Tymoshenko’s Trial and Ukraine’s Future

STOCKHOLM – There is little doubt that the embarrassing spectacle of the trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko – and her recent arrest on contempt charges during the proceedings – is causing great damage to her country. And there is little doubt that how Ukraine develops will be of great importance for Europe’s future.

Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 ignited the hope of a new wave of democratic reforms in the countries to the east of the European Union – a period of so-called “color” revolutions. Soon, however, those forces that feared losing power in this vast and important region began a determined counter-offensive.

Nonetheless, Ukraine continued to stumble in a European direction, preserving important parts of the gains made in 2004. The 2010 comeback of President Viktor Yanukovych was essentially the result of a free and fair election.

It took some time, but Yanukovych’s determination to press on with the European integration efforts begun by his predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko, has become increasingly clear – in the face of repeated calls (and sometimes thinly veiled threats) by Russia to join its customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Indeed, tension with Russia could well escalate towards the end of the year, because Ukraine’s foreign-policy orientation is of clear consequence to the Kremlin. A democratic Ukraine with an open economy and close ties with the European Union could not fail to influence Russia’s future path as well.