Fly away: EU cancels Yanukovich invitation

Kiev: Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)
Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich will not visit Brussels on Thursday to discuss the EU Association Agreement. The visit was canceled after a court sentenced former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years.

“We took a decision to postpone this visit to a more suitable moment in our bilateral relations,” Spokeswoman of the European Commission Pia Hansen said.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry tried to downplay the blow by pointing out that the visit will still happen, albeit at a later date.

“I’d like to draw you attention that at the moment we talk about postponement of the visit,” spokesman for the ministry Aleksandr Dikusarov said.

The possible change of plan for Yanukovich’s visit was on the table since the sentencing of Tymoshenko on October 11. EU sees the trial as politically-motivated and demanded the ex-PM be released if Kiev wishes to improve its relations with Europe.

Yanukovich denied the allegations of rigging the trial and refused to put leverage on Ukraine’s judiciary. He also said that releasing Tymoshenko now would not be appropriate, since his political opponent faces more criminal charges.

The president stressed that integration with the EU has no connection to the prosecution of Tymoshenko.

“We are partners. If there is a need for a meeting, I am ready to meet. If there is none, I will fly on,” he told the media in Kiev, referring to his planned tour to Latin America.

Shortly after the sentence was issued, Yanukovich hinted that Ukraine’s criminal code may be amended in a way that would ensure that an appeal against Tymoshenko’s sentence would be ruled in her favor. If he hoped to limit the diplomatic damage, this did not save Ukraine’s hopes for an Association Agreement with the EU, which was expected to be signed in December.

Before the news broke, Ukraine’s prime minister said in an interview that the EU’s negative attitude would send a clear message to Kiev that it should seek closer ties with Russia.

“If we receive an absolutely clear ‘no’ signal from the European Union, the possibility of our changing direction towards the Customs Union [between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan] is quite big,” Sergey Tyagibko told the Den newspaper.

“People who would like Ukraine to join this Union may receive a serious argument in favor of their position,” he said.

Moscow offered Kiev to seek membership in the customs union, but Ukraine has so far been reluctant to do so.

Yulia Tymoshenko has been sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of the office of prime minister. The charges had been brought over the signing of a gas contract with Russia. The court said the contract terms were unfavorable to Ukraine, and that Tymoshenko forced its signing to score political points ahead of an election.

She is also being investigated over conspiracy to embezzle state funds, misappropriation of budget money and illegal purchase of property. Tymoshenko says all the charges are false and accuses Yanukovich of persecuting the opposition.