After the successful Euro 2012, some hoped Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych would rise to another occasion and ensure freedom for incarcerated political opposition leaders.
He missed a fine opportunity on July 12, 2012, the date of former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko’s appeal hearing. Ostensibly, the seven-year sentence was for Ukraine’s 2010 energy deal with Russia, but most call it politically motivated persecution. For that reason, the international democratic community showed up to hear the appeal.
The gallery was full of observers, including those from the United States and other embassies. The European Parliament delegation included former President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland. There were NGOs, media and plenty of representatives from Batkivshchyna, Ms. Tymoshenko’s Party. Canada was represented by Bob Dechert, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, and Ambassador Troy Lulashnyk.
In a telephone press conference from Kyiv with Canada’s media, Mr. Dechert said, “The purpose of my visit is to participate as one member of the Canadian observation team at the appeal hearing of Ms. Tymoshenko and in the opening of the Canada Ukraine Foundation election observer mission office.” The foundation, part of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, was a noshow at the hearing.
The hearings concluded with what clearly continues to be further nose-thumbing by the regime at the rule of law, the appellant and representatives of the free world. The judges decided that the appeal could not proceed because Ms. Tymoshenko was not present. The gallery broke out in shouts and boos; the defense objected; the international community was stunned. After a brief recess the justices read from what appears to have been a previously typed statement noting that if the defendant is ill she cannot attend, therefore the hearing cannot proceed. Mr. Dechert, a Canadian lawyer found the decision “unusual.” In Canada, as elsewhere, appeals are primarily procedural and do not require the defendant’s presence. Most importantly, Ms. Tymoshenko had complied with Ukraine’s law by providing permission for the appeal to proceed in her absence. The game of cat and mouse continues as Mr. Yanukovych et al seem to care little for international opinion or Ukraine’s own laws. Such cockiness implies assured power, anticipates victory and puts a huge question mark on the outcome of the Verkhovna Rada elections this fall.
Perhaps James Bezan, who led Canada’s Parliament in recognizing the Kremlinorchestrated Famine of 1932-1933, the Holodomor, as a genocide, said it best earlier this year after Parliament’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on Ukraine. “Canada has always demonstrated global leadership with our foreign policies on Ukraine and other new democratic countries. The challenge to the free world is to find new ways to help emerging and struggling democracies. Election observers, civil society funding, institutional capacitybuilding are all very important. But hardwon democratic freedoms are being trumped by rogue state leaders, not just in Ukraine, but elsewhere as well. Canadian foreign policy has to continue to adapt to this new reality.”
Ukraine is not alone in needing help from friends. The descent into civil war in Syria, the uncertainty in Egypt, questionable progress elsewhere in the Arab Spring countries make it clear that democracies need to do more for countries searching for a better way. There is a universal need to develop new strategies to assist aspiring democracies in the early transition stages when the vacuum that draws rogues and charlatans creates situations ripe for calamity. Ukraine knows all about atrocities. Chaos, aggression, famine, ethnic cleansing, exile to the gulag and massive immigration mushroomed in both post-world war periods as misguided policies and despots took the upper hand. And, unfortunately, despite huge strides since independence, things are still not as good as they need to be in the quasi-democratic Ukraine under President Yanukovych.
But what can Canada do?
Mr. Dechert offered a few approaches. He indicated that Canada would continue working on, but would not ratify, a free trade agreement with Ukraine until there is movement towards the rule of law. Furthermore, Canada may deny entry to individuals who abuse power and freeze their assets. This policy thinking is in tandem with what the United States is proposing, and Canada could make a further contribution by persuading friends like Great Britain and others to re-examine some of their liberal policies. It may be time to name and shame. The British Virgin Islands and Cypress, for instance, are a haven for Ukraine’s scandalously rich. In 2011, according to published reports, a handful transferred some $360 billion to these two havens – more than Ukraine’s budget for that year.
Mr. Yanukovych, whose prime policies are to make the rich richer (his family is rising meteorically to the top) and keep the opposition imprisoned, seems confident that Canada and other democracies can’t stop him. But they must. Failure to do so in Ukraine has implications for the entire former Soviet space, including belligerent Russia, and anywhere the people want political change. Bad governments threaten global peace and security, and that’s our business -- not just Ukraine’s.That is why Canada with other democracies will be standing guard on August 16th when the Tymoshenko appeal comes up again. It’s important for the leaders of the global Ukrainian diaspora to be the watchdogs of this process too.