Kiev-Berlin Negotiations Ukraine May Release Tymoshenko for Care in Germany

Ukraine may be prepared to release Yulia Tymoshenko, the imprisoned former prime minister, for urgently needed medical care in Berlin. The country's current president, Viktor Yanukovych, is interested in defusing international pressure, but some in his party are refusing to back down.
Supporters of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko held a rally in late March.

Supporters of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko held a rally in late March.

Foto: Sergei Chuzavkov/ AP

For weeks, the German government has been negotiating with Ukraine over the fate of the country's best-known prisoner: former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Now, according to information obtained by SPIEGEL, her release for much-needed medical treatment in Berlin may be imminent.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is set to instruct Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka to change criminal legal regulations to allow Tymoshenko to be taken to the Charité hospital in the German capital. According to foreign doctors, including Charité head Karl Max Einhäupl, who were allowed to examine Tymoshenko in February, the former hero of Ukraine's Orange Revolution is suffering from severe back problems and needs urgent medical care of the kind not available in Ukrainian prisons.

"She badly needs treatment," Einhäupl said over the weekend, according to the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel. "Her condition has now become chronic." Following his examination of Tymoshenko, Einhäupl said that an operation was no longer possible and that she needed a "multifaceted therapy."

Ukraine appears to have taken a step toward providing Tymoshenko with at least some specialized medical care on Monday. Kiev authorities announced that she will be taken to a clinic in the eastern city of Kharkiv, the city in which she is imprisoned, for treatment of what her family has described as a herniated disc.

Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison last October  for abusing her position as prime minister in a verdict that was sharply criticized abroad. The European Union was particularly condemnatory, with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton calling the trial a "selective application of justice." Tymoshenko has long been a vocal opponent of Yanukovych and she has refused treatment in prison out of fear that the Ukrainian president "wants to have her killed," her lawyer says.

'No Longer Rational'

With this summer's European football championships fast approaching, a tournament to be co-hosted by Ukraine, the internationally isolated Yanukovych  looks to be increasingly interested in a humanitarian solution to save face, sources told SPIEGEL. The European Union has demanded that Tymoshenko be released before it ratifies an association agreement with Ukraine -- though the agreement was initialled last Friday, despite German objections.

Still, it remains unclear whether Yanukovych will in fact give ground. One SPIEGEL source in Kiev said that the head of state "is no longer rational" when it comes to the Tymoshenko issue. His party has also said that laws cannot simply be changed on behalf of one "criminal." One lawmaker said that "we cannot show weakness."

Furthermore, the deputy Ukrainian prosecutor general, Renat Kusmin, who was in Berlin over the weekend, seemed uninterested in finding a rapid solution. He emphasized that Ukrainian laws did not provide for medical treatment abroad for prisoners. He also emphasized that there were some 150 women in Ukrainian prisons with a similar diagnosis and asked whether that Charité would be prepared to treat them all. "Or is German beneficence limited to just one single woman?" Kusmin asked.

In addition to the verdict for abusing her position as prime minister, Ukrainian justice officials are pursuing a second case against Tymoshenko. She is suspected of having helped organize and finance the contract killing of a parliamentarian in 1996. If convicted, she could face up to 12 additional years of imprisonment.

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