Tymoshenko stumbling block for EU-Ukraine Association talks

Viktor Yanukovych  (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)
The EU will agree to continue negotiations with Ukraine on the Association Agreement, but only if former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is released.

­According to the Kommersant-Ukraine daily, President Viktor Yanukovich’s visit to Brussels, initially scheduled for October 20, is now in jeopardy.

The talks were due to focus on Ukraine joining a free-trade zone with the European Union, one of the key issues of the Association Agreement.  On Friday, however, the European Commission (EC) officially stated that the final decision as to whether the meeting between Yanukovich and the EU leadership will go ahead will be made “in the coming days."

The newspaper’s source in the EU Foreign Ministry confirmed: “We are making preparations for the visit, and also for its cancellation.

"The European Commission passed Yanukovich an informal letter warning that they will not hold talks with him unless he reacts to the Tymoshenko case,” the source went on to say. “He should take a decision by Tuesday or Wednesday.”

On October 11, Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of power over gas contracts she agreed with Russia in 2009. The EU expressed concern over the verdict, making it clear that it could complicate talks on the Association Agreement, which Kiev plans to initial by the end of this year.

The EU does not require the urgent release of Yulia Tymoshenko. Rather, it insists on the adoption of a law reforming the Criminal Code, which would open the way for a complete rehabilitation of the former prime minister. In addition, Brussels wants Ukraine to introduce changes in its election law.

On Friday, the media also reported that EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht has cancelled his visit to Kiev, which was due on October 17. The EU representative in Ukraine said, though, that “the visit won’t take place, and it was not planned.” 

However, Kiev had to admit that the meeting had been on the agenda.  In the event, it was decided that First Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Klyuev will travel to Brussels himself on Wednesday.

There remain a number of issues concerning Ukraine’s role in the EU market on which the sides have so far failed to agree, in particular, export duties on cattle hide, ferrous and nonferrous metals, and sunflower seeds. Ukraine also continues to insist on a transitional period for access for Ukrainian auto-carriers to the EU market. Discussions are also continuing to try to safeguard the transit of gas through Ukraine.