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Lutsenko’s conviction a slap to the EU’s face

February 28, 2012

Former Ukrainian Minister of the Interior Yuriy Lutsenko was convicted on charges of embezzlement and abuse of office in Kyiv yesterday and sentenced to four years in prison. Lutsenko, who served under then-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from late 2007 to early 2010, will now be incarcerated alongside his former boss after a similarly politically motivated show trial.

Former Ukrainian Minister of the Interior Yuriy Lutsenko on trial in Kyiv. Photo by Grigory Vassilenko/RIA Novosti.

Tymoshenko’s conviction led to a stall in EU-Ukraine relations that began in December 2011 (see the post on this blog from February 7), when EU officials declared integration with Ukraine would be put on hold until improvements in the political and judicial sphere were observed. Top EU foreign affairs officials Catherine Ashton and Stefan Fule reiterated their disappointment with Ukraine in the wake of yesterday’s verdict, with Fule later discussing the EU’s concerns and suggestions for reform at a speech organized by the European Policy Centre in Brussels.

Ashton and Fule’s joint statement and Fule’s speech say nothing that hasn’t already been said repeatedly. The same concerns over human rights, democracy and the rule of law prompted the EU’s refusal to sign an Association Agreement with Ukraine at a December 19, 2011 summit in Kyiv. Ukraine was fully aware of these concerns at the time, and is fully aware of them now. Lutsenko’s conviction is a slap to the face of the EU—it is clear that Brussels has and will have no influence over the direction of Ukraine as long as Yanukovych remains in power.

Ukraine’s continued defiance also highlights the ineffectiveness of the EU’s current stance towards the country. At this point, backing down and pursuing integration with Ukraine would be a significant victory for Yanukovych, while completely backing away from Ukraine would be a significant victory for Russia. It is likely the EU is simply kicking the can down the road, hoping that the October 2012 parliamentary elections in Ukraine will be dominated by anti-Yanukovych sentiment. Such an outcome, particularly the widespread election of delegates that favor European integration over alignment with Russia, could solve a lot of the EU’s problems—most presidential actions require parliamentary consent. While Yanukovych would still hold the power to dissolve the parliament and call new elections, the Orange Revolution has already shown that Ukraine is not highly susceptible to fraudulent election procedures.

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