After the conviction of the former Ukrainian prime minister, her husband soon obtained political asylum in the Czech Republic.
The Tymoshenko affair runs the risk of remaining in the news, as the main European and international diplomatic issue, for quite a long time.
Not only in view of the controversy over the sentence of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, but also for the stories involving her family, in particular, the request for asylum made by her husband Oleksandr, accepted in less than no time by Prague. Many, in fact, in the Czech Republic are those who turned up their nose, when in January, the Interior Minister Jan Kubice announced that international protection (for reasons not necessarily political) had been granted.
Among the disconcerted is also Karel Schwarzenberg the colleague in charge of Czech diplomacy who – it seems he has not even been consulted – expressed concern about the possible effects on public relations between Prague and Kiev. It is not the first time Czech authorities have accepted Ukrainian citizens who are in the public eye for their positions against the government of Viktor Yanukovych and, consequently, commercial and diplomatic relations between the two countries are beginning to show signs of strain. However, Prague’s attitude well integrates with the European support for the “Pasionaria” Yulia, whose release has been called for by both Europe and the U.S. In the background, however, is the figure of Oleksandr, a businessman, with a rather obscure past and with underlying political ambitions.
Various rumours have been going around in Prague as to why and how Mr. Tymoshenko was able to obtain political asylum in such a short time. The Interior minister, in his attempt to clarify any doubts or conjectures, stated that the request “had been filed months ago, and the standard procedure has been applied and that (on 6th January Ed. note), political asylum had been granted”. Oleksandr, himself, declared that the decision to seek asylum had been taken and put forward by the whole family: “We discussed about it and decided together – he declared and explained that he had submitted the application in November 2011 – After an investigation by the Ministry of the interior, I was told that I would receive international protection”. Protection from whom, Prague people ask themselves. According to the press close to the Tymoshenko family, after a seven-year sentence for abuse of power – imposed on the former prime minister – the government of Kiev is looking for new ways to put pressure on the family of the “pasionaria”, by persecuting her daughter and husband, even if there is no official evidence of a possible case against Oleksandr. The lawyer of the former ex prime minister has raised the possibility that Kiev might reopen a case that had been closed in 2005, when Mr. Tymoshenko was accused but never convicted.
Among last week’s rumours, there was also another theory that would explain why Oleksandr Tymoshenko has chosen the Czech Republic as his “golden exile”: i.e. for his friendship in high places. “I have friends and business partners in the Czech Republic and I am the co-founder of a Czech company”, the Ukrainian businessman explained. However, the Czech media have pulled out some skeletons from the closet and have announced that Tymoshenko may count on a certain amount of support in the Czech Republic: he is on good terms with former Transport Minister Ales Rebicek and with the current Czech ambassador in Washington, Petr Gandalovic – up to former Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. Tymoshenko’s case is surrounded by dense clouds: 12 years ago, in fact, the businessman bought a flat in Usti nad Labem – where he registered a firm called the International Industrial Project, but the offices are closed at the moment. As a businessman, therefore, Tymoshenko could ask for a long term visa in the Czech Republic, instead of resorting to a request for asylum. His decision is also considered somewhat perplexing by a number of politicians, above all because – out of more than ten thousand asylum applications by Ukraine citizens, in recent years – only a hundred requests have been accepted so far. Among the other obscure aspects that have been reported, is also his past relationship with Pavlo Lazarenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister, who is still in prison in the United States on charges of money laundering, in connection with activities of the Ukraine Unified Energy Systems (UESU, a company in which Mr. Tymoshenko was a manager).
Instead, among Tymoshenko’s “winning” assets in the Czech Republic, is the creation of the Czech Central Asia Chamber of Commerce in 2006. This organization paid – for reasons that have still to be clarified – a trip to Syria in 2008 to the former Czech prime minister Jiri Paroubek. The same agency was given a mandate to negotiate the issue of Ukraine’s debt with the Czech Republic: at the centre of the negotiations, the supply of gas. But the then finance minister, Vlastimil Tlusty, refused the offer.
Meanwhile, Tymoshenko has announced his intention of pursuing a political career at international level: “Together with other colleagues, we have created a “Homeland” international association.” The main objective is to analyze the work of the government and its criminal activities, by revealing Yanukovych’s actions on the foreign press. I want the world to understand that the regime does not need Yanikovich Yulia Tymoshenko alive. ”
The case of Tymoshenko’s asylum is the second of its kind in recent times. The Czech Republic, in fact, had also granted asylum (in the same way) to Bohdan Danylyshyn, former Economy minister, then under the government of Yulia Tymoshenko between 2007 and 2010. The decision had also sparked controversy at the time between Prague and Kiev and led to the expulsion of diplomatic representatives on both sides. For this reason, Schwarzenberg, interviewed soon after the announcement of the asylum to Tymoshenko, said he hoped that the decision to accept the Ukrainian businessman will not give rise to further animosity. “Some regimes tend to react in that manner. We know what happened in a similar case and how Ukraine reacted to it”, the Foreign Minister added. On his part, the Ukrainian Ministry, which has not commented directly on the incident, has reported that Ukraine: “fully respects the principles of law and basic human rights and freedom. For this reason, therefore, we do not see why Ukrainian citizens should request political asylum abroad”.
By Daniela Mogavero