Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich’s plan to straddle East and West depends on the European Union granting Ukraine association status. EU Minister President Barroso and EU President Rompuy, in recent negotiations, did not reject Ukraine’s bid, but appeared to tie it to Yanukovich’s release of his political rival, Yulia Timoshenko, from prison and allowing her to reenter political life.
Yanukovich narrowly defeated Timoshenko in January’s presidential election. His prosecutors and judges sentenced Timoshenko on October 11 to seven years in prison for abuse of office. Her crime: She signed in January of 2009 with Russia’s Putin a natural gas contract that was “to the disadvantage of Ukraine!” The court verdict unleashed torrents of protest from the United States, the European Union, and even a rebuke from Russia.
Timoshenko’s sentence would be the equivalent of George Bush sentencing Bill Clinton for signing the “unfavorable” North American Free Trade Agreement.
Yanukovich is using the Timoshenko sentence to intimidate Ukrainian oligarchs into assigning their assets to him and his associates. It also removes his most potent political rival from the political arena.
In response to growing international pressure, Yanukovich has transferred the ailing Timoshenko to a more remote prison camp to keep her as far away from the press as possible.
Yanukovich’s criminal intimidation of his political rivals has largely escaped attention because of the Euro crisis and the U.S. elections. Strategic Ukraine, a land of 50 million, is on the verge of losing its democracy, and the world is paying scant attention. Timoshenko’s loyal followers continue their tent-city protests in Kyiv, but are largely ignored and isolated.
If we get upset by Putin’s dashing of the vestiges of Russian democracy, we should recognize that Yanukovich’s actions are even more blatant and reprehensible.