EU Postpones Ukraine Meeting

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union has called off a high-level meeting with Viktor Yanukovich, the Ukrainian president, in apparent protest at the jailing of his political rival, opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Viktor Yanukovych is not welcome in Brussels.

The EU took the decision on Tuesday morning, saying it would postpone Thursday’s scheduled meeting in Brussels “until a later date when the conditions are more conducive to making progress on bilateral relations.”

The two sides had been planning to use the high-level meeting to address outstanding issues in a so-called “association agreement” that would – among other benefits – give Ukraine greater access to the EU’s single market and further cement its ties to the 27-member bloc.

The parties had been hoping to conclude the landmark deal before the end of the year.

The indefinite postponement reflects growing frustration in the west with the treatment meted out to Ms Tymoshenko, the country’s former prime minister, who was convicted last week on charges of exceeding her authority and sentenced to seven years in jail.

The EU and the US have urged Mr Yanukovich to review the case, and complained that it amounted to a politically motivated and selective use of the judicial system.

But Mr Yanukovich has so far refused.

In interviews with western media this week, he stepped up his rhetoric, insisting that he has not interfered in the case and suggesting that foreign leaders were not respecting Ukraine’s democracy.

The Tymoshenko trial has posed a difficult diplomatic challenge for the EU, which has been trying to balance pressure against Mr Yanukovich against a long-term effort to nudge Ukraine away from Russia, its traditional patron, and into a closer relationship with the west.

The association agreement, which also includes a free-trade pact, and has been years in the making, is a key part of that strategy.

At the same time, Russia has been appealing to Kiev with its own offers to form a new regional customs union and with promises of low-priced natural gas.

After conferring with foreign ministers last week, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign policy, has indicated that the bloc should press ahead with technical negotiations on the agreement even as it publicly pressures Mr Yanukovich.

The hope, said one Ashton aide, was that by doing so the EU could “put on the table” what Ukraine stood to gain – and lose – depending on its behaviour.

Source: 10 Minutes