Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych pardoned jailed former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, a move that may bolster damaged ties with the European Union.
Lutsenko, who was serving a four-year sentence for abuse of power and is an ally of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was pardoned along with Tymoshenko’s then-Environment Minister Heorhiy Filipchuk, according to a decree on the president’s website.
The EU delayed an association and free-trade deal with Ukraine indefinitely after Tymoshenko was jailed in 2011 in a case the 27-member bloc deems an example of selective justice. It has sought changes to Ukraine’s justice and electoral systems as a condition for the agreement.
Lutsenko and Tymoshenko, who’s serving a seven-year prison term, were key figures in the Orange Revolution that helped overturn Yanukovych’s 2004 presidential victory. Tymoshenko was convicted of abusing her powers as premier in signing a 2009 natural-gas agreement with Russia that Yanukovych says resulted in his country being overcharged $6 billion a year. She denies wrongdoing.
The pardons were welcomed by EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, who called it “first but important step” in dealing with selective justice, in a Twitter posting today.
Members of opposition parties, including Tymoshenko’s party, world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR party and the Svoboda party marched in protest today in Kiev, demanding freedom for Tymoshenko, the dismissal of the cabinet and a mayoral election for the city.
About 20,000 people participated, according to estimates on Svoboda’s website. Ukrainska Pravda, an online news service, cited police estimates of more than 3,000 people. They carried signs saying “Freedom for Yulia!” and pictures of Yanukovych with captions saying “Dictator made in Ukraine.”