Ukraine scores own goal as Euro debacle looms
(KIEV) - Ukraine failed to anticipate the angry Western reaction to its treatment of jailed ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the dispute risks ruining its hosting of the Euro 2012 football, observers said.
The Euro 2012 tournament co-hosted with Poland was set to be a glorious showcase for the ex-Soviet country: but President Viktor Yanukovych appears to have scored a massive own goal by allowing it to be overshadowed by the Tymoshenko case.
Austria has announced it will boycott all matches hosted by Ukraine, a move that reportedly could be matched by Germany.
All European Union commissioners will also be absent, while at least seven EU heads of state are shunning a summit to be hosted by Yanukovych in Yalta this month.
"Ukraine has ended up in an impasse which is going to be difficult to get out of," said Olga Shumylo-Tapiola of the Carnegie Europe Centre in Brussels.
"The logic of those in power in Ukraine is hard to understand from the point of view of common sense," she added.
Tymoshenko, who was jailed for seven years on charges of abuse of power in October, upped the stakes in her standoff with the authorities last month by going on hunger strike and claiming she had been beaten by prison guards.
With an efficient PR machine fronted by the opposition leader's telegenic, London School of Economics-educated daughter Yevgeniya, the Western reaction led by Germany has been tough.
And it clearly caught the Yanukovych government off guard.
The most obvious solution for Ukraine to prevent its Euro turning into a fiasco is to take up an offer from Germany or Russia to allow her to travel abroad for the medical treatment that her supporters say she urgently needs.
But Yanukovych has so far shown no sign of wanting to make concessions, saying he cannot interfere in the legal process.
He would also hardly appear willing to allow a rival to claim the role of a persecuted opponent in exile abroad.
Ukraine had a unique chance to promote itself, with games to be played in the capital Kiev, the attractive western city of Lviv, Yanukovych's home city of Donetsk, and in Kharkiv.
"No-one expected that Germany would kick up such a fuss," a Ukrainian source close to the presidency told AFP, admitting that the administration had not drawn up any response to the crisis.
"The worst option would be to let Tymoshenko get treatment in Germany as she would immediately give a thousand interviews," the source said, asking not to be named.
Olexei Garan, director of the School of Political Analysis in Kiev, added: "The authorities are not reacting but on the contrary are pushing the situation into an impasse."
Ironically, the successful bid for the Euro was made during the presidency of the Orange Revolution leader Viktor Yushchenko, a sometime Tymoshenko ally who dreamed of greater EU integration.
"No-one then believed in their wildest nightmares that European politicians would refuse one after the other to come to Ukraine," commentator Vitaliy Portnikov wrote on newsru.ua.
While Tymoshenko's family and allies bombard the media with news releases and hold press conferences across Europe, Yanukovych's team has been intransigent through the crisis.
"Tymoshenko's effective use of international media and her political party contacts with officials in EU capitals, Washington, and Moscow is no match for Yanukovych's team of government bureaucrats, unversed and inexperienced in western PR wars," said one Ukrainian strategist, who asked not to be named.
The release of photographs of Tymoshenko showing bruises on her abdomen seemed to galvanise European opinion, even though Europe's football body UEFA has steadfastly refused to enter the dispute.
Meanwhile, the EU ambassador who asked to visit Tymoshenko in prison on April 27, is still awaiting a response from the authorities.
Ukraine seems if anything to be hardening its public rhetoric, with the foreign ministry Thursday lambasting the attendance boycott as a "destructive" attempt to politicise sport.
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