By Natalya Zinets
Deputies in Ukraine’s parliament failed on Wednesday to find common ground for the release of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, a move sought by the European Union to clear the way for signing landmark agreements on trade this month.
Accords on association and free trade, due to be signed at an EU-Ukraine summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, offer the former Soviet republic the chance of a historic shift westwards away from Russia.
But they hinge on whether President Viktor Yanukovich releases ex-prime minister Tymoshenko, his fiercest opponent. She was jailed in 2011 for seven years for abuse of office after a trial which the EU says was political.
Though he has refused to pardon her, he has said he is ready to break the impasse by signing a draft law to allow her to go to Germany to be treated for chronic back pain.
But at a special session on Wednesday, pro-Yanukovich deputies and Tymoshenko’s supporters in parliament failed to agree on any such draft and blamed each other for seeking to undermine the signing of the accords in Vilnius on November 28.
EU foreign ministers are due to hold a pre-summit meeting on November 18 to assess whether Kiev has met key democratic criteria. One of these is an end to “selective justice” which the EU says was applied against Tymoshenko.
Two EU envoys, Irish politician Pat Cox and former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who have been on a shuttle mission from Brussels to Kiev to nail down a compromise, attended the special parliament session.
They were due to return to Brussels and give a news conference on their findings on Wednesday evening. But they did not appear to have a summit-saving formula in the bag.
“What will they report? Mission not accomplished? The key objective has not been achieved,” said one diplomat who has closely monitored the Tymoshenko case.
“The closer we get to the summit, the clearer it becomes that the authorities do not want to sign because the association agreement means the introduction of European standards which is a path that Yanukovich’s authorities do not want,” said Vitaly Klitschko, the world boxing champion who heads the opposition UDAR (Punch) party.
Olexander Yefremov, head of the pro-Yanukovich Regions Party faction, accused the opposition of sabotaging the signing, saying its representatives had not cooperated in drawing up an agreed law for her release.
Yanukovich’s supporters want her to be simply released to Germany for treatment and then to return to Ukraine to complete her sentence. The opposition is pushing an option under which her sentence could be wiped out after treatment.