Saturday, December 21, 2013

Daughter Seeks Freedom For Jailed Ukraine Leader

KIEV, Ukraine -- As Russia’s best-known political prisoner, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, arrived in Germany on Friday at the end of a whirlwind 24-hour passage to freedom, the daughter of Ukraine’s most prominent political prisoner urged the president here to follow in the footsteps of the Russian president and set her mother free.

Evgenia Tymoshenko, daughter of an ex-prime minister, on Friday in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, the site of protests.

“He really should follow this example,” Evgenia Tymoshenko, the daughter of former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, said in an interview, referring to the Ukrainian president, Viktor F. Yanukovich.

“He has the power to pardon, to sign the decree, even without her request.”

Yulia Tymoshenko, who, like Mr. Khodorkovsky, made her fortune from the disintegration of the former Soviet energy network, was jailed two years ago on what her supporters have said are blatant political charges brought after Mr. Yanukovich defeated her in elections for Ukraine’s presidency in 2010.

Ms. Tymoshenko, 53, was supposed to get out of a prison hospital and fly to Berlin for surgery on her spine in tandem with a far-reaching political and trade deal that Ukraine was expected to sign with Europe last month.

Instead, Mr. Yanukovich abruptly abandoned the deal, and with it any hint of her release.

And so on Friday, it was Mr. Khodorkovsky, the former Russian oil tycoon, who arrived in Berlin instead of Ms. Tymoshenko after being pardoned by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Mr. Khodorkovsky was flown on a private jet arranged by a former German foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher.

Ms. Tymoshenko, who was sentenced to seven years in prison after being convicted in 2011 of abuse of power as prime minister, still leads the Fatherland party, one of the opposition groups that have led more than three weeks of popular protest against Mr. Yanukovich for refusing to sign the deal with Europe.

Two giant photographs of the imprisoned woman, with her trademark braided blond hair, hang from a giant Christmas tree in Independence Square in Kiev, the capital, where at times hundreds of thousands have braved the cold to protest.

Not everyone believes that the images of Ms. Tymoshenko should hang so prominently over the protests, which surprised even opposition leaders when they began in late November.

Ms. Tymoshenko’s daughter, speaking fluent English, acknowledged that the Ukrainian people had led the protests, but emphasized that her mother had been among the first to raise broad doubts that Ukraine’s president, a difficult negotiating partner for both Europe and Moscow in the past, would sign the European agreement.

“Now it’s very clear, and it was clear for my mother much before that, that he will not sign the agreement,” Evgenia Tymoshenko said.

The surprise emergence of the protest movement “mixed up the cards for Yanukovich,” she said.

“Really what he was doing was just playing poker, trying to bluff, bargain and betray people without caring.”

Mr. Yanukovich is clearly now trying to reassert his authority in Ukraine, and to use a promised $15 billion loan from Russia to pay pensions and other social expenses as he heads toward presidential elections in early 2015.

The protests suggest that many, if not most, of the 46 million citizens see their future more with Europe than with Russia.

During a brief walk for photographers through the protest on Friday, Ms. Tymoshenko attracted relatively little attention.

But among those who sought to have their pictures taken with her was Mykhaylo Zinko, 35, a miner from the Lviv region of western Ukraine.

He was in a hurry to catch a train home to see his wife, who gave birth three days ago to their third child, a daughter.

“We have to stand to the end,” he said.

Many of the protesters say they are in the square to secure a better future for their children or grandchildren.

The protests have highlighted the depth of popular disgust with corrupt leaders and oligarchs who steer Ukraine’s politics without being held to account by squabbling politicians and weak institutions.

Three former presidents have set up round-table talks to resolve the crisis.

They held their second meeting on Friday and heard a sketchy account of the agreements reached with Moscow this week.

One former president, Leonid D. Kuchma, had already made up his mind.

Mr. Putin, he told reporters, “never practiced charity, and never will.”

Leaders of the European Union’s 28 member countries, meeting in Brussels, said Friday that they still wanted Ukraine to sign the deal as soon as it was ready. 

Unnerved by a growing wave of skepticism across much of Europe about the direction and purpose of the European Union, officials in Brussels have been left deeply frustrated by the Ukrainian leadership’s tilt toward Russia, but also heartened by the pro-European fervor of protesters.

“When we see European flags in the streets of Ukraine in a very cold temperature, we can’t resist saying it’s part of the European family,” said José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, the union’s Brussels-based executive branch. 

Leaders signaled that the door was still open but offered no concrete incentives to compete with Mr. Putin’s pledge to lend Ukraine $15 billion and steeply discount natural gas prices.

Europe has made it clear that it will not engage in a bidding war for Ukraine’s affections, and has instead suggested that a deal is impossible as long as the current leadership in Kiev is in power.

President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, which holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, said: “Europe is open for Ukrainian people, but not necessarily for this government. That’s the message.”

In their final statement, leaders called for “restraint” by Ukrainian authorities in their handling of protesters and also took an oblique swipe at Russia, saying Europe’s leaders emphasize “the right of all sovereign states to make their own foreign policy without undue external pressure.”

Source: The New York Times

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