Spat between Rome and Ukraine over Tymoshenko

A dispute has begun between Rome’s right-wing mayor Gianni Alemanno and Gennady Kernes, the mayor of Kharkiv in north-east Ukraine, following Alemanno’s call for the release of jailed former Ukranian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

A portrait of Tymoshenko was displayed on the façade of the Rome mayor’s office on Capitol Hill during a ceremony on 26 November in which Alemanno expressed Rome's solidarity with Tymoshenko. Alemanno said he would call on the mayors of other EU capitals to support the release of Tymoshenko who, in October 2011, was convicted of abuse of office over her negotiation of a natural gas deal with Russia in 2009, while serving as Ukrainian prime minister.

However, on 28 November the Kharkiv mayor responded by displaying a giant banner of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi behind bars. Berlusconi is currently appealing a four-year jail sentence on charges of tax fraud.

The Ukrainian delegation at the Rome ceremony included the deputy chairman of the Ukrainian parliament Mykola Tomenko, who expressed the hope that Italy’s support would "help achieve the release of Yulia Tymoshenko and her being granted the right to full-scale participation in the political life of the country, including participation in the presidential election in 2015."

The ceremony in Piazza del Campidoglio followed the approval by the city’s right-wing city government of a motion to use all available democratic, institutional and diplomatic channels to call for the Tymoshenko's release.

Tymoshenko began her seven-year jail sentence in Kharkiv in December 2011 but has been receiving inpatient treatment at a hospital in that city since May. Her trial was condemned as politically motivated by the west, and in August 2011 the US and the EU described her prosecution as the "selective prosecution of political opponents."

However, more recently, the west has remained largely silent about the alliance in October between Tymoshenko’s party and the All Ukrainian Union Svoboda, a far right extremist political party which has neo-Nazi links and which has been accused of xenophobia and anti-Semitism.