Ukraine Set For Tymoshenko Case Climax

KIEV, Ukraine -- Expectation is mounting in Ukraine as a Kiev court prepares to decide the fate of the country's former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko on Tuesday.

Jailed ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko.

The showdown between Tymoshenko and President Viktor Yanukovich will climax when the court is due to issue a verdict on charges that she abused her position in office in 2009 by signing a gas supply deal with Russia at an inflated price.

Prosecutors are calling for a prison term of seven years.

Outside the country, the trial has been criticised as being politically motivated.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for one, has warned Yanukovich against trying to neutralise his main rival.

The president has rejected pressure by the European Union and the United States as unlawful interference in the judicial process.

The conclusion of the trial against Timoshenko, 50, in custody for the last two months for alleged contempt of court, was postponed repeatedly, making observers suggest that Yanukovich was playing for time.

'People close to the president are now feverishly seeking a solution,' Ukrainian political analyst Vladimir Fesenko said.

But most are convinced that the trial, which began on June 24, can end only with a guilty verdict.

'It is important for Yanukovich not to lose face at home. For this reason, he can't simply let Tymoshenko go,' Fesenko said.

One option could be decriminalising the offences that Tymoshenko is accused of, analysts say.

A conviction would mark a turning point in the West's relations with Ukraine, whose democratic freedoms have thus far compared favourably with those of other ex-Soviet republics.

There is now concern in the West about the achievements of the 2004 Orange Revolution, when Tymoshenko-led street protests against alleged vote-rigging sank Yanukovich's first presidential bid.

EU and US pressure is now greater than ever before during Ukraine's 20 years of independence. The West has warned Yanukovich not to isolate his country.

The EU has said a guilty verdict for Tymoshenko could block a planned free trade agreement, closer political and economic ties, and eased visa requirements.

Pressure by Western governments is 'extraordinarily important and useful,' Tymoshenko's daughter Eugenia Carr said.

The West is especially disturbed by allegations that Ukraine's criminal justice system is selectively targeting Yanukovich's political opponents.

The president is thought to want to cripple Tymoshenko's party, Batkivshchina (Fatherland), the only serious opposition force left in the country, before next year's parliamentary elections.

With Tymoshenko out of the way, Yanukovich would have a clear path to re-election in 2015.

Prosecutors in Kiev say there is proof that Tymoshenko, a former gas industry oligarch, caused the state losses worth hundreds of millions of dollars when she signed the controversial gas deal in early 2009 with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

At the time, the two countries were under international pressure to end a two-week 'gas war' during which Russia cut off supplies to Ukraine.

Since Ukraine is a key transit corridor for Russian gas, many European homes further westward also went cold.

Tymoshenko maintains her innocence.

In a letter from jail to her supporters, she said Ukraine was facing a choice between 'light and darkness.' She called on 'honest people' to rebel against 'dictator' Yanukovich.

However, mass demonstrations similar to those in 2004 are not in sight in Ukraine, where many people are tired of political power struggles.

Source: BigPond News