Should there be a boycott of the Euro 2012 football championship matches scheduled to be held in Ukraine, which is co-organising the competition with Poland, in response to the Kiev regime’s detention of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko? Ten European leaders, including German President Joachim Gauck and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, have already made up their minds and decided not to go to Ukraine.

Without taking a position on the guilt or innocence of the one-time muse of the 2004 Orange Revolution, who in October was sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of office, supporters of the boycott want to protest against her mistreatment in prison and the repression of the opposition in the Ukraine.

Tymoshenko’s case is emblematic of the increasingly authoritarian tactics adopted by Viktor Yanukovych’s regime and the resulting damage to relations with the EU: since his election in 2010, the leader of the Party of Regions has worked steadily to bridle the opposition and increase the hold over his supporters — the Russophone community in the East of the country — over the country. At the same time he has blown hot and cold with the Ukraine’s two main neighbours, Russia and the European Union.

The former, which has the benefit of close cultural ties with Ukraine, is hoping to maintain a grip on the country that would transform it into a kind of southern Belarus, in a relationship dictated on its terms. The latter is counting on an association agreement that is now ready for signature, and the offer of a free-trade agreement, which amounts to watered down membership of the EU, to develop the bond between Ukraine and its western historic and cultural environment. Along with what is now Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus, western Ukraine formed part of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 16th-18th centuries, and it is hoped that the soft power which the Union is supposed to exercise over its entourage will build on this history.

The opponents of a boycott fear that such an initiative will force Kiev into the arms of Moscow. There is a risk that Ukraine may respond in this manner, but it would be acting against its own economic interests and at the same time undermining its proudly won independence. That said, most Ukrainians believe that sooner or later the future of their country will be in the EU, and Brussels must be careful not to betray this expectation.

For this reason, a boycott that results in politicians rather than teams staying away from fixtures may be the best policy, and it is one that would be made more effective if it is associated with pressure exerted by economic measures (the application of anti-money laundering legislation with regard to Ukrainian capital in the EU) and border management policies (the withholding of visas for figures in the regime responsible for abuses, but easily obtainable visas for students, researchers, businessmen and tourists), coupled with a communications campaign to explain the reasons for this response to the people of Ukraine. Finally, the EU and the OECD should flood the country with observers for next October’s general elections so as to ensure that the vote is conducted in the best possible manner.