Germany Pushed Gas Deal, Hryshchenko Says

KIEV, Ukraine -- Germany and other European governments put pressure on Ukraine in January 2009 by insisting on the quick signing of a controversial natural gas agreement with Russia, Foreign Minister Kostiantyn Hryshchenko said.

Foreign Minister Kostiantyn Hryshchenko.

Hryshchenko, in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, also defended the seven-year jail sentence given to former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for abusing power while pushing for the agreement to be signed.

“This was done at the request of Germany and other European governments that had insisted on the gas crisis be solved quickly when [Russian] gas supplies to the EU had been suspended,” Hryshchenko said in the interview, according to a statement released by the ministry.

“The main thing is that this problem was solved at the expense of Ukrainians.”

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov called the gas agreement “unfair” and “enslaving” and government officials had tried over the past two years to re-negotiate to lower gas prices, but Russia had refused.

Hryshchenko responded to growing criticism internationally that Tymoshenko’s prosecution and sentence had been politically motivated.

Many European officials decided to boycott matches played in Ukraine, which is co-hosting Euro 2012 soccer tournament in June.

The U.K. and France said earlier this month that no ministers will attend the matches in Ukraine.

These concerns were shared by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, EU president Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, all urging for the release of Tymoshenko.

Barroso and Van Rompuy have both said they will snub the Ukraine half of the June 8-July 1 event.

Merkel has threatened to do the same but has not publicly announced a boycott.

But Hryshchenko attacked Merkel for her insistence to release Tymoshenko by suggesting that the controversial gas agreement with Russia had solved European problems at the expense of Ukraine.

“When Merkel and others support Tymoshenko, by doing so they support the very idea that the problems can be solved at the expense of Ukrainian people,” Hryshchenko said.

Hryshchenko’s comments come a day after President Viktor Yanukovych stirred up a storm after he had linked Tymoshenko to a contract murder 16 years ago, indicating he was unmoved by a boycott of Euro 2012 soccer matches by Western governments.

Tymoshenko, who is serving a seven-year sentence for alleged abuse-of-office when prime minister, has dismissed any link with the killing of Yevhen Shcherban as "absurd.”

Her supporters on Wednesday accused the president of acting like a dictator.

Yanukovych's tough words linking Tymoshenko to the 1996 killing of Yevhen Shcherban, a powerful businessman in eastern Ukraine, suggested he was ready to ride out the diplomatic protests and would not bow to pressure to release her even while the country was acting host to Europe's biggest soccer feast.

An appeal by Tymoshenko against her conviction for abuse-of-office is due to be heard on June 26 in Kiev.

The day before, a court in Kharkiv, where she is serving her sentence, is due to resume hearing another charge against her of tax evasion and embezzlement.

Last month, general prosecutor Viktor Pshonka said Tymoshenko, 51, was being treated as a material witness in the Shcherban case and investigators were trawling through evidence in the case, including new testimony from the dead man's son.

Ruslan Shcherban was 19 at the time and survived the attack, but he has said recently he has evidence implicating Tymoshenko.

Source: Ukrainian Journal