Ukraine’s EU Goal Wilts in Soccer Boycott Over Tymoshenko

Ukraine risks alienating the European nations it wants as allies as next month’s Euro 2012 soccer championship trains the spotlight on jailed ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who’s on a hunger strike over claims of abuse.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt today joined European commissioners and Dutch officials in refusing to attend matches in the former Soviet republic in protest against Tymoshenko’s incarceration, while the German and Czech presidents are among leaders to pull out of a summit in the Black Sea town of Yalta.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s 2010 election pledge of closer European Union integration now hinges on Tymoshenko being freed. Rather than winning her release, the boycotts risk bolstering Russian interests after two decades of jostling with the 27-member bloc for sway over its neighbor, according to IHS analyst Lilit Gevorgyan.

“The lack of a clear policy and, worst of all, tactics of isolation used toward Ukraine, mean the bloc will make more noise but have less influence,” she wrote May 1 in an e-mailed note. “Yanukovych’s troubles with the EU are likely to push him further down the road that appears to lead to the Kremlin.”

The yield on Ukraine’s dollar bond due 2016 has fallen to 8.332 percent from 8.561 at yesterday’s close and 10.04 percent on April 2, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The hryvnia strengthened to 8.0350 per dollar from 8.0395 yesterday.

‘Seriously Concerned’

Sixteen European nations are participating in the soccer championship, which the Union of European Football Associations awarded to Ukraine and co-host Poland in 2007, the same year Tymoshenko began a second stint as premier. The tournament kicks off June 8 in Warsaw, with eight teams, including Germany, France and England playing first-round games in Ukraine before the July 1 final in Kiev.

Dutch government officials won’t attend soccer matches in Ukraine if Tymoshenko’s treatment doesn’t improve, Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said May 1. Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders won’t either because he’s “seriously concerned” about her conditions, the Belga news service reported May 2.

Most Germans don’t want Chancellor Angela Merkel or her ministers to go to games in Ukraine, according to an April 29 survey in the Bild newspaper. Merkel may recommend ministers boycott the tournament, Der Spiegel reported April 29, without saying where it got the information.

EU Pact Delayed

Germany, which according to U.K. bookmaker William Hill is second-favorite to win the tournament behind defending champion Spain, “will take the decision when it’s time to do so,” Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said May 2 in Bild.

A so-called Association Agreement to align Ukraine with the EU and provide free trade has been delayed indefinitely while Tymoshenko is in prison.

Officials are also pulling out of a summit of central and eastern European leaders May 11-12 in Yalta. Aside from Germany and the Czech Republic, the Slovenian, Austrian and Italian presidents will also skip the event, Oleg Voloshin, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, said April 30, the Interfax news service reported. They gave “various reasons,” he said.

European Commission President Jose Barroso won’t travel to the country until there are improvements in “what is indeed a very serious situation that gives rise to very serious concerns,” his spokeswoman, Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen, said April 30. “It is clear that as things stand now, the president has no intention of going to Ukraine or participating in events in Ukraine.”

All other EU commissioners yesterday ruled out attending matches in Ukraine.

Hunger Strike

Tymoshenko was handed a seven-year prison sentence in October after a court ruled she overstepped her authority as prime minister when signing a 2009 natural-gas deal with Russia. She says the case was engineered by Yanukovych to silence opposition before a general election in October.

The former premier, who has back problems, began a hunger strike on April 20 after saying she was attacked by three men who pulled her out of bed, hit her in the stomach and forced her to be hospitalized near the eastern city of Kharkiv without her consent. Prosecutors deny she was beaten.

Tymoshenko’s condition has worsened since she began the hunger strike, her daughter Yevheniya Tymoshenko said May 1. Germany and Russia have offered her medical assistance if she’s allowed to travel.

Tymoshenko today gave preliminary approval to be examined by German and Ukrainian doctors at a hospital in Kharkiv from May 8, the RIA Novosti news service reported, citing a joint statement from the doctors.

Sport and Politics

Some countries oppose the boycott, with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk yesterday labeling opposition calls to avoid Ukrainian soccer matches “an own goal.”

“We want to help soccer players, the championship and fans,” Tusk said. “We shouldn’t participate in political manifestations.”

Uffe Elbaek, Denmark’s minister for culture and sports, echoed this sentiment, telling Danish media including the Berlingske newspaper that he plans to attend his country’s first-round games in Ukraine. Sport and politics shouldn’t be mixed “under any circumstances,” Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin said yesterday, the RIA Novosti news service reported.

While tournament organizers UEFA have raised security concerns after four non-fatal bomb attacks in the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk on April 27, the union “never interferes in political matters,” according to an April 30 statement.

Democratic Institutions

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday in a statement that those who “attack” Euro 2012 “don’t help establish democratic institutions.” Boycotting the championship damages its image and hurts millions of ordinary Ukrainians, it added.

Ukraine has been drifting away from EU principles since Yanukovych won election in 2010 and the rift over Tymoshenko widens the gap further, according to Valeriy Chalyi, a foreign- policy analyst at the Razumkov research institute in Kiev.

“Ukraine’s image has undergone serious negative changes in the last two years,” Chalyi said yesterday by phone. “Tymoshenko is maintaining political impact despite the fact she’s in prison.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kateryna Choursina in Moscow at kchoursina@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net; Claudia Carpenter at ccarpenter2@bloomberg.net

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