Europe’s Ukrainian Test

WASHINGTON, DC – The recent start of the trial in Kyiv of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the leaders of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, on charges of abuse of power raises grave concerns about President Viktor Yankovych’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law. In reality, it is his regime, not Tymoshenko, that is on trial, along with the European Union’s willingness to stand up for democracy in a large and important neighbor.

As the EU and Ukraine launch another round of negotiations for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), the EU should not repeat its mistakes in accession negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania, which most EU members believe were admitted prematurely, or with Belarus, where it failed to define impermissible behavior in 2008-2010. Instead, the EU should conclude the DCFTA and Association agreement with Ukraine only if the Yanukovych administration demonstrates clear commitment to European values.

Anchoring Ukraine inside a DCFTA and political association agreement would undoubtedly bring significant benefits to the country and strengthen its European ties. But these benefits should not come at the expense of turning a blind eye to the democratic norms that the EU claims to espouse.

During the 18 months since Yanukovych’s election as president, the United States, the EU, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, and other international organizations have published detailed reports about Ukraine’s lack of progress in implementing economic and political reforms and reducing corruption. The IMF suspended its July 2010 standby program after Ukraine failed to implement a second round of reforms. Leading non-governmental organizations such as Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders have documented the country’s steep slide away from democracy.