Russia will overlook Tymoshenko conviction if Ukraine gives up EU integration

(Yahoo News) After a week of bruising criticism from the West over the jailing of his main political opponent, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday heard the words that put all strongman leaders at ease.

“It’s Ukraine’s internal affair,” Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said of the seven-year jail term handed down last week to Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The Kremlin chief then suggested he could offer Ukraine a discount on gas prices and called for Kiev to turn its back on its long-held desire for European integration by instead joining a Moscow-led trade bloc. Medvedev’s message was clear: if you join us, we will give you cheap gas and won’t hassle you over trifles such as the rule of law like the West does.

That same day, the European Union cancelled Yanukovych’s visit to Brussels, which had been scheduled for Thursday, casting doubt on a planned deal on free trade and political cooperation. As Europe cools relations with Kiev amid Yanukovych’s refusal to release Tymoshenko and broader concerns about backsliding on democracy, Russia appears increasingly confident it can pull Ukraine into its sphere of influence.

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