KIEV, Ukraine – Ukraine has struggled to integrate with the European Union countries. It seeks to be prosperous like EU countries but its resistance to adopt democratic values obstructs its prospects. The Ukrainian leadership has been likened to Russian authoritarianism. That may not be an inaccurate description considering how Russia has managed to influence Ukrainian policies. Selective justice is a major issue in Ukraine that the EU wants to fix. The Ukrainian courts and judiciary system are used to carry out political and business agendas.
Yulia Tymoshenko is the former prime minister of Ukraine and the arch-rival of current Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. Her imprisonment is considered politically motivated. Tymoshenko was handed a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of power in 2011. The sentence stems from Tymoshenko signing an expensive gas agreement with Russia. The EU disagrees with the treatment Tymoshenko has received from the Ukrainian government. According to the EU, Tymoshenko is a political prisoner.
Activists gathered for 800 days in Kiev for a political vigil in support of Tymoshenko’s release. She has yet to be released.
Yanukovych and his parliamentary allies did not pass six new laws that would allow Ukraine to partially integrate into the EU. The legislation would have allowed Tymoshenko to go to Germany to receive medical treatment for her back. Ukraine backed out of the trade and political association agreements with the EU in exchange for furthering its relations with Russia. The maneuver makes it unlikely that Tymoshenko will be freed before her sentence is up.
The EU has found difficulty in promoting democracy and the market economy in some post-Soviet states. Ukraine is not the only former Soviet state that has fallen out of reach. Russia has shown to have a stronger influence than the EU over some former Soviet states. Armenia had backed out of its plans with the EU in September because of Russian pressure. Ukraine has put a wall between itself and the EU It has faulted the EU for its failed deal. Yanukovych accused the EU of interfering in its domestic affairs by making Tymoshenko’s release a condition in the agreement.
Ukraine may find agreements from Russia more attractive because democratic values are not part of the deal. Russia offers much more money than the EU without making democracy, judicial independence and anti-corruption part of the agreement. The conditions the EU set for Ukraine were democratic reform, independent judiciary, transparent elections and freeing Tymoshenko. Yanukovych is up for reelection in the 2015 presidential election. This may have influenced Ukraine’s rejection of the EU agreements. The conditions could potentially cost Yanukovych the election, especially if his arch-rival is freed.
Yanukovych ran a fraudulent presidential campaign ten years ago that resulted in the Orange Revolution. A peaceful protest called for justice and the falsified vote to be reversed. Yanukovych was able to secure his presidency in 2010 when he won a free and fair election. The Ukrainian government became authoritarian under his leadership. Yanukovych used widespread corruption to benefit his family and associates and imprison Tymoshenko who ran against him.
Ukraine holds elections with political opposition and the participation of civil society in the voting process. However, it is not a democracy. Ukraine is authoritarian with the potential to become a democracy. Ukrainian civil society has a large population of young people. Youth activists are instrumental in the pursuit of change in Ukraine. They may be the key to a democratic transition.
– Brittany Mannings