After First ECHR Ruling, a Time to Reflect on Ukraine and Tymoshenko

In the wake of the recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights on Ukrainian former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s pretrial detention, there has been a great deal of passionate, anguished commentary, much of it wrong.

First, despite initial reports, it is now clear that the ECHR did not in fact find that Tymoshenko’s pretrial detention was “politically motivated.” It is unclear what the source of this erroneous report was, but Tymoshenko’s advocates have seized on it as a cudgel to claim that Tymoshenko should be released, and the governing party is evil.

This argument has since fallen apart. In an interview with wire service Interfax, a spokesman for the ECHR denied the “politically motivated” conclusion appears anywhere in the court’s ruling, instead saying that the detention was effected for a purpose other than that allowed by the European Convention on Human Rights. (The court primarily cited Tymoshenko’s contempt as an inappropriate basis for detention; despite Tymoshenko’s rhetoric, the Orange Government-appointed judge was not a political actor.)

Most of the remaining commentary has fallen along predictable lines, but there was one piece of analysis that was a bit iconoclastic. Writing at UPI, former State Department officer Bruce Rickerson offers a view that is slowly becoming the mainstream one: that Ukraine’s ties to Europe — and not Russia — are too important to hang on a woman who is by all accounts guilty of the crimes against her. (UK papers have reported that British diplomats believe Tymoshenko guilty as charged, but are unsure about the claims of selective prosecution.)

Rickerson makes the point baldly:

Will the European Union be prepared to dismiss out of hand concerns Kuzmin raises — concerns the ECHR didn’t address — at the risk of permanently alienating Ukraine and, in that event, pushing Kiev into the Moscow-led Customs Union? Absorption of Ukraine into the Customs Union would be a huge windfall for the Russian-led, resurgent neo-Soviet bloc, which still sees the west (not only the European Union but especially the United States) as a strategic adversary.

In the months to come, Europe and Ukraine must practice true Realpolitik. Hard choices about Tymoshenko must be made on both sides. With luck, passions will have cooled to the point that good statesmanship is not merely possible, but likely.