Ukraine Opposition Warns Of Setbacks

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Ukraine is hovering between oppressive authoritarianism and European integration, and a failure to address corruption and safeguard democratic institutions could lead to the country reversing the advances it has made since the end of Soviet rule, opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko said.

Yulia Tymoshenko

"There is a risk of backsliding, including the rise of authoritarian tendencies," Ms. Tymoshenko said in an interview in Brussels. "If those negative tendencies are not confronted then Ukraine might come very close to the situation we observe in a number of countries in the Arab world where the government is oppressing, and fighting with, their own people, and the opposition put in jail," she said. She said latter was happening in Belarus.

Ms. Tymoshenko, who was twice prime minister before losing the presidential election last year, had a government-imposed travel ban lifted to allow her to travel to a meeting of European center-right party leaders ahead of the European summit here.

She faces corruption charges, which she says are politically inspired by the government of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Speaking before the meeting with the leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she reiterated the need for domestic reform and her desire for further European integration and, eventually, European Union membership. She also called for greater cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"The current government still believes the doors to Europe are closed from the side of the European Union, but ... it is the responsibility of Ukraine, first of all, to make sure these doors will be open," Ms. Tymoshenko said.

She stressed the need for fair and competitive privatization, an effective legal framework to fight corruption, and a free trade agreement with the EU.

Ms. Tymoshenko, who ran several Ukrainian energy companies in the 1990s before entering politics, said the elimination of corruption from management of the country's energy resources was another important aspect of this process.

Ukrainian gas transit systems are only operating at 80% of their capacity, she said. She said Russia's proposed South Stream pipeline would be bad for Ukraine as it would bypass the country, transporting gas directly from Russia to Europe via an alternative southern route.

She also said that North African and Arab countries in the midst of revolution should learn from Ukraine's experience after the Orange Revolution, when opportunities to reform were missed.

"As we're painfully learning now, it's not enough just to have a revolution," Ms. Tymoshenko said, speaking through a translator. "It's important to have a strategy, and to implement this strategy after the regime change has been achieved."

Asked about her mistakes, which she mentioned in a recent blog post, she said she regretted trusting then President Yushchenko in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution, when the regime soon returned to "old corruption with new faces."

As well as meeting center-right leaders from European political parties, she has meetings scheduled with EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule, while Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will visit Kiev on April 19.

Ultimately, Ukraine's fortunes since the Orange Revolution may serve as a warning to countries now in the midst of revolution. If the democratic freedoms won since the end of Soviet rule are eroded, "Ukraine, from being a great hope, will become a great problem," Ms. Tymoshenko said.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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