A senior U.S. senator has warned Ukraine that it cannot advance its position with the West while imprisoning members of the opposition.
Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs Chairwoman Jeanne Shaheen said on February 1 that politically motivated trials have already hampered Ukraine's progress, citing a major free-trade agreement with the EU that has been held up over the imprisonment of former Orange Revolution heroine and Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
“It will be difficult if not impossible for Ukraine to deepen relations with the West while Ms. Tymoshenko remains behind bars," Shaheen said, adding, that Tymoshenko "should be released.”
The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, testified in Congress a day earlier that democracy in Ukraine is under siege and that Kyiv is drifting closer to authoritarianism under President Viktor Yanukovych, whose flawed election in 2004 sparked the Orange Revolution but who defeated Tymoshenko with Moscow support in a presidential runoff in 2010.
Clapper cited the jailing of Tymoshenko as one example of the worrying trend in Ukraine. While the developments in Ukraine don’t threaten U.S. national security, he said, they do present challenges to important U.S. interests in the region.
Tymoshenko was sentenced in October to seven years in prison for abuse of power over a gas deal with Russia in 2009. She was recently transferred from Kyiv to a prison in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv and is reportedly in poor health.
The conviction has been widely criticized both in Europe and the U.S. as being politically motivated and an example of selective justice.
Ukrainian authorities have since announced further charges against her, and a handful of Tymoshenko allies have also been targeted for prosecution.
Tymoshenko’s daughter, Eugenia, has been championing her mother’s case in the parliaments of Europe. She testified in the U.S. Congress on February 1 that Tymoshenko’s health is declining and she is kept under constant surveillance. She called on Washington to continue to press for the release of her mother as well as other political prisoners, former members of the opposition.
"We're here to ask you to keep up this pressure because as we see with other cases around the world with political prisoners, this helps -- and the more we make sure that the regime and the people who are persecuting the opposition in Ukraine should know that they are under watch and their course of action should be changed," the younger Tymoshenko said. She said politicians should consider taking "restrictive measures to those [people] in particular who are creating this political repression and cynically continuing to do so despite signals from the democratic world."
The U.S. hearing was attended several members of Yanukovych’s ruling Regions Party as well as by his deputy chief of staff, Hanna Herman.
Written by Irena Chalupa in Washington