By Richard Balmforth
Ukraine’s parliament met for a crunch session on Tuesday to try to pass a law that would allow jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko to go to Germany for medical treatment and clear the way for landmark deals with the European Union.
With less than two weeks to go before the signing of a free trade and cooperation agreement at a summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, the EU says the former Soviet republic has not yet met the conditions the bloc has laid down.
The main sticking point is over former prime minister Tymoshenko, a fierce opponent of Yanukovich who was jailed in 2011 for seven years for abuse of office after a trial that Western governments say was political.
EU governments see Tymoshenko’s case as symbolic of “selective justice” in Ukraine and want her, as part of a compromise, to be allowed to travel to Germany to be treated for chronic back trouble.
Yanukovich, whose supporters fear a comeback by Tymoshenko could disrupt his bid for re-election in 2015, has refused to pardon her. He has, however, said he will sign into law any proposal by parliament to allow her to go to Germany for hospital treatment for a spinal condition.
Ukraine’s parliament hit deadlock on the issue last week, with pro-Yanukovich deputies blocking any draft law that might allow her to return to the political fray.
The session, which opened on Tuesday and was attended by EU envoys, is due to last until Friday. It is possible that no firm decision either way on Tymoshenko, internationally renowned as the braided-haired co-leader of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution protests against electoral fraud nine years ago, will emerge until the end of the week.
MOOD MUSIC CHANGING
Meanwhile, the “mood music” is changing in the Yanukovich camp, with his supporters in parliament expressing annoyance and suspicion at the EU’s insistence on the release of Tymoshenko.
Summit host Lithuania warned Ukraine on Monday that the Tymoshenko question had to be resolved and other reforms on elections and the public prosecutor’s office enacted for the agreement to be signed on Nov. 28.
“If this is not done, it will not be possible to sign the agreement,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite told reporters in Vilnius on Monday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in the Bundestag lower house of parliament, promised to counteract any retaliatory measures by Russia – angered by Ukraine’s pro-Europe plans – by providing “concrete opportunities and real solidarity” to Ukraine.
But Merkel also said Germany expected “credible steps” by Ukraine to fulfil the criteria for an association agreement.
Yanukovich has stuck to his policy of Euro-integration despite intense diplomatic pressure from Russia – on which Ukraine relies for gas – and the threats of retaliatory trade action by the Kremlin.
But deputies from his Regions Party, instead of wholehearted support for the pro-Europe course, are now expressing concern for the impact on relations with Russia and are now pushing the line that Euro-integration should not be accepted “at any price”.
At a cabinet meeting last week, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov unusually placed the emphasis on economic losses suffered in business dealings with Russia because of the row over Ukraine’s course. He stressed the need to repair relations with Moscow rather than what prospects would be opened up by association with the EU.