Germany is mediating the row between former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the government in Kiev over her incarceration and failing health. Tymoshenko, the leader of the Orange Revolution, has been in jail since 2011 for what Viktor Yanukovych’s government alleged was the misuse of power and overstepping her authority. Yesterday, Germany said that there were indications Ukraine was making efforts to resolve the issue. Tymoshenko’s condition in jail has attracted global concern after she alleged mistreatment in prison. The darling of the Orange Revolution once alleged that she was beaten up by prison guards and photos of her with injuries on the abdomen were circulated. As allegations and counter allegations between her and the Yanukovych government, major western powers called for her immediate release after claiming all along that the prison term awarded to her was a result of political vendetta by the government.
Tymoshenko suffers from severe backache for which she has been receiving treatment outside her prison in the city of Kharkiv. Yesterday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle held talks with Yanukovych and declared that the prospect of Tymoshenko receiving treatment in Germany remained on the table. Right from the beginning of her prison term, the Ukrainian leader refused to be treated by doctors from her country for fear of being harmed by the regime. This had become a point of contention between her and the prison authorities, which were probably following orders of their political bosses. She has always been in favour of receiving treatment from German doctors flown into the country.
Outside prison, her daughter has waged a campaign against the mistreatment of her mother. The rights situation in the former Soviet Republic hasn’t been the most desirable one. With Russia always breathing down Kiev’s neck to keep its influence over the nation, Ukraine finds it increasingly difficult to pivot to the West. Ukraine’s ties with Russia have seen considerable strains with Moscow blocking all imports from the country after Kiev was seen getting closer to the European Union in the wake of an agreement with Brussels.
Ukraine’s aspiration to join the European Union has put it in the firing line of the Kremlin. The Tymoshenko issue has to be seen in this perspective. If Westerwelle’s comments about the treatment of Tymoshenko point at a breakthrough in how the Ukrainian leader is treated inside jail or is sent for treatment outside the country, it may point to a softening of stand by Yanukovych against his bete noire. There was also speculation that Tymoshenko may have flown to Germany with Westerwelle.
If Kiev has realised that it needs to free or better treat Tymoshenko, Yanukovych may be looking at long term gains from the European bloc. It is in Ukraine’s interest — politically and economically — to lean towards Brussels than follow the orders of its former masters in Moscow•