To the outside world, Ukraine has scored a diplomatic own goal with its imprisonment of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The government was forced to cancel a summit in Yalta planned for early May, when many invited heads of state declined to attend after Tymoshenko began a hunger strike, complaining prison officials had beaten her. The signing of an association agreement with the European Union has been put on ice, and politicians are threatening to boycott the Euro 2012 football tournament that Ukraine will co-host this month.
It is unclear whether the Ukrainian regime fully understands the international outcry over Tymoshenko's imprisonment. President Viktor Yanukovych has refused permission for Tymoshenko to receive medical treatment in Germany for a chronic back complaint, and has suggested 'a pause' in relations would do both Ukraine and Europe good. In mid-May, he went to Moscow for talks with returned Russian President Vladimir Putin – although the hint that Kyiv would draw closer to Russia in the face of Western coolness was more muted than it might have been.
Tymoshenko has been in detention since October 2011, after a trial that was widely condemned as politically motivated. While she is a controversial figure, having amassed great wealth through gas trades in the early 1990s, her seven-year sentence for 'abuse of office' in signing a gas deal with Moscow in 2009 has elicited widespread sympathy. And though Yanukovych may welcome having his main political rival out of action before parliamentary elections later this year, he has admitted he miscalculated the reaction.