Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov will have to answer questions about imprisoned former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko during his two-day trip to Warsaw. He is visiting the Polish capital on the eve of UEFA Euro 2012, co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland – an event Ms. Tymoshenko’s name is closely associated with throughout the world.
Overzealous advocates of President Viktor Yanukovych have done everything possible to pour more oil on the flames of the scandal. The finding of the Ad-Hoc Investigative Commission (AIC) of the Ukrainian parliament that Tymoshenko committed treason by signing gas agreements with Russia in 2009 opens the path for the former leader of the Orange Revolution to be sentenced to 10 to 15 years. This is the sentence provided for in the Criminal Code, but it is seen excessive, especially in European capitals.
The most interesting point is that the “betrayal” for which Tymoshenko is being tried has nothing to do with the European Union, and yet it provokes the greatest indignation in Brussels, Warsaw and Berlin. The AIC dredged up an old story about Tymoshenko paying officials in the Russian Defense Ministry a bribe of $13,000 in the 1990s before she became a member of government. The Russian Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office dropped the case in 2005, ostensibly due to procedural mistakes. The implication is that Tymoshenko was on “the Russian hook” when she was signing the gas agreement in 2009. Her detractors claim that she betrayed the interests of her country by accepting a price formula that compels Ukraine to pay today an incredible $450 per thousand cubic meters of gas.
The fact that in 2005-2009 Tymoshenko came to Russia many times and fiercely fought “Russian imperialism” by word and deed, without being arrested by Moscow, does not seem to move Inna Bogoslovskaya, the head of the AIC and a representative of the Party of Regions. Nothing can shake her confidence that Tymoshenko is a traitor.
However, selective memory is not limited to the Party of Regions. In its suborn insistence on handing down such a severe sentence on Tymoshenko, whose moral standing is far from impeccable, Kiev has achieved the impossible –the EU and the United States seem to have developed amnesia as well. They have forgotten practically all the past sins committed by Tymoshenko. She has all but reclaimed her exalted status during the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005 in the eyes of the European public.
Borussia Dortmund Chief Executive Hans-Joachim Watzke raised the issue of a possible boycott of Euro-2012 in Ukraine. In an interview with Die Welt he said: “Several years ago Germans were applauding televised reports about the Orange Revolution. But what is wrong with our culture of protest? People are calmly watching what is happening with Yulia Tymoshenko.”
The selective memory of television viewers seems to have deleted all the unpleasant aspects of Orange rule, such as scandals between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, squabbles for “transit” money and other gas revenues between their people and staged searches and arrests. Fresher images of “Ukrainian patriots in the hands of Yanukovych” have merged with Orange nostalgia, and Tymoshenko has regained her holy image.
And Europe does not betray holy people. Ukraine’s integration into Europe has been actually frozen since Tymoshenko’s arrest. The EU has not signed with Ukraine either an agreement on a free trade zone or any other documents that were supposed to give Yanukovych the long-awaited “associated membership” in the EU during his first presidential term.
Kiev is pointing to the economic benefits of Ukraine’s Euro integration for the EU, but seems to have hit a wall. The West insists that progress can only be made after Tymoshenko’s release. Yanukovych seems to be missing the point. Europe is fond of money but views issues of human rights and democracy as a sacred cow. Attempts to buy this course, whether in euros or grivnas, is a sacrilege, at least when a human rights case like Tymoshenko’s arrest is being stubbornly promoted by the media and brought to public attention. Tymoshenko’s imprisonment is exactly this case.
An alternative process – Ukraine’s Eurasian integration – is not making any headway, either. Ukraine has merely signed a free trade zone agreement with eight former Soviet republics, but Yanukovych has not acceded to Moscow’s demands that it join the Customs Union. So, gas prices are not going down and an enormous part of the Ukrainian industry is becoming simply unprofitable. Confronted with two paths – Western or Eastern integration – Yanukovych has chosen a third: to stay put.
Moscow is not interfering in this quarrel. The Ukrainian media traditionally lay the blame at Russia’s door, no matter what. If we are to believe Tymoshenko, Yanukovych and the Party of Regions are prepared to give up on Ukrainian as the only official language of the country in a bid to curry favor with Moscow. If we are to believe Bogoslovskaya, Moscow is to blame again – after all, Tymoshenko betrayed Ukraine with Russia. In turn, Europe remembers how many bad words were said about Russia during the glorious Orange Revolution and believes Russia is a colonial empire. So, it is best for Moscow to say nothing at all. It will at least be seen as clever, if not innocent.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.