Stratfor: EU Leaders Visit Ukrainian Oligarch

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and his Polish counterpart, Radosław Sikorski, travel to Ukraine on Wednesday in a bid to get former Ukrainian Prime Minster Yulia Timoshenko released from prison.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.

Rather than meeting with Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych, the two foreign ministers will instead meet with Ukraine’s richest man and leading oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov.

This unique meeting comes at a crucial time in the ongoing competition between key EU members and Russia over Ukraine.

They are traveling to Ukraine because the two countries that they represent, Poland and Sweden, are the initiators of the Eastern Partnership program, which seeks to bring six former Soviet states closer to the EU.

One of these states is Ukraine, which has become the cornerstone of the program, both because it is the most strategic state in the Eastern Partnership and because it is the farthest along in its negotiations in cooperation with the EU.

The timing of this visit is especially important, as it comes just a few weeks before the EU-Ukraine summit on Dec. 18.

At the summit, there was scheduled to be two major agreements signed, the association and the free-trade agreement, between the EU and Ukraine.

However, these two agreements have been put into jeopardy by the trial and conviction of former Ukrainian Prime Minister and leading opposition figure, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Several EU leaders have linked, specifically, Ms Tymoshenko’s release to these agreements being signed.

It also comes as Ukraine is on the verge of signing a new natural gas deal with Russia, and this deal could have significant implications on Ukraine’s relationship with the EU as well.

It is for this reason that Mr Bildt and Mr Sikorski’s meeting with Mr Akhetov matters, as he is one of the most powerful oligarchs and has close ties to Yanukovich.

Previous attempts from EU leaders to get Mr Yanukovych to drop charges against Ms Tymoshenko have so far not proven successful.

By meeting with Akhetov, Bildt and Sikorski are hoping that they can influence Mr Yanukovych via one of his major power backers.

The Tymoshenko situation remains fluid, and there is still a lot that can happen between now and the EU-Ukraine summit.

But this visit does prove that key EU officials have not given up on Ukraine just yet.

Source: Warsaw Business Journal