Is European Union mishandling Ukraine?

Politics no longer drives the injustice former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko endures. Fear does. In a notorious show-trial, President Viktor Yanukovych used the justice system to indict, prosecute, convict and imprison the fiery and popular leader dubbed Ukraine’s “Iron Lady.”

The European Union (EU), along with human rights groups and governments throughout the world, continue to criticize the Yanukovych regime for the misuse of justice to prosecute political rivals. Ukraine, Europe’s second largest nation and potentially one of its wealthiest, seeks entry into the European Union. Membership would bring it much needed economic benefits. The advantages to the European Community include moving the country out of Russia’s sphere of influence making Moscow a less dominate continental power. Ukraine would provide a valuable political and economic counterbalance to Russia.

The EU is right to press Yanukovych to pardon and release Tymoshenko. Yet, assessing the situation pragmatically, what is his motivation? He faces political payback. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Yanukovych made a major political miscalculation in using selective justice to go after his main political rival. He foolishly believed the world would forget Tymoshenko. The world has not. The international community has remained steadfast in keeping pressure on him.

On Tuesday, April 30, the European Court of Human Rights will issue its opinion on Tymoshenko’s treatment under Ukraine’s justice system. It is probable the findings will further embarrass Yanukovych and his regime. In addition, the regime’s American-based boutique law firm commissioned to provide political cover with a report could have its credibility compromised. See “Harlots, Whores and Prostitutes” and “Does Government Investigation of US Law Firm Go Far Enough” for additional information. Yanukovych has attempted to defuse friction with the EU by pardoning some of Tymoshenko’s political allies. It is not enough. The EU expects him to correct the injustice still inflicted on Tymoshenko.

Although EU membership for Ukraine would benefit the country economically and move the nation out of Russia’s oppressive sphere of influence, Yanukovych has placed his political and perhaps physical survival above the best interests of his country. Hence, though the EU should not reward his bad behavior, it must be pragmatic about Ukraine’s future. Yanukovych needs political cover. At this point Ukraine’s authoritarian president has one thing on his mind, survival. What will happen to him, his family eating at the public trough, and the many political hacks taking advantage of the public trust? If he cannot negotiate a secret agreement to protect friends and family, he has no reason to free Tymoshenko.

The EU has given Yanukovych’s regime less than three months to fix the problem. Without discretely helping him find a political solution for himself, his first priority; Ukraine will lose as a nation, the balance of power remains in Russia’s favor, and Tymoshenko languishes in prison indefinitely.