European criticism of the trial over Ukraine's former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko is groundless, incumbent Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told Le Figaro.
Tymoshenko, 50, was arrested on August 5 on charges of signing "unfair" gas supply deals with Russia and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. She could be imprisoned for 10 years if found guilty of forcing Ukraine's state gas firm Naftogaz to sign an unfavorable deal with Russia while she was serving as prime minister. Tymoshenko has repeatedly denied all the charges against her, saying they are politically motivated.
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski - who holds the rotating EU presidency - told Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych that plans to finalize a free-trade deal this year between Ukraine and the EU could be derailed by Tymoshenko's legal travails.
"The Ukrainian authorities need to find a solution that removes any doubts that this trial is an act of political revenge against the opposition," Komorowski said.
That message to Kiev was strongly reinforced by EU foreign ministers at a recent meeting in Poland, with France's top diplomat, Alain Juppe, warning that most member states believed "the agreement can be finalized only if the Tymoshenko case is solved... It means having a free and fair trial and abandoning the unjustified charges against her."
Sweden's foreign minister, Carl Bildt, said the trade deal would flounder if Ukraine continued "with show trials of that sort." Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign affairs chief, said the bloc was following the trial "with great concern" but talks on an EU association deal for Ukraine were continuing "because . . . it's what the opposition would want and it's for the people of Ukraine".
Azarov dismissed the European criticism. "In 2009 Tymoshenko, face to face with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, signed an agreement on the price of gas supplies from Russia to Ukraine that caused damage to the economic interests of the state. She forged the documents for this. This agreement was not approved by the Cabinet of Ministers and Naftogaz."
"In the political sense, Mrs. Tymoshenko is not a rival; she is a woman of the past," he added.
At the same time, Azarov emphasized that Ukraine's main goal is European integration. "Today we confirm our commitment to the partnership with Russia...But, I stress it once again, our efforts towards European integration - that's our strategic choice," Azarov said. "We share European democratic values. They guarantee the sustainable development of Ukraine."