President Viktor Yanukovych’s stilted performance at last week’s Yalta European Strategy in front of Europe’s leaders confirmed that he will not release political prisoner, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko whose fate has become the major hurdle to Ukraine’s European integration.
There are two paths Yanukovych could take.
The first would be to order his Party of Regions to vote to remove two 1961 Soviet articles from Ukraine’s criminal code that were used to sentence Tymoshenko. This would overturn her October 2011 conviction for “abuse of office.” Yanukovych would have to take another step and order his pocket judiciary to close other criminal cases the most important of which is the murder of oligarch Yevhen Shcherban in 1996.
A second compromise path of permitting her to travel to Germany for medical treatment is in fact just as complicated as it requires Tymoshenko to agree to firstly, travelling without the overturning of an existing case and the closure of on-going criminal cases and secondly, to become a political hermit in Germany. Why would Tymoshenko help Yanukovych escape from his predicament without demanding an end to her political persecution and anybody who has watched her career must know she is not suited to live a hermit’s life.
Yanukovych is therefore faced with an impossible choice of either releasing her and receiving the AA but then facing the toughest political opponent he would ever face in the 2015 presidential elections or keeping her imprisoned and losing Ukraine’s chance of European integration.
Medical treatment is impossible because Tymoshenko would demand in return to agreeing to travel that all past and current convictions and charges be removed. In turn, Germany is a democratic country and could never prevent Tymoshenko from freely becoming involved in politics. If she no longer has past or current criminal charges she can be a candidate in 2015.
Therefore, whether Ukraine receives an AA in Vilnius is not dependent on Tymoshenko as for Yanukovych – and this is what the EU and US fail to understand – holding on to power and stealing trumps European integration. There are two scenarios:
1. The EU ignores its values and demands for Tymosenko’s release and signs the AA. This is the view of the majority of Ukraine’s so-called “experts”.
2. The EU abides by its values and benchmarks and does not sign the AA because Yanukovych has not ended selective use of justice.
There will be no medical compromise because Yanukovych is paranoid about Tymoshenko and scenario two is the most likely. One hopes that the Ukrainian media and think tanks will after Vilnius stop describing the so-called “experts” as “experts”.