Ukraine was one of the fifteen satellite states compromising the Soviet Union from 1922 to the dissolution of the of the USSR in 1991. Since that time, Ukraine has been trying to find its footing as an independent European nation, a journey which has been wrought with struggles due to its proximity to and past with Russia. In 2004, Ukraine experienced the Orange Revolution, a public response to the political and voting corruption occurring within the Ukrainian government. Out of this revolution rose an opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko was able to garner enough support due to her progressive political views to be elected as Prime Minister of Ukraine from 2007-2010. Her victories were short-lived, however, as Tymoshenko was sentenced to 7 years in prison due to her alleged abuse of power in constructing gas deals between Ukrainian companies and Russia. While current President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, contends that the allegations placed upon Tymoshenko were legitimate and that the sentence was handed down with due process of the law, representatives in the EU believe that the verdict was an instance of "selective justice"
The reason the Tymoshenko case holds so much importance is that it serves as a potential block to achieving a partnership between the EU and Ukraine, something Ukrainian President Yanukovych has been striving for since he took office in 2010. On November 28-29, Vilnius, the capital of Latvia (current head of the EU) will hold an Eastern Partnership Summit in order to attempt to bring former Soviet satellites and Eastern bloc members into the EU and establish an economic relationship with them.
As it currently stands, Ukraine would not be allowed to sign the partnership with the EU at Vilnius due to the Tymoshenko controversy. One of the driving ideologies of the European Union is a respect of human rights. While the EU has no rights to declare that the trial was the result of political game-playing, the sticking point actually has to do with medical services guaranteed to prisoners. Tymoshenko has battled back issues for many years. Since her stint in prison, Tymoshenko has not been able to receive proper medical care. In order to seek a solution to her back ailments, Tymoshenko would have to be transported to Germany to receive medical treatment, something the Ukrainian Parliament is opposing.
Most believe Yanukovych opposes the transport of Tymoshenko because the move would allow her to be competitive in the 2015 presidential race. Evidence for this position comes from the fact that Yanukovych has stated that he is willing to allow Tymoshenko to receive medical treatment in Germany, but he is not willing to concede to EU pleas that she be pardoned at the same time.
If Ukraine does not come to an agreement concerning the Tymoshenko issue by November 19th, the EU will not allow Ukraine to sign the Association Agreement or Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreement (DCFTA), meaning that the EU's attempt to expand its influence and economic power into eastern Europe would be a failure. That failure may not be the total fault of the EU, however. Russia has been placing demands upon Ukraine to sign into their Eurasian Customs Union instead of the EU. Putin and the Russians have casually threatened that if Ukraine signs with the EU, it will block certain imports, such as chocolate and gas. In order to combat this pressure, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that she "will push in Vilnius for the EU to counteract this pressure with concrete opportunities and real solidarity.” Merkel followed by stating, “This could be done by offering additional sales possibilities for products of our partner that cannot be exported to Russia, or through help in broadening its supplies of energy.”
The Tymoshenko case holds great import toward the future balance of European economic relations. Ukraine is a burgeoning eastern power with a $330 billion economy. By enacting proper legislation and siding with the EU, Ukraine would be taking a firm stance against the influence of Russia and the historic holdings of the Soviet Union. If Yanukovych and the Ukrainian Parliament fail to sign with the EU, though, Russia will once again showcase just how powerful of a county they are becoming in the 21st century. While most signs currently point toward the latter, there is still time.[Image via Wikimedia Commons]