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11 October, 2013 14:02   ▪  

Steven Pifer: this is no time for Yanukovych to miscalculate

The EU Association Agreement is a big bet, and the costs of miscalculation are high, so Yanukovych has to release Tymoshenko in order not to lose it, senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukrainein his Op-Ed for The New York Times said.

“The E.U. Council of Ministers expects to decide in late October whether to sign the association agreement. The question currently divides the Union’s member states. If the council voted today, a significant number of council members would most likely vote no, believing that Kiev has not yet done enough to meet E.U. conditions,” Mr. Pifer said.

“On the other hand, were Yanukovich to release Tymoshenko and permit her to travel abroad for medical treatment, the vote almost certainly would turn out yes. (While the E.U. conditions center on principles rather than individuals, Tymoshenko’s treatment has become the litmus test of the Yanukovich government’s readiness to end selective prosecution.),” former ambassador claims.

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So, according to Steven Pifer, “the question boils down to this: Is Yanukovich, despite his personal antipathy toward Tymoshenko, willing to let her go? Or will he gamble that his government can do just enough to meet E.U. conditions without freeing her? It is a big bet, and the costs of miscalculation are high.”

As Mr. Pifer said, a failure to sign the agreement would not only be a significant defeat for Yanukovych, but also “would leave Kiev with reduced freedom for maneuver vis-à-vis Moscow, which desperately wants to turn Ukraine away from the West and toward the Russian-led Customs Union.”

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Moscow’s heavy-handed approach also raised concern in Brussels. E.U. officials and the European Parliament deplored the Russian pressure. Individual Union member states now may be more sympathetic toward Ukraine — though it is not clear if that sympathy will temper the view that Ukraine needs to do more, including taking action on Tymoshenko, Mr. Pifer admitted.

“Yanukovich did not reveal his final hand on the matter in Yalta. But time grows short. Allowing Tymoshenko to go abroad for medical treatment would win him a signing ceremony in Vilnius. Will he take the necessary step and go for the sure thing — securing an association agreement that would give a major boost to Ukrainian-E.U. links, Kiev’s European course and perhaps his own political future? Or will he attempt to squeeze by without action on Tymoshenko and bet that the European Union will nevertheless agree to sign? Much is at stake, and this is no time for Yanukovich to miscalculate,” Mr. Pifer underscored.

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