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Ukraine President Rejects EU Protest Over Tymoshenko Verdict

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison last week for abuse of power when signing a 10-year gas supply and transit agreement with Russia as premier in 2009. Photographer: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

European Union protests over the jailing of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko won’t lead to her liberation, said President Viktor Yanukovych, who continues to seek a trade agreement with the bloc.

“The point isn’t if someone likes” the verdict “or doesn’t -- in Ukraine or in Europe,” Yanukovych, 61, told reporters yesterday in Kiev, the capital. “The point is that there is a supremacy of law, there is a court that decides. Whatever decision the court makes, we must respect it.”

Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison last week for abuse of power when signing a 10-year gas supply and transit agreement with Russia as premier in 2009. The verdict may have “profound implications” for Ukraine’s relations with the EU, said Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for the European Commission.

Before Tymoshenko’s trial, Ukraine was set to sign an Association Agreement with the EU this year, which would have included a free-trade area with the bloc. The former Soviet republic, which relies on steel and chemical exports to drive its economy, is seeking to ease its dependence on Russia, which supplies more than 60 percent of its gas needs.

Brussels Meeting Postponed

EU President Herman Van Rompuy said today that a planned meeting with Yanukovich in Brussels would be delayed.

The meeting, which had been scheduled for Oct. 20 to discuss the Association Agreement, “has been postponed to a later date when the conditions will be more conducive to making progress on the bilateral relations,” Van Rompuy said in a statement.

Progress toward the agreement “will now be difficult unless some form of resolution is reached over the Tymoshenko issue,” Tim Ash, head of emerging-market research at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in London, said by e-mail.

Yanukovych wants to renegotiate the gas contract with Russia, seeking a lower price. Tymoshenko signed the accord after a dispute between the two nations disrupted deliveries to at least 20 nations for two weeks amid freezing temperatures. While Yanukovych called the agreement “discriminatory” and “unfair,” Russia urged Ukraine to honor the terms of the deal.

Vladimir Putin has tried to convince Ukraine to join a Russia-led customs union that includes Kazakhstan and Belarus, instead of seeking EU membership, which is “absolutely unrealistic,” according to a Sept. 16 comment by the Russian premier, who is seeking to return to the presidency next year.

“We are looking for a possible form of cooperation with the custom union,” Yanukovych said. “We are obliged to find a form that would not contradict our European integration.”

EU Membership Prospects

Ukraine still wants to forge closer ties with the EU and is seeking eventual membership, said Yanukovych, urging the trading bloc to treat the Association Agreement separately from the Tymoshenko case.

The “Association Agreement, which reflects prospects for Ukraine to join the” EU “is very important to us,” Yanukovych said in his office. “Criminal cases against Tymoshenko should be separated from Ukraine’s integration to the” EU.

Ukraine is ready to delay the association agreement with the EU, should it not include the possibility of future membership, Yanukovych said.

“If Europe isn’t ready for that because of any reason, or Ukraine is not ready, it means the decision may be conducted later,” he said.

‘Politically Motivated’

The Tymoshenko case “appears to be politically motivated and may damage Ukraine’s reputation,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said last month. There are several more cases against the former premier, some of which haven’t yet been made public as investigations continue, Yanukovych said yesterday.

Ukraine’s security service opened a new criminal probe into Tymoshenko on Oct. 13. It accused her of transferring $405 million in debt owed to the Russian Defense Ministry from United Energy Systems, a company she used to run, to the state budget. Tymoshenko denied any wrongdoing, saying Yanukovych engineered the trial to silence opposition before parliamentary elections next year.

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