Political Prosecution: EU-Ukraine Relations in Turmoil

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TO JOIN OR NOT TO JOIN: EU MEMBERSHIP & THE UKRAINE

The breakup of the Soviet Union has transformed relations between the former communist countries of Eastern Europe and the European Union, encouraging economic and political assistance, as well as potential membership. Since then, several of the more developed Eastern European states were integrated into the European Union in 2004, while the remaining non-member states were included under the European Neighborhood Policy, which offered financial assistance under conditions of democratic reform.

Of the non-member states in the European Neighborhood Policy, potential integration is most relevant for countries that, like Ukraine, share a land border with EU members. Indeed, the relationship between Ukraine and the European Union has already been characterized by economic and political assistance, suggesting the possibility of future membership for Ukraine.

Ukraine, however, may not be ready. The nation has a history of division between the western region, which is more tied to Europe, and the southern and eastern regions, which connect strongly with Russia. The political tension between them emerged with unusual clarity during the arrest of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko earlier in 2012. On June 24, 2011, Tymoshenko was accused of signing a deal to buy natural gas from Russia that worked against the country's interests. Prosecutors argued the gas prices were inflated, and pushed for a prison term of the maximum seven years. Tymoshenko called the charges absurd, and claimed the arrest was a politically motivated attempt to eliminate the primary opposition of current Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Indeed, Yanukovych and Tymoshenko have a long history of political clashes, symbolic of the tension between the eastern and western political influences in Ukraine. Tymoshenko was one of the leaders of the Orange Revolution in 2004, which challenged the run-off presidential election that Yanukovych seemed to have won at the time. Leading the primary opposition against Yanukovych, Tymoshenko and other supporters argued the election results were rigged, and demanded a re-run second round election. The leaders of the Orange Revolution portrayed Yanukovych as a corrupt Russian lackey who would stop Ukraine's democratization and Westernization. The events escalated into a political crisis with widespread protests, leading the Ukrainian Supreme Court to reject the original run-off ballot and order a second round ballot. After the second election, Yanukovych lost to the opposing presidential candidate, pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko.

However, Yanukovych ran again for president in the 2010 elections, and narrowly won the run-off election against then Prime Minister Tymoshenko by a margin of less than four percent. Tymoshenko challenged the election results by appealing to the Ukrainian Supreme Court, though she later dropped the appeal, stating she did not believe she would receive a fair hearing. In addition to criticizing the Ukrainian judiciary, Tymoshenko and her political supporters boycotted Yanukovych's inauguration.

Recognizing that Tymoshenko and Yanukovych have long since been political opponents, news of the arrest has had a significant impact on the international political scene. International commentators have criticized Yanukovych for using his power to eliminate his political opposition. Representatives from both the European Union and the United States have expressed concerns over the treatment of the former Ukrainian prime minister, while international legal experts have noted that brokering such a gas deal would not warrant an arrest for a crime.

Tymoshenko was charged with abuse of power in June 2011, and arrested in Kiev for contempt in August. …