Tymoshenko’s Trial And Its Consequences For Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- On October 11, 2011, the Pechersk District Court of Kiev sentenced ex-prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko to seven years in jail.

Russian opposition Yabloko party activists, wearing Ukrainian national flower head bands, rally to demand freedom for former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko at the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011.

The reason for this was the misuse of powers by the ex-prime minister during the completion of the gas agreement with Russia in 2009.

The decision of the court was followed by the new trial initiated by the Security Service of Ukraine against Tymoshenko.

The basis for new criminal case was the $405.5 million debt of the company United Energy Systems of Ukraine, headed by the ex-prime minister, to the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation.

Since the debt has not been paid yet, the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation sent a letter to the Ukrainian government demanding to pay off the debt.

While the Russian side refused to initiate a case within the Russian Federation, the Ukrainian Security Services started proceedings.

Tymoshenko is being accused of transferring the debt of the company to the Ukrainian budget.

What Do These Proceedings Mean for Ukraine?

According to Freedom House’s recent report, Tymoshenko’s trial symbolizes the end of the open policy in Ukraine.

The policy of President Viktor Yanukovych shows that the regime has moved from democracy toward semi-authoritarianism.

One of the first steps in this direction was the abrogation of the constitutional amendments that were adopted during the Orange Revolution and came into force in January 2006.

These amendments broadened the powers of the parliament, giving Verkhovna Rada the right to appoint the prime minister and other ministers of the cabinet, as well as the general prosecutor with the president’s recommendation.

Ukraine was to become a parliamentary presidential republic.

The revocation of the amendments was initiated by the pro-presidential Party of Regions faction in the parliament.

They strengthened presidential powers, giving him the right to appoint the cabinet as well as to dismiss it, appoint one-third of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine and form other courts.

The next step was the neutralization of the opposition leaders.

Thus, in May 2011, the Pechersk Court of Kiev initiated the case against one of the leaders of the Orange Revolution, ex interior minister, Yuriy Lutsenko on the basis of the misuse of powers that is still under consideration.

The most scandalous, however, was the criminal case launched against ex-prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko.

She was accused of misusing public finances in 2009 during gas negotiations with Russia to deliver Russian gas at artificially high prices.

The case provoked a range of responses from international actors.

The EU High Representative Catherine Ashton expressed concern about the political motivation behind the Tymoshenko trials and reminded of the necessity to respect the rule of law in the country.

U.S. Senator John McCain, Chairman of the International Republican Institute and Wilfred Martens, President of the European People’s Party, urged the allowance of Tymoshenko to travel abroad in order to participate in the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

However, these concerns fell on death ears.

Apart from these violations, mass media reported the refusal of the law enforcement agencies to provide medical care for ex-prime minister, as well as pressure on the members of her family.

During Tymoshenko’s trial, the Bat’kivshchina faction in the Ukrainian parliament initiated a law that would de-criminalize economic offences.

However, the Party of Regions, holding the majority in the parliament, did not support the bill.

As the Ukrainian deputy from the Party of Regions Aleksandr Yefremov noted: “In this way the officials could escape the responsibility for the misuse of powers.”

The trial on the misuse of public finances in 2009 presupposes the revision of the gas agreements.

However, it can be said that the Russian party will agree on this only if Ukraine accepts two conditions: Customs Union with the Russian Federation and Naftogaz’s cooperation with Gazrom.

In this way Russia can establish the control over Ukraine that it is seeking.

Tymoshenko’s Case and the Association with the EU

One of the main arguments against Tymoshenko’s case was the future of the Association Agreement with the EU.

The level of democracy in Ukraine, violation of human rights, oppression of the opposition, and the economic orientation of Ukraine toward former Soviet republics do not let Europe see Ukraine as a trustworthy partner.

“Although the schedule of the Kiev – EU negotiations on association and the free trade zone was not changed, the completion of these agreements will depend on the changes in the Ukrainian political situation and the response to European Union’s expectations, “ stated the French Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In his turn, Viktor Yanukovysh says that Tymoshenko’s case should not be mixed up with the Ukraine-EU association partnership.

Moreover, he adds that if the European Union is not ready to include the perspective of the membership of Ukraine in the EU into the agreement, Ukraine is ready to postpone the signing of agreement.

As a response, Brussels postponed Yanukovych’s visit scheduled for October 20 – the door into the European Union for Ukraine was closed softly.

Such a confident position of the president demonstrates that Ukraine is expecting a respectful attitude from the EU as toward an equal partner, and sees Timoshenko’s trial as a more important task than the association with the EU.

In any case, Yanukovych has an alternative plan that is the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

Even though Ukraine is not eager to join the Union, in which three countries are not WTO members while Ukraine is, and in which Russia is the main player, the Customs Union can have some advantages for the country, such as gas discounts.

Moreover, Yanukovych signed the free trade agreements with the CIS states.

Signed by all CIS members except Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan on October 18, the document will abolish the export and import duties on many goods.

However, the agreement makes certain exemptions for a number of products to which the contract will not apply.

However, this is a temporary measure: the treaty establishes a specific time period during which all of these exemptions will be eliminated.

Trials: More to Come

Having sentenced Tymoshenko to seven years on the grounds of misusing of power and public finance, the Security Services launched new case.

It is related to the 2006-2007 agreements on the supply of construction materials by the United Systems of Ukraine Corporation to the Russian Defense Ministry and the exchange of Russian gas.

At the same time, Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka said that criminal cases against Tymoshenko closed in 2005 by Sviatoslav Piskun should be revisited.

These included the assassination of the Ukrainian deputy Yevhen Shcherban’ in November 1996.

The idea of these trials is to present to Ukrainian citizens how many criminal cases ex-prime minister was engaged in, and to impose the responsibility of all economic and other crimes on the main leader of the opposition.

In conclusion, the sentence – seven years in jail plus three years in which Tymoshenko cannot occupy any official post – will not allow her to participate in the upcoming elections (parliamentary elections of 2012 and 2017, and presidential of 2015 and 2020).

It means Tymoshenko will not be an opponent for Yanukovysh during the two next presidential terms, and will not compete during the 2020 election campaign.

In addition, Tymoshenko will be discredited as a politician.

Moreover, economically, all responsibility for the economic loss of Ukraine (not only the damage of the 2009 contracts) will be imposed on Tymoshenko, although Yushchenko as an acting president in 2009 agreed to the gas contracts.

On the other hand, however, her ratings are rising.

The number of her supporters is increasing, as well as the number of foreign political figures and institutions concerned with the situation in the country.

Tymoshenko’s image as a martyr attracts ordinary people and draws their attention to Ukrainian politics.

Finally, important to note that the situation is burdened by the political-geographic division of the country, where the eastern and southern regions support incumbent President Viktor Yanukovych and central and western regions favour Yuliya Tymoshenko.

This division determines different economic orientations of the various regions of Ukraine and jeopardizes the political situation in the country.

Source: Turkish Weekly