Stepping Backward In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- In a politically motivated trial, a Ukrainian court has convicted Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and prominent opposition leader, on charges of criminally exceeding her power when she signed a natural gas deal with Russia in 2009 without cabinet approval.

Police officers lead former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko out of the courtroom after a verdict in her case has been rendered.

She was sentenced to seven years in prison, a ten year ban from participating in politics, and a fine of approximately 190 million dollars.

Yulia Tymoshenko was one of the leaders of the 2004 "Orange Revolution" street protests, which forced the country's Supreme Court to nullify the results of a disputed election won by Viktor Yanukovych.

She ran for the Presidency in 2010 and lost a very close election to President Yanukovych.

Tymoshenko's conviction has prompted wide-spread criticism, disappointment and expressions of serious concern from the United States and European Union.

A White House statement issued after the court's ruling said the "United States is deeply disappointed with the conviction and sentencing of former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko through a politically motivated prosecution."

The charges against Ms. Tymoshenko and the conduct of her trial, as well as the prosecution of other opposition leaders and members of the preceding government, have raised serious concerns about the Government of Ukraine’s commitment to democracy and rule of law.

The United States strongly supports the Ukrainian peoples’ goal of becoming a democratic and prosperous European state, and remains dedicated to strengthening bilateral cooperation based on shared values and shared interests.

Ukraine, however, cannot reach this goal without redoubled efforts to protect and advance democracy and the rule of law for all its citizens.

For these reasons, the United States urges the release of Ms. Tymoshenko and the other political leaders and former government officials, and believes that they should have an unrestricted ability to participate fully in political life, including next year’s parliamentary elections.

Upon entering office in 2010, President Yanukovych made European integration a central goal for his government.

Yet, European leaders also have condemned the trial and conviction, questioning the Ukrainian government’s commitment to transparency, fairness, the rule of law and suitability to assume the Chairmanship of the OSCE in 2013.

In this context, we urge Ukrainian authorities to address the democratic backsliding many see in their country.

Source: Voice of America