KIEV, Ukraine -- Stefan Fuele, the European Union’s enlargement commissioner, warned Ukraine’s leadership on Tuesday that closer integration with Brussels hangs on adherence to core EU principles of democracy and media freedoms.
Wrapping up a two-day visit to Kiev that included meetings with Viktor Yanukovich the president, journalists and human rights activists, Mr Fuele said Brussels shares concerns expressed by the US that Ukraine’s political opposition was being persecuted while media freedoms were being curtailed.
Mr Fuele said the EU hoped to wrap up the signing of association membership and free trade agreements with Ukraine this year, adding that Brussels sought closer relations and could be flexible in negotiations on these issues. But he stressed that Brussels could not compromise on core EU “values” such as democracy.
Mr Fuele was asked during a press conference in Kiev if the EU shared concerns about political persecution that was expressed late in December in a statement issued by the US. He said: “I certainly share the impression” and concerns that were raised by the US and “raised this issue in discussions, including with Ukraine’s president.”
Mr Fuele added: “I do not want to speculate at this time on repercussions” that could follow should Ukraine stray away from democracy.
Mr Fuele’s comments came two weeks after the US issued a sharp warning to Ukraine’s leadership, expressing concerns that a flurry of arrests and probes “selectively” targeting opposition politicians appeared to be “politically motivated.”
The December 30 US statement followed arrests that appear to target exclusively allies of Yulia Tymoshenko, the opposition leader. Ukrainian prosecutors formally charged Ms Tymoshenko late last year with misspending $300m in state funds while serving as premier in 2009.
Ms Tymoshenko, who lost last year’s presidential election to Mr Yanukovich, denies wrongdoing and insists that the charges against her are intended to divert attention from corrupt dealings of Ukraine’s current leadership. Two Ukrainian human rights organisations came to her defence late last year, urging Mr Yanukovich to end political persecution.
Opposition leaders accuse Mr Yanukovich of monopolising power, persecuting foes and reneging on democratic and media freedom gains made since the 2004 Orange Revolution. Opponents also accuse the Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president of bringing Kiev back into Russia’s fold.
But Mr Yanukovich has repeatedly denied such allegations. His administration describes the investigations as legitimate attempts to combat corruption. Mr Yanukovich also claims to be working hard to revive relations with Russia while keeping Kiev on a path towards EU membership and reforming Ukraine’s fragile economy.
Insiders said journalists gave Mr Fuele evidence that the media have been muzzled under Mr Yanukovich and that allegations of corruption involving presidential allies are not being investigated.
Referring to such allegations, Mr Fuele said: “In the 21st century, democratic government cannot exist without an independent judicial system and media. This is a question of moral leadership.”
While meeting members of the foreign investment community in Ukraine, Mr Fuele also heard complaints about rampant corruption and bureaucracy. During a press conference, he urged Ukraine to improve its investment climate.