Merkel’s Party Begins to Thaw on Tymoshenko

Bundestag deputy Karl-Georg Wellmann, a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a member of the Bundestag Foreign Committee in charge of Eastern co-operation, and a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, has reportedly broken ranks with his party head and Chancellor on the Yulia Tymoshenko issue.

According to wire services, Wellmann suggested that whatever procedural problems may have arisen in Tymoshenko’s trial, her underlying guilt appears obvious. “I’m not convinced that Tymoshenko is completely innocent. In her case, the [European Court of Human Rights] will apparently establish procedural violations that must be addressed,” he said.

“By the way, last week everybody saw the consequences of that gas deal that she signed as PM of Ukraine: Russian Gazprom wants Naftogaz Ukraine to pay seven billion dollars for unused gas. This is a direct consequence of that agreement,” he added.

Wellmann’s thoughts come as part of a slow recognition dawns in European capitals that Tymoshenko is neither a saint nor a martyr; and that whatever its flaws, Kyiv committed to the process of her trial with both due process concerns and European standards in mind. Wellmann is at least the second member of the CDU to break ranks with Merkel; in October, Johan Wadephul, another CDU member of the Bundestag, also differed from his party’s line ( “I don’t see the need to focus on the destiny of Mrs. Tymoshenko … we need to examine if the treatment is fair, and it will be examined,” he said at the time).

Wellmann also offered the good news that Europe is beginning to pay attention to Kyiv’s statements and actions beyond outrage at Tymoshenko’s imprisonment. Since the beginning, Kyiv has made clear that it will abide by the ECHR’s findings on Tymoshenko’s case, whatever they may be, as Ukraine is determined to be judged by European standards as part of its European future. Those statements by Ukraine have been largely ignored in Germany, until now.

“I have an impression that the Ukrainian government is trying to present this situation in a clearer way, let us follow the process. This was confirmed by [Ukrainian Prime Minister] Mykola Azarov, answering my questions,” Wellmann said while discussing the trial in general. “Ukrainians are trying to persuade us based on facts. For example, the U.S. court judgment against the former prime minister of Ukraine Pavlo Lazarenko, investigation results and so on. In other words, it appears that they try to present an objective and transparent picture.”

Wellmann also added that he believes that Brussels is increasingly open to rapprochement with Kyiv.

The importance of this news cannot be overstated. Kyiv has been caught in a heads-you-win-tails-I-lose scenario since the beginning of l’affaire Tymoshenko, as Western governments leaned on Ukraine to prosecute corruption and abuse of office all the way to the highest levels of government, and then promptly demanded that Tymoshenko be exonerated once the Ukrainians began to prosecute Tymoshenko for her obvious abuse of power. When Western capitals protested, Kyiv noted that Tymoshenko had an appeal available to the EHCR and that they would abide by the results of the EHCR; Europe responded by demanding that Tymoshenko be set free even before the judicial process was complete, and judging Ukraine’s elections less than free purely because Tymoshenko was in jail for abuse of office.

That another member of Angela Merkel’s party — one with the foreign affairs and PACE credentials to carry significant weight — is willing to break with Ukraine’s harshest interlocutor and the head of his party is a telling sea change.

The entire mess has been like something out of a German existentialist novel, and somewhere, Franz Kafka must be amused by all of the contortions engineered by his co-linguists. It is a welcome sign indeed that much as Ukraine is moving past a purely emotional reaction to Tymoshenko, Europe — and perhaps most importantly, Germany, the country pushing hardest on the issue — is as well.

Image courtesy the German Bundestag.