Ukraine’s President Taking Hard Line Against His Rival

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor F. Yanukovich of Ukraine suggested on Monday that he is not bending to international pressure to free his political rival, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, despite his desire to finalize a deal that would integrate the country with Western Europe.

Yanukovych appears to be adapting a typical Soviet hard line followed by former Communist leaders.

Ms. Tymoshenko was sentenced last week to seven years in prison, in a case that was condemned in both Russia and the West as politically motivated.

European leaders had hoped that the sentence might be hurriedly reversed in Ukraine’s parliament this week — in part because Mr. Yanukovich is due for an official visit Thursday to Brussels, where leaders have warned that they may not receive him.

Mr. Yanukovich poured cold water on that scenario on Monday, however, telling reporters he was willing to take that risk.

“The Europeans have not confirmed the meeting, but I will leave on Thursday in any case, to fly in that direction,” he said.

“I am not going begging from anyone. If there is a need to meet, I am ready. If not, I will fly farther. We are partners, and we have mutual commitments.

“Let me repeat it once again,” he added, “Ukraine is an independent country.”

For months, Western officials have protested the prosecution of Ms. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, who was charged with harming Ukraine by agreeing to pay a high price for Russian natural gas.

The critics seemed to have leverage, since Ukraine is on the verge of inking free trade and association deals with the European Union.

Hours after the conviction of Ms. Tymoshenko, moreover, Mr. Yanukovich said the verdict was “not a final decision.”

But then Ukraine’s domestic intelligence service announced a new criminal case against Ms. Tymoshenko, centering on the reassigning of debts owed by a private company she headed in the 1990s.

On Monday Mr. Yanukovich said the new charges needed to be thoroughly investigated before any final conclusions could be drawn about the case, and he also said he was awaiting an expert analysis from the European Commission before moving forward with new judiciary reforms.

He summed up his approach by quoting the title of a Soviet love song: “Don’t Hurry.”

“We are going to discuss this issue with you more than once,” he said.

“All points of view have a right to exist and to be respected. We would like to be treated that way, as well, because often we have the sense that others simply don’t want to listen to what we have to say.”

Mr. Yanukovich said he believed European leaders were divided on whether Ms. Tymoshenko’s case should be linked with Ukraine’s pending agreements.

He denied making any promises to European leaders, saying “these discussions should not by any means be cast as a commitment.”

And he suggested that Ukraine is willing to walk away from the deals with the European Union, which would be finalized in December and ratified next summer.

“If the E.U. is not ready for one reason or another, or Ukraine is not ready, the decision can be made not now but later, when we are ready,” he said.

“We are open to discussion, but I do not have the right to stand in for the Ukrainian court of law. The court is independent and makes its own decisions. We cannot very quickly change laws which have been in force in Ukraine for more than 50 years.”

Ms. Tymoshenko’s supporters had pinned their hopes to Tuesday’s parliamentary session, at which opposition lawmakers plan to propose a draft measure which would decriminalize the statute under which she was charged.

But a lawmaker from the ruling Party of Regions, which is headed by Mr. Yanukovich, said that step would introduce “chaos, total judicial chaos, in Ukraine.”

Inna Bogoslovska, a deputy from Mr. Yanukovich’s Party of Regions said that lawmakers might agree to a compromise deal that reduced her sentence by several years, but anything beyond that is unlikely.

“We are not talking about recognizing her as innocent, or releasing her from responsibility for billions of dollars in damages to the country, but maybe the possibility of a conditional sentence,” said Ms. Bogoslovska.

She said Ms. Tymoshenko had “carried out constant crimes, manipulating the public consciousness under the cover of politics, and has always escaped responsibility.”

She said that government officials have felt “very strong pressure” from overseas to free Ms. Tymoshenko, and that this may have backfired.

“Ukrainians really don’t like to be put under pressure,” she said.

Source: The New York Times

Comments

Richard said…
Just alienating himself from Russia and Western Europe so I see no hope for our poor people in the immediate future. If one follows current Ukraine laws and how it applies to former leaders we should impeach and imprison most of them for taking the wrong decisions at the time.