Opinion: Tymoshenko Verdict Sends An Alarming Signal To The West

BERLIN, Germany -- The verdict in the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko sends an alarming signal about the state of democracy in Ukraine. But talks on a free trade agreement with the European Union should continue, writes DW's Bernd Johann.

Bernd Johann head of DW's Ukrainian Service

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, once Ukraine's democratic figurehead, is to spend the next seven years in prison for abuse of power while in office.

Judge Rodion Kireyev on Tuesday found Tymoshenko guilty of exceeding her authority during the signing of a natural gas deal with Russia in 2009, causing millions of dollars in damages to the state.

This was said to have exceeded her authority.

With the ruling, based on the penal code of the communist former Soviet Union, she was reduced to the status of a common criminal.

However, if Kireyev's legal opinion were to be applied to all governments, prisons throughout the world would be filled with former leaders.

It's simply not always possible for those responsible for running a country to protect it from suffering financial damages.

Tymoshenko was not charged or jailed for misappropriating funds for personal gain.

She has been punished for accepted high energy prices in negotiations with Moscow.

Given that Ukraine is almost completely dependent on gas supplies from Russia, it's hard to strike a good deal.

It's no surprise that politicians in the European Union and other Western nations have condemned the trial as politically motivated.

Since the change of government in Ukraine last year, Tymoshenko is not the first politician to feel the brunt of the legal system.

Tymoshenko's former interior minister is already in jail.

Her former economics minister has fled and been granted political asylum in the Czech Republic.

It may be true that Ukraine's politicians have contravened the country's laws.

But judging by the way the judiciary has behaved and the rhetoric that has accompanied political trials to date, one could easily get the impression the courts are trying to silence members of the opposition simply by criminalizing their activities.

What stance can the European Union take?

Negotiations on a comprehensive free trade agreement and landmark association agreement with Ukraine are almost complete.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych has continually stressed that his country wishes to introduce EU values and norms.

Yet today's court ruling is bound to strain Ukraine-EU relations.

Negotiations, however, should not be stopped lest Ukraine isolate itself, like Belarus, over which the European Union has little influence these days.

The final word on Tymoshenko's fate has most likely not yet been spoken.

Changes to the law, a pardon - these are all said to be under discussion.

This, in fact, would serve Yanukovych's interests.

The president himself signed a gas import contract with Russia in 2010.

The contract did come with better conditions but it also allowed Russia's Black Sea fleet in Crimea to be stationed for another 25 years.

Future governments might also come to the conclusion that this deal may have inflicted damages on Ukraine.

Source: Deutsche Welle