WALL STREET JOURNAL.  President Viktor Yanukovych on Monday rejected rising Western pressure to review the conviction of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, raising the stakes as he navigates between Ukraine's powerful neighbors, Europe and Russia.

In a meeting with a half-dozen Western reporters at his offices yesterday, Mr. Yanukovych appeared unbent by criticism from Europe and Washington that last week's conviction of Ms. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, on charges of exceeding her authority, was a politically motivated effort to sideline a once-powerful rival. Western officials have pushed for the seven-year jail sentence to be commuted or eliminated.

"What kind of signal do we give society?" Mr. Yanukovych said. "That to be able to commit crimes one should be a member of the opposition?"

Raising his voice, he called on the West to respect his country, saying he had the impression that "they don't want to listen" to his claims that he hasn't interfered in the work of courts and law-enforcement agencies.

Mr. Yanukovych's defiance poses a challenge to the West, which threatened to cool relations after the verdict but remains worried about driving Mr. Yanukovych closer to his former patrons in Moscow, an outcome the West has sought to avoid.

A judge last week sentenced Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in prison.

Since he defeated the Western-leaning Ms. Tymoshenko for the presidency in 2010, Mr. Yanukovych has said he wants to ensure Kiev has good relations with both Russia and the West.

Although he has improved ties with Moscow, he has resisted Russian calls—sweetened with promises of cheap gas—to join a Russian-led trade bloc made up of former Soviet states. Officials in Kiev and Brussels had said talks on a trade-and-cooperation deal with the European Union were close to completion. But the EU has threatened to review cooperation in the wake of the Tymoshenko ruling, which officials said undermined confidence in Kiev's commitment to Western democratic values.

Opposition leaders charge Mr. Yanukovych with adopting the authoritarian tactics of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, an allegation the Ukrainian leader denies. A charismatic former businesswoman, Ms. Tymoshenko was one of the forces behind the 2004 Orange Revolution that led a pro-Western government to power, defeating Mr. Yanukovych, who had been backed by Moscow. But Ms. Tymoshenko and her allies bickered and lost public support.

On Monday, Mr. Yanukovych suggested it would be wrong to release Ms. Tymoshenko because of new criminal charges she faces that could bring her a 12-year sentence. She is accused of attempting to embezzle $405 million from the state while heading a gas company in the 1990s, charges she denies.

A European diplomat in Kiev said Mr. Yanukovych's planned trip to Brussels on Thursday to finalize details of the association agreement could be in doubt, although the meeting may still go ahead with a different aim—for EU officials to reiterate demands to free Ms. Tymoshenko.

Mr. Yanukovych said he will go ahead with the trip despite the cooling in relations. "I don't intend to go to anyone asking for favors. We are partners. If there is a need to meet, I'm ready. If not, I'll fly onward," he said.

On Monday, Mr. Yanukovych said he wanted the association agreement to include a clear path to membership in the 27-nation bloc, which EU officials have ruled out.

In recent weeks, Western diplomats had said Ukrainian officials had indicated that proposed legal changes decriminalizing the violations for which Ms. Tymoshenko was convicted might be a way to release her.

But on Monday, Mr. Yanukovych seemed to rule out that approach. "Did you hear me making any commitments?" he said, referring to discussions with Western officials.

"It appears that they have been stringing us along," said a senior Western diplomat in Kiev.

On Tuesday, Mr. Yanukovych is scheduled to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Russian officials said the two will discuss economic ties, including the high-stakes issues of prices for Russian gas, but that the Tymoshenko case isn't on the agenda.

Even so, the conviction caused consternation in Moscow, since Ms. Tymoshenko was convicted for having signed a gas deal with Russia in 2009 that prosecutors say was detrimental to Kiev's interests. Moscow has insisted on sticking to the contract.

Mr. Yanukovych said he wouldn't accede to Russian demands to join its trade bloc, as Ukraine's membership in the World Trade Organization and aim to secure a free-trade deal with the EU ruled this out.



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