too weak to say anything sensible. Hence the obsenities flowing from your foul mouth.

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Anonymous Oct. 13, 2011, 4:04 p.m.    

Yanukovych and his henchmen still don't understand that their fascism and false persecution is exposed and is condemned by the entire EU and free world. Time for action. Freeze their personal assets. Withdraw participation in Euro 2012. Freeze all potential EU membership benefits.The Ukrainian people will rise up. Currently the people are not even aware of accurate current events because Yanukovych controls the media and persecutes free speech. Yanukovych is another Ghadaffi and must be stopped.

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Anonymous Oct. 13, 2011, 11:10 p.m.    

No no no. There is no Free World everything is be bought there ,governments, ministers etc. That's why Wall Street has begun to fill up with people who have had enough with the endless lies about Western freedoms. And it isn't the populations of Europe that are protesting about Yulia just the bought and paid for government flunkies who are boring us to death. The populace of Europe doesn't care if Yulia is publicly cooked then eaten in a bun. I personally nominate the Ex Prime Minister of Britain Tony Blair ship him to the Ukraine to do life for for war crimes.

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Anonymous Oct. 14, 2011, 12:17 a.m.    

What's it got to do with Tony Blair is beyond any comprehension.

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Anonymous Oct. 14, 2011, 11:20 a.m.    

Tony Blair is an ex Prime Minister of Britain who should have been tried for the War crimes committed in attacking Iraq.

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Anonymous Oct. 21, 2011, 7:33 p.m.    

Everyone knows who Tony Blair is, but what has it got to do with the point in the article? Also, I supported the war in Iraq and I disagree with your view. Perhaps you don't know, but here in the UK all decisions on whether or not to go to war are taken by Parliament, not solely by the PM.

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Anonymous Oct. 14, 2011, 2:16 p.m.    

And how about Ukraine? Can the Ukrainians express their opinion freely under the actual regime? You must be kidding or live in another world.

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Anonymous Oct. 13, 2011, 11:58 p.m.    

The verdict is in. Yanukovych must be removed from office. He's obviously nuts.

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Anonymous Oct. 14, 2011, 11:36 a.m.    

Surely Mr Putin must realise now that you cannot have a mere customs union without political fiscal unity ie central control from Moscow. This is what the EU is currently finding out. An economic union can only achieve so much and once the financial markets exert their muscle then the weaker economies are forced into bankcruptcy - ie look at Greece with Portugal Spain and possibly Italy in line next. No Ukraine - you have to decide which side to join; a country the size of Ukraine cannot compete on the world stage on it own. Two points I would make - 1. why is Ukraine not developing its own oil and gas fields? Surely in a country this size there are enough reserves to discover and exploit for the benefit of the Ukrainian people. 2. Nothing can be resolved &quot;democratically&quot; while there is no common Ukrainian identity. Do the people of the Russian speaking east and south want to be part of a free Ukraine or to re-join Mr Putin's new Russia? This question must be resolved before Ukraine can progress. Perhaps by referendum and then partition if necessary. To conclude - at the moment it looks as though the EU is in turmoil as is the whole western economic free market capitalist model. Mr Putin is set to rule Russia along with his accolyte for the next 25 years at least. Look like heads you win - tails you lose! Decision time. I long to see a united independent Ukraine - but one at ease with itself.

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Anonymous Oct. 14, 2011, 2:10 p.m.    

Ukraine borders EU members Poland, Slovakia and Hungary and its western territories were once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and Poland.

Is this article so badly researched that Romania as a bordering state was left out or is it easterly oriented?

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Anonymous Oct. 14, 2011, 2:22 p.m.    

As long as Ukraine doesn't reform its way of wasting energy, 80% of energy consumption comes from industry, it will depend on Russia. But modernizing isn't in the interest of the oligarchs as it means spending money. As long as they get cheap gas, why spend money?

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