The European Union is making the mistake of viewing its relationship with Ukraine “through the lens of the clash” between President Viktor Yanukovych and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, writes Viktor Yushchenko (right).
“It is not surprising that EU leaders think that the case brought against Ms. Tymoshenko is politically motivated. But they are wrong in thinking that the charges against her lack substance, and that she has no case to answer,” says Yushchenko, the former president who came to power following Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution.”
“Brussels also fails to understand that in one important respect Mr. Yanukovych and Ms. Tymoshenko are cut from the same cloth: Neither has a genuine interest in promoting democracy and reform.”
Under president Yanukovych, Ukraine has experienced a democratic regression and the erosion of liberties and rights has caused concern in Brussels, as elsewhere.
Civil society organizations have pushed back. So, to some extent, has the news media. Opposition parties are in power in some regions. And, with October parliamentary elections on the horizon, Yanukovych’s hugely unpopular Party of Regions expects to get a shellacking…..For the past 10 months, authorities have been easing off on the cruder sorts of crackdowns. Officials have quietly engaged in discussions with interested civic organizations on the question of reforms in several key areas.
“The EU’s real error, however, is to ignore the bigger picture,” says Yushchenko:
Furthermore, the EU’s response to their spat risks becoming disastrously counterproductive. By stepping back and refusing to engage, the EU is giving every excuse to President Yanukovych to turn his back on the West and forge ever-closer ties with Russia—at the EU’s expense.
Last April Mr. Yanukovych signed a new, 25-year lease for a Russian naval base at Sebastopol. Just two weeks ago he joined Russia and Belarus in signing a law ratifying Ukrainian participation in a free-trade zone with former-Soviet countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States. It remains to be seen whether Ukraine’s free-trade agreement with the EU—the result of many months of painstaking negotiation—is still viable.
On the 21st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, “democracy and the rule of law have not yet come of age,” Yushchenko concludes. “They remain fragile; the gains of the Orange Revolution could still be reversed.”