EU Warns Kiev Over Tymoshenko ‘Show Trial’

SOPOT, Poland -- European Union diplomats warned Ukraine’s leadership this weekend that integration with the 27-nation bloc could be jeopardised by a “show trial” against opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko that is expected to wrap up this month.

Thousands of opposition activists protested arrest of former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, on the 20th anniversary of Ukraine's independence declaration.

Meeting in the Polish Baltic Sea resort town of Sopot, EU foreign ministers said on Saturday that Brussels would continue formal negotiations with Kiev on free trade and association agreements.

However, Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, cautioned that the agreements may not be ratified by EU member nations amid growing concern the charges and investigations against Ms Tymoshenko are a politically motivated attempt to sideline the Ukrainian president’s main political rival.

“If they continue with show trials of that sort, and it’s not only Yulia Tymoshenko’s case, I think the chances for an agreement being ratified are fairly slim,” he told Reuters.

Since taking over as president, Viktor Yanukovich has made progress towards integrating Ukraine with the EU through negotiations on a free-trade agreement.

But the president faces growing criticism for holding on to power by curtailing democratic freedoms.

“The majority view [in the EU] is that the agreement can be finalised only if the Tymoshenko case is solved,” Reuters quoted Alain Juppé, French foreign minister, as saying. “It means having a free and fair trial and abandoning the unjustified charges against her.”

Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said: “We are following the case of Yulia Tymoshenko with great concern and we have made that clear to Ukraine.”

She added that talks on an association deal between the EU and Ukraine would continue because it is in the interest of the people of Ukraine.

Mr Yanukovich’s administration appeared unfazed by the warnings.

On Sunday, Oleg Voloshyn, spokesperson for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, said: “We welcome the willingness of our European partners to finalise negotiations by the end of the year. Ratification is a longstanding process. It would be too early to comment on it now.”

Jailed in early August on contempt of court charges, Ms Tymoshenko faces up to 10 years in prison if a judge this month upholds charges that she exceeded her authority as prime minister in 2009 when she brokered an energy agreement with Russia.

The strained relations over the Tymoshenko trial comes as Kiev faces increased pressure from Russia to drop European integration plans.

Moscow is offering lower natural gas prices for Kiev’s ailing and inefficient economy if it instead joins a Moscow-led customs union of former Soviet republics.

Mr Yanukovich has ruled out a shift back to the east, insisting European integration remains a priority.

But alleged political persecution of Ms Tymoshenko and other opponents and broader concerns about the state of democracy under his rule, have led many in Europe to question his commitment to core EU values.

Source: FT Europe