Lutsenko Pardon a Victory for Engagement Over Confrontation

Yuriy Lutsenko, the Ukrainian former Interior Minister who was convicted of abuse of office and embezzlement in February 2012, has been pardoned along with other former government officials by the Ukrainian government on humanitarian grounds. (Lutsenko has required frequent and extensive medical attention since his imprisonment.) President Viktor Yanukovych, in asking the commission in charge of pardons to grant Lutsenko’s freedom and in announcing the pardons two days later, cited Lutsenko’s health and the need “to decriminalize and humanize Ukrainian legislation.”

Lutsenko is one of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s lieutenants, and his pardon comes mere days after his last appeal was denied by Ukraine’s highest court.

Europe and the United States welcomed the outcome. The State Department praised the pardons, made the obligatory genuflection toward suggesting that Tymoshenko is a political prisoner, and concluded, “The United States strongly supports the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for a democratic, prosperous, and European future, which can only be realized through continued democratic reform and adherence to the rule of law.  We remain dedicated to strengthening our bilateral relationship on the basis of our shared transatlantic values.”

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said the pardon was “a good step that will help restore a good image of Ukraine.” European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Füle tweeted that the pardons were the “first but important step aimed at resolving the problem of selective justice.”

The move led some to demand that Tymoshenko be released immediately. Calls for Tymoshenko’s release are however premature; in Ukraine, pardons are only routinely considered after a convict has reached the conclusion of the final appeal, and Tymoshenko still has appeals pending, including to the European Court of Human Rights.

Yanukovych deserves credit for this, a follow-through on his promise to bring Ukraine’s laws and practices more closely in line with European norms. At least as importantly, this pardon also follows on the recommendation of the Parliamentary Human Rights Commissioner, who urged Lutsenko’s pardon on health and humanitarian grounds.

The real credit, however, belongs to those who advocated continued engagement with Ukraine. It has long been obvious that Kyiv responds better to the carrot than the stick, and the offer to bring the Association Agreement with the European Union to fruition has clearly spurred progress. Those European dignitaries who continued to act as intermediaries between Brussels and Kyiv — and who realized before most European capitals did that diplomacy carries enormous weight in Ukraine — are the unsung heroes here.

Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former European Parliament President Pat Cox — whose tireless efforts to find a middle ground between the EU’s insistence that Lutsenko’s imprisonment was political and Kyiv’s that they must prosecute the weak and the mighty — finally received some of their due. “I wish to deeply thank presidents Cox and Kwasniewski for their efforts in securing the pardon and release of Yuriy Lutsenko,”  Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, said in a prepared statement. He added then men’s tireless efforts had “ensured that Yuriy Lutsenko is a free man who can enjoy his first night in years with his family.”

This resolution may not fully satisfy hard-liners in Brussels, but the trend toward Ukraine’s embrace by Europe — renewed since October’s elections — seems stronger than ever.

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