Friday, September 14, 2012
Ukraine leader ignores Tymoshenko case, sees EU deal soon
By Olzhas Auyezov
YALTA, Ukraine (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on Friday dismissed the case of his jailed opponent Yulia Tymoshenko as a hindrance to relations with the West and predicted that the path would soon be clear to completing key deals with the European Union.
The EU, which represents a huge market for Ukraine's steel and chemicals exports, froze negotiations with the Yanukovich leadership on political association and free trade, because of Tymoshenko's prosecution and jailing.
A former prime minister and now opposition leader, Tymoshenko, 51, was jailed for seven years last October on abuse-of-office charges in a case that Brussels said was politically-motivated and smacked of selective justice.
But Yanukovich, speaking at a conference in the Black Sea resort of Yalta, told an audience which included senior EU officials that he expected suspended deals with the bloc to be signed soon after Ukraine's parliamentary election on October 28.
"We are actively moving towards signing the association agreement with the European Union," he said.
"At the moment, our European partners have some additional questions to Ukraine but I am sure that after the upcoming parliamentary election all concerns will disappear and the path towards full association between Ukraine and the European Union will be completed."
Asked specifically about the Tymoshenko case by former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski who moderated the meeting, Yanukovich ignored all mention of her and responded with a list of his government's economic achievements and reform.
"We are approaching European standards," he said. "Of course, it is impossible to do everything quickly, the path of reforms is not an easy one."
Tymoshenko, 51, a political firebrand with a sharp tongue, became Yanukovich's nemesis when she lead the 2004 "Orange Revolution" protests which derailed his first bid for presidency.
She went on to serve twice as prime minister but lost the 2010 presidential vote to Yanukovich in a close and bitter run-off.
Soon afterwards, she was charged with abuse of office over a 2009 gas deal with Russia which she had negotiated as prime minister and which, according to Yanukovich's government, has saddled Ukraine with an exorbitant price for vital energy supplies.
Tymoshenko, who is challenging the sentence in the European Court of Human Rights while standing trial in a fresh tax evasion and embezzlement case, denies the charges against her. She says she is the victim of a vendetta by Yanukovich.
Despite Brussels' calls for her release and concerns that her imprisonment would render the October vote unfair in the eyes of Western observers, Yanukovich has refused to intervene in Tymoshenko's case.
He did not explain how the election, in which his Party of the Regions and its allies will seek to retain majority in parliament, would resolve the issue.
(Editing by Richard Balmforth and Jane Merriman)