Yulia Timoshenko found guilty : a parody of justice with consequences on the EU-Ukraine relationship

, by quentin boulanger

Yulia Timoshenko found guilty : a parody of justice with consequences on the EU-Ukraine relationship
Flags of EU and Ukraine Author: Andrew Bossi from Laurel, MD, USA
Source : Wikimedia

This Tuesday, October the 11 is a sad day for democracy in Ukraine. As it was feared, Yulia Timoshenko the former prime minister of Ukraine and leader of the Orange Revolution has been sentenced to 7 years of jail for “abuses of power”. A parody of justice in a country where the pro Russian party of Viktor Yanukovitch is conducting a policy that tends to restrain some core principles of democracy and freedom.

A short history: why are we in this situation.

In 2004, the presidential elections in Ukraine opposed Viktor Yanukovitch, a pro-Russia candidate to Viktor Yushchenko, leader of the opposition. The results declares Yanukovitch as a winner of the elections but massive fraud and corruption was proved and resulted into protests in Kiev from November 2004 to January 2005 of the partisans of Viktor Yushchenko. This movement, called “Orange Revolution” in reference of the color of Mr Yushchenko presidential campaigns. Facing this mass contestation, many public authorities even refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of Yanukovitch led to the cancellation of the results of the elections by the Constitutional Court. A second run-off was thus organized under the scrutiny of domestic and international observers and brought Viktor Yushchenko to power with Yulia Timoshenko as his Prime Minister until 2006.

In the run of the 2007 parliamentary elections, a coalition between Our Ukraine (Viktor Yushchenko party) and Tymoshenko Bloc brought Yulia Timoshenko back to the office of Prime Minister. It is in this situation that occurred the Russia-Ukraine conflict over gas prices of winter 2008-2009. This conflict which was firstly a conflict between the Russian company Gazprom and the Ukrainian one Naftogaz rapidly turned into a political arm-wrestle. Indeed the Russian company threatened to cut all gas delivery if Naftogaz didn’t pay its debts. When the negotiation failed, the company – controlled by the government – decided in January 2009 to cut off its supply to south-east Europe, provoking shortages in Ukraine but also in some EU member states. On January the 18th, Yulia Timoshenko, encouraged to do so by the EU, and Vladimir Putin signed a new agreement for the next 10 years.

When after the 2010 presidential elections, Viktor Yanukovitch came back to power, he contested the legality of this agreement. An investigation was opened and led to the arrest of Yulia Timoshenko who was accused of abuse of power when negotiating the contract. Despite European calls for the respect of the rule of law, democracy and a right to a fair trial and some threats to cancel the EU-Ukraine summit of December 2011 where a free trade agreement is supposed to be signed, Yulia Timoshenko was found guilty last Tuesday and sentenced to 7 years of imprisonment.

What consequences for the EU-Ukraine summit of December?

During the Eastern Partnership Summit that was held in Warsaw in September, an agreement with Ukraine seemed to have been reached towards the conclusion of an agreement by the end of the year. However, following the arrest of Yulia Timoshenko, some EU and national officials declared that this agreement could be jeopardized should anything happen to the former Prime Minister in jail or should she be convicted. Today, this last hypothesis became true and we are wondering if the acts will follow the words.

The EU-Ukraine summit that will be held in Kiev on December the 2nd should be the occasion for the conclusion of the Deep and Comprehensive Free-Trade Area (DCFTA) between the two partners. This commercial agreement is supposed to facilitate exchanges with Ukraine but also to be an element in a structural effort towards a deepened cooperation potentially heading towards a future adhesion of the country. As an important transit country for gas but also an important economic partner of the EU, this agreement with Ukraine is important to secure the supply of the EU in energy but also to develop an economic partnership. However, with Yulia Timoshenko condemnation the situation could change. While it seemed at the end of September that the deal would only have to be signed and made official during the summit of December, the decision of the Ukraine justice could redistribute the cards. Indeed the European Commission and the European Parliament, accompanied by some member states already threatened to cancel the agreement. However, other member states, including the Polish presidency are willing to maintain the summit.

These internal divisions aren’t a surprise. On June the 9th, the Parliament was already issuing its concerns, proving that Human Rights concerns are on top of its priorities [1]. However, for some member states, including Poland, the economic and strategic implications of the agreement are just too important.

Beyond the trade agreement: prioritizing the values of the EU or its interests?

But more than a debate about holding the summit or not, it is the very nature of the EU and its role that is at stake here. If the EU was designed as a community of values, it is more and more criticized for becoming a mere economic entity. This is the very debate about the core f the EU that the indictment of Yulia Timoshenko is highlighting.

“Strengthening the rule of law and a credible fight against corruption are essential not only for the conclusion of the Association Agreement by the end of the year and the deepening of EU-Ukraine relations, but also for the consolidation of democracy in Ukraine. I urge Ukraine to uphold the principles and common values that define our relationship and that form the core of the Eastern partnership." [2]

This statement made yesterday by the president of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek stressed that the core of the relationship of the EU with its neighborhood isn’t about economics but about shared values, a common belief in the rule of law and democracy. These shared values were in the middle of the project of the funding father. Economic cooperation was a way to deepen the common belief of European people but today, some in the EU seem to have forgotten it and economics became an end. While democratic concerns should be taken into account in economic matters it is often the opposite : economic and strategic concerns are benchmarks to decide whether a fundamental right has to be defended by the EU. The economic power of the EU can be used to promote democracy and the rule of law, instead of that, the EU sometimes choose to compromise its values for economic reasons.

The division of the EU member states are symptomatic of this shift between priorities. Because Ukraine is an important economic partner, especially in the field of energy – even if the EU seems to forget that Ukraine is a transit country and depends as much of the EU than the EU depends of it – and in front of the perspective of an Eurasian Union the EU hesitates. And this very hesitation compromises its credibility as an herald of the promotion of democracy, questioning its whole neighborhood policy. The suggestion made by Vladimir Putin to create an Eurasian Union gathering some former Soviet countries and aiming for Russia to be able to be a global actor has been enough to make Poland and other European countries put aside the question of the rule of law. Of course we can understand the fear to see a “new USSR” but we must also expect from the decision-makers to know better than acting on the basis of emotion. Using the economic weapon to make Ukraine respect democracy and the rule of law will not throw the country in the arm of “evil Russia”. The member-states should know better. They are part of a regional organization that developed itself on the idea of peace and democracy, is strong enough and has a complete enough set of tools – despite many problems – to have weight upon its neighborhood and ensure the stability of its environment without compromising itself with calculation on whether strategic interests should be prioritized over democratic values.

Values are by definition a set of principles that guide our action. Peace, democracy, respect of the rule of law, multilateralism are core European and EU values. These should be benchmarks to help the EU decide of its course of action when dealing with internal issues and external ones such as the case of Yulia Timoshenko. They shouldn’t just be ideas that can be disregarded whenever someone in the EU feels an economic or strategic interest could be harmed. Of course, an equilibrium must be found, it is not a debate between idealist ideas and realist politics but if we accept to put aside our principles that easily it is the very identity of the EU, its reason to be, that we will be losing. And, if this isn’t enough, European leaders should remember that the agreement reached between Ukraine and Russia in 2009 was also the result of their strong pressure on Timoshenko to accept a deal in a situation where she couldn’t hope for a much better agreement. If the value argument is not enough, they should thus think about their own responsibility in the condemnation of the former Prime Minister. And with the provocation that constitutes the possible new indictment that Yulia Timoshenko is facing for alleged embezzlement facts dating back to 97 [3], the EU can not and must not stay silent.

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