Ukraine’s parliament has delayed a key vote on the release of jailed former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, a move that threatens to derail the ex-Soviet republic’s push toward the European Union and shift it back into Russia’s orbit.
Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Rybak closed the session, attended by two top EU envoys, saying the bill allowing Ms Tymoshenko to travel to Germany for medical treatment was not yet ready and thus could not be brought to a vote. He said they will take up the bill again when parliament meets next.
EU officials have warned that they will not sign a free-trade and political association agreement with Ukraine if Ms Tymoshenko remains in jail and have urged her rival, President Viktor Yanukovych to release her for treatment in Germany as a compromise measure. The failure to pass the bill means that Ukraine has missed two key deadlines to meet EU conditions ahead a summit in Lithuania.
Opposition leaders accused Mr Yanukovych and his allies in parliament of selling out to Russia and purposely sabotaging the long-awaited EU deal. Russia opposes the signing of the agreement and has used threats, sanctions and offers of price discounts in an attempt to lure Kiev away from the EU and into a Moscow-led customs union instead.
After the session was closed, parliament erupted with angry chants of “Shame! Shame!” from opposition MPs, some dressed in white sweaters that read “Freedom to Ukraine” and others wearing red sweaters reading “Ukraine is Europe.”
“It’s a clear answer as to whether Viktor Yanukovych is ready to sign the agreement with the European Union,” opposition leader and top Tymoshenko ally Arseniy Yatsenyuk said after it became clear that the vote would not take place. “You are ready only for political persecution, blackmail and pressure and to hold on to your power. We, however, want the power to belong to the people of Ukraine.”
Later the opposition softened its stance, calling on Mr Yanukovych to ensure the passage of the bill next week. Opposition leaders urged the two EU envoys, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former European Parliament President Pat Cox, who were scheduled to deliver a report in Brussels on Kiev’s readiness to sign the deal, not to give a negative assessment and give Ukraine some more time.
Meanwhile, in another sign that Kiev might be tilting toward Moscow, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told his cabinet that normalisation of ties with Russia is Ukraine’s priority.