Exclusive: Ukrainian opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko ‘extremely close’ to being released in EU deal

Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, confirms that a pardon is possible ahead of summit

Kiev

Ukraine is “extremely close” to securing a deal which would free opposition politician and cause célèbre Yulia Tymoshenko on “humanitarian grounds”, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has confirmed in an interview with The Independent.

The European Union has demanded that Ms Tymoshenko, who is serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of power over her role in a gas deal with Russia, be released ahead of a summit in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, at the end of November.

At the summit, Ukraine is expected to take a historic step towards the West by signing an Association Agreement with the EU. Supporters of Ms Tymoshenko, who is regarded as President Viktor Yanukovich’s main political rival, say the charges against her are politically motivated.

Ms Tymoshenko’s detention had been seen as an obstacle to the signing of the accord, which would allow freer trade between the EU and Ukraine, and is seen as a make-or-break opportunity for the former Soviet country to move out of the orbit of Russia, which remains Ukraine’s biggest trading partner.

“We are extremely close to resolving this matter,” Mr Azarov said when asked about Ms Tymoshenko’s case. “Neither the government nor the President has any intention of preventing the Association Agreement from being signed… I see no impediments [on this].”

The Association Agreement is seen as a first step on the ladder towards EU membership for Ukraine, but it comes with many conditions for Kiev, including significant reforms on democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and tackling corruption, as well as the resolution of the Tymoshenko case, which is seen as a symbol of “selective justice” in Ukraine.

It has been suggested that Ms Tymoshenko, who is currently receiving treatment for back trouble in a prison hospital in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, could travel to Germany for medical attention if she receives a pardon from Mr Yanukovich.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who had a two-hour meeting with Mr Yanukovich, described the talks as “constructive and intensive” but “complicated from both a political and judicial point of view”.  

Ms Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, indicated publicly for the first time last week that she is ready to accept an offer to go to Germany for treatment, for the sake of a “successful” Vilnius summit.

“I believe that this step will ease the situation on the eve of the summit of the Eastern Partnership,” she said in a statement. For the sake of a successful Vilnius [summit] and successful Ukraine, for the sake of a historic and crucial, agreement with the EU, I am ready to accept this proposal.”

However, she also vowed that she would not give up the fight against what she termed Mr Yanukovich’s “dictatorship”. Mr Azarov said that he believed the European leaders had been convinced by court documents and the case history that Ms Tymoshenko had committed a “real crime” by agreeing to pay a severely inflated price for Russian gas, costing the country “hundreds of millions of dollars”.

He said the Ukrainian leadership had subsequently been asked to consider freeing her “guided by a humanitarian attitude” since she “is a woman, a politician, and she is sick”.

It is not clear why Ukraine would have been asked to consider her gender and profession in its deliberations. Mr Azarov did not elaborate.

The European Parliament appointed a commission headed by former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Irish politician Pat Cox to report on the success of Ukraine’s reform process, and their mediation on Ms Tymoshenko’s possible release. European Parlia-ment President Martin Schulz has said the report will be presented on 15 October and he is “confident” that Tymoshenko’s case will be resolved.

Mr Azarov said that one of the “greatest successes” of the mission was that Europe no longer saw Ms Tymoshenko’s case as “black and white” with the Ukrainian leadership “black” and Ms Tymoshenko “white”.

Speaking on the first of a two-day trip to Kiev ahead of the summit, Mr Westerwelle acknowledged  that “millions of people in this country believe that Mrs Tymoshenko carried out a crime which was confirmed by a Ukrainian court.”

Ms Tymoshenko won widespread support for her role in Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” against a corrupt election in 2004, which overturned the proclaimed victory for Mr Yanukovich. Some analysts say Tymoshenko could still be Mr Yanukovich’s only credible rival for the presidential elections in 2015.

Mr Azarov said that a “concerted move” must now be made by Ms Tymoshenko on the matter of her release, and that this was now “being conducted”.

However, Natasha Lysova, a spokeswoman for Ms Tymoshenko, insisted that “the ball is still in Mr Yanukovich’s court” and that they were continuing to wait to hear his decision on whether or not she will be freed.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions