Ukraine’s Tymoshenko Jailed For Seven Years

KIEV, Ukraine -- Yulia V. Tymoshenko, once one of Ukraine’s most powerful and popular politicians, was sentenced on Tuesday to seven years in prison, the culmination of a politically charged trial that could presage the end of the country’s short and often raucous experiment with democracy.

Ukrainian ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko held her daughter's hand as she spoke at the Pecherskiy district court on Tuesday.

The sentence was the maximum demanded by prosecutors on charges that Ms. Tymoshenko had harmed Ukraine’s interests when, as prime minister, she carried out negotiations with Russia in 2009 over the price of natural gas.

Her supporters and many Western officials have insisted that her actions could hardly have amounted to a crime.

The ruling will likely put a freeze on Ukraine’s integration with Western Europe, which the country’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovich has pursued even as he has flirted with the iron-fisted ruling style practiced in Moscow.

“This is an authoritarian regime that is distancing Ukraine from Europe, while using European rhetoric,” Ms. Tymoshenko said in the courtroom.

Mr. Yanukovich, she said, “is bringing Ukraine back to 1937,” the height of the Stalinist purges.

In recent weeks, American and Western European diplomats have warned that Ms. Tymoshenko’s imprisonment would make Mr. Yanukovich persona non grata in Western capitals and jeopardize Ukraine’s free trade and association agreement with the European Union, which is near completion.

The European Union immediately issued a message via Twitter saying it was “deeply disappointed with the verdict.”

“The verdict comes after a trial which did not respect the international standards as regards fair, transparent and independent legal process,” Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign affairs chief, said in a later statement.

“This unfortunately confirms that justice is being applied selectively in politically motivated prosecutions of the leaders of the opposition and members of the former government.”

She said the verdict will have “profound implications for the E.U.-Ukraine bilateral relationship, including for the conclusion of the Association Agreement.”

Yulia Mostovaya, editor of the weekly newspaper Zerkalo Nedeli, said the case flew in the face of Mr. Yanukovich’s conviction that Ukraine must pursue strong Western alliances.

“The way he treats Tymoshenko is a bomb under his own plans, but emotions have taken the upper hand,” Ms. Mostovaya said.

“She is a sharp-tongued woman, and she has insulted Yanukovich many times. In most cases he deserved it. But nonetheless he was offended.”

If Western Europe responds by isolating the president, “it will be horrible,” she said. “Europe will not be turning away from Yanukovich, it will be turning away from Ukraine.”

Mr. Yanukovich, a former Soviet apparatchik from the bare-knuckled coal mining region of Donetsk, narrowly defeated Ms. Tymoshenko in 2010, wresting the country back from the pro-Western coalition that once defeated him.

Though many expected him to lead the country into Moscow’s orbit, he chose Brussels for his first foreign visit, declaring European integration to be a centerpiece of his presidency.

He also began a crackdown on the opposition.

Of the 11 political figures singled out by prosecutors, according to a report by the International Republican Institute, the most prominent was Ms. Tymoshenko, a populist firebrand with a trademark corona of thick flaxen braids.

She went on trial this summer on charges that she agreed to inflated prices in a 2009 agreement to buy Russian natural gas — a charge that she, and many in the West, have dismissed as a pretext for excluding her from politics.

Members of Ms. Tymoshenko’s party, Batkivshchyna, said they would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, as well as call their supporters into the streets if necessary.

“Depending upon the situation, we will appeal to the people to help in this fight,” Nikolai Tomenko, the Ukrainian parliament’s vice-speaker and a leader in Ms. Tymoshenko’s party.

“It is obvious that without the help of society it will be very difficult to fight this government,” he told journalists outside the courtroom, according to the Interfax news agency.

Hundreds of supporters and opponents of Ms. Tymoshenko set up tent camps outside the courtroom on Tuesday in anticipation of the verdict.

Concerned about possible violence, police officials deployed close to 1,500 riot officers, according to the Ukraine’s Interior Ministry.

The gathering was reminiscent of the dramatic protests of the 2004 Orange Revolution, which catapulted Ms. Tymoshenko to power by blocking Mr. Yanukovich from taking the presidency after he won an election widely believed to be rigged.

But it was unclear if Ukrainians, wearied by years of intractable political conflict and stark economic declines, will have the desire to mount major protests regardless of their political affiliations.

Source: The New York Times

Comments

Anonymous said…
Ukraine can now kiss goodbye their hope of reaching any agreements with the EU that could lead to membership. Yanukovich can only look towards membership in a Customs Union with Russia and pray that Putin treats him better than the serfdom he has condemned all Ukrainians to. All hopes of freedom and democracy in Ukraine died today, 11 October 2011. R.I.P. Ukraine...