The September 29-30, Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw was another typically EU empty diplomatic soirée. The Viktor Yanukovych administration has ignored Western criticism of political repression and the EU has put all its eggs into the Ukraine basket to show success in the Eastern Partnership, while Belarus pulled out. EU leaders said the summit was “very successful” and “paves the way in many areas of our cooperation.” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk remained confident that an association agreement with Ukraine will be completed this year and talks on similar agreements with Georgia and Moldova would be launched (Interfax-Ukraine, September 29).
The prosecutor demanded a seven year sentence for Tymoshenko at her trial that resumed only two days before the summit. Of the six Eastern Partnership members it is Georgia and Moldova – not Ukraine – who are the best reformers. Belarus has begun releasing political prisoners while Ukraine still continues to seek to imprison them. Over 120 Ukrainians had suffered political repression since 2010 or were still imprisoned. Unsurprisingly, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said “So far it [Eastern Partnership] is blabber. Let them [at the EU] not feel sore about me” (Interfax-Ukraine, September 30).
The Orwellian-style summit could be seen from the Ukrainian side. Yanukovych continues to insist that the executive cannot interfere in the judicial process, a surreal claim that nobody believes in Ukraine or abroad. An anonymous EU official told Kommersant-Ukraina (September 12) “They should not think that we believe the fairy tale that says, Yanukovych does not influence the courts. We are not so stupid.” Nevertheless, Yanukovych said at the summit: “I would not like to comment on the issue, as this could be considered as pressure on the judge and law enforcers” (Kyiv Post, September 30).
The most ardent pro-Yanukovych spokesperson in the foreign ministry, Oleh Voloshyn, adopted a confusing multi-vector approach to EU criticism. On September 29, Voloshyn told Channel 5 that Ukraine should not listen to EU criticism of the Tymoshenko trial. The following day Voloshyn changed his mind and said: “the views of our EU partners, a community in which Ukraine seeks to become part have a great meaning in the adoption of different decisions by the organ of the executive and legislative branches” (www.mfa.gov.ua). Can both statements be true? Even though Ukraine has witnessed democratic regression since 2010 and the country has therefore not been an exemplary European, Yanukovych, Foreign Minister Konstantyn Gryshchenko and Hanna Herman, deputy head of the presidential administration, repeatedly demand that the EU sends Ukraine a “signal” of a membership perspective in the association agreement. Yanukovych said during the summit “we insisted and we will continue to insist that the prospect of Ukraine’s accession to the EU be reflected in this agreement” (Interfax, September 30).
The EU considered that the Yanukovych administration understood their concerns about political repression and the Tymoshenko case. Tusk told a press conference at the end of the summit: “We have expressed ourselves very clearly to the authorities of Ukraine that the whole EU, and each of us separately, believe the bad treatment of the democratic opposition and the violation of democratic standards … may overshadow the final stage of the negotiations” (Reuters, September 30).
The Yanukovych administration would agree to pardon Tymoshenko after she was convicted because a criminal record would prevent her from participating in the 2012 and 2015 elections. The ultimate irony is that Yanukovych has two criminal codes from the Soviet era. The EU has promoted the face saving for Yanukovych formula of a change in the criminal code by removing article 365 under which Tymoshenko is charged. Although article 365 was first introduced in the 1962 criminal code when Nikita Khrushchev was the Soviet leader, the current criminal code does not date from that year but from 2001 (Ukrayinska Pravda, September 17).
Nevertheless, the impression is growing in the West that Yanukovych is utilizing Soviet era legislation against his opponents, as EU Ambassador to Ukraine Jose M.P. Teixeira told Kyiv Mohyla Academy University students (Ukrayinska Pravda, September 28). As the Economist observed: Yanukovych might espouse European rhetoric “But his behavior is distinctly post-Soviet” (The Economist, September 24). Alexander Rahr, the Moscow leaning Director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the German Council on Foreign Relations, warned that if Tymoshenko is charged EU-Ukraine relations would resemble those between EU-Belarus. The belief of the Yanukovych administration that it “can successfully merge Putinism with European integration is fatally flawed,” Rahr said (Kyiv Post, September 6). Gazeta Wyborcza editor Adam Michnik told Moscow students that the Tymoshenko case increasingly resembles that of the Russian oligarch Mikhail Khoroshkovsky sentenced in 2003 (Ukrayinska Pravda, September 30).
Gryshchenko has strongly condemned Tymoshenko for allegedly inflicting these losses on the Ukrainian state. At the same time, he has admitted in a long interview given to Ukrayinska Pravda (September 28) that he cooperated with the Republican Party (RPU) in 2005. RPU merged with the Party of Regions in 2006. The RPU was established the year before by then Naftohaz Ukrainy CEO Yuriy Boyko who is named on a document dated July 2004 as a member of the opaque gas intermediary RosUkrEnergo’s (RUE) key management committee (see report on RUE: https://www.globalwitness.org/library/its-gas-funny-business-turkmen-ukraine-gas-trade). In March 2010, Global Witness, a British NGO, raised concerns that Boyko returned as Minister of Energy and Coal in the Nikolai Azarov government (https://www.globalwitness.org/library/global-witness-concerned-choice-new-ukraine-energy-minister).
The stumbling block for the Yanukovych administration remains the EU demand (also made to Belarus) that individuals convicted of political crimes must be permitted to fully participate in elections after they are released. Arseniy Yatseniuk has called on the opposition to boycott the 2012 elections if Tymoshenko and other opposition leaders are not permitted to participate. The Party of Regions or Yanukovych fear the participation of Tymoshenko in the elections (UNIAN, October 1).
The next three months of the Polish presidency of the European Council will prove critical. The EU may continue to optimistically insist that negotiations will be completed for the association agreement, of which the Deep Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement is a component, while demanding the rehabilitation of political prisoners. Kyiv will continue to demand an EU membership “signal” while being unsure how to extract itself from a train wreck of its own making.
In reality, neither side understands the political culture of the other. Yet, the issue is simple, as Serhiy Leshchenko pointed out, “The main problem that is holding back the Association Agreement is the Tymoshenko affair” (Ukrayinska Pravda, October 2).