Ukraine’s Tymoshenko Jailed for Seven Years By ELLEN BARRY
KIEV, Ukraine — From the moment President Viktor F. Yanukovich took office last year, a central question was whether he would lead Ukraine west, toward Europe, or into a tight symbiosis with the country’s Soviet-era masters in Moscow.
Eighteen months of cautious navigation hit a watershed on Tuesday, when a court in Kiev sentenced the country’s most prominent opposition politician, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, to seven years in prison. European leaders have condemned the case as politically motivated, and hinted that they are unlikely to ratify a free trade and association agreement with Ukraine, a project four years in the making.
Ms. Tymoshenko, an acerbic populist who represents the European-leaning west of the country, rose to drown out the judge’s voice as he read out the verdict, speaking directly to a bank of television cameras.
“This is an authoritarian regime,” she said. “Against the background of European rhetoric, Yanukovich is taking Ukraine farther from Europe by launching such political trials.” As bailiffs led her from the courtroom, Ms. Tymoshenko turned in the doorway to wave goodbye, a small figure in a white coat and helmet of blond braids.
Prosecutors say Ms. Tymoshenko harmed Ukraine’s interests when, as prime minister, she carried out negotiations with Russia in 2009 over the price of natural gas. Tuesday’s ruling excludes her from politics for 10 years, and levies a fine of about $190 million.
But international legal experts say that she seems to have been performing a routine administrative function for which she might conceivably be disciplined, if the government was displeased with her performance, but not charged with a crime.
With Ms. Tymoshenko’s trial at an end, European governments will have to decide whether to make good on their warnings that imprisoning her will freeze efforts to integrate with Ukraine politically and economically. On one hand, Mr. Yanukovich has defied intense diplomatic pressure from Western partners, crossing what one analyst called “the reddest of red lines.”
On the other hand, Ukraine has been under pressure from Russia to join its own economic bloc, along with Kazakhstan and Belarus. Even compared with the other former Soviet nations, Ukraine — with a population of 46 million, about the size of France — seems to waver between Europe and Russia, so that isolating it from the West could have profound consequences.
Mr. Yanukovich has made integrating with Europe a central goal, and he is likely to head off catastrophic damage by softening Ms. Tymoshenko’s conviction swiftly. One route to this would be decriminalizing the article under which she was convicted. In that event, her name would be cleared and she would be able to run in parliamentary elections in 2012, said Serhiy Vlasenko, one of her lawyers. This could occur as soon as next week, so that Mr. Yanukovich would be welcome at European Union talks in Brussels scheduled for Oct. 20.
He suggested as much on Tuesday, when he told journalists, “This is not a final decision.”
“Ahead lies the appeals court, and it will without a doubt make a decision within the bounds of the law, but the decision will have great significance,” he said, in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.
In Brussels, Ukraine’s foreign minister emphasized the progress that the country has made toward meeting European benchmarks, saying the parties “have never been so close to the association agreement as they are now.” A Foreign Ministry statement argued strenuously against linking the Tymoshenko verdict with the European Union procedure, making the case that political leaders like Mr. Yanukovich cannot interfere in judicial processes. As news of the verdict spread on Tuesday, though, some in Kiev said Ms. Tymoshenko’s conviction was already marked in Ukraine’s history.
Critics of the verdict warned that Ukraine could follow the pattern set by Belarus, whose nascent engagement with the West came to an abrupt end last year amid a crackdown on opposition figures.
“For the past 10 years, we were in the process of getting to a democratic state,” said Yulia Shcherban, a travel agent. “I agree that people who are dishonest must be charged. But in Ukraine, we are going back in the opposite direction and getting back to the days of the Soviet state: Either you are with those in power or you are against them and you are in trouble. She was against those in power.”
Criticism emanated from a range of foreign capitals on Tuesday. Poland’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying “Ukraine’s image as a country that is undertaking a fundamental pro-European transformation has been tarnished.” The White House released a statement urging Ukraine to release Ms. Tymoshenko and other jailed political leaders, and to allow them to run in next year’s parliamentary elections. Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign affairs chief, said the trial “unfortunately confirms that justice is being applied selectively in politically motivated prosecutions of the leaders of the opposition and members of the former government.”
Russia, too, condemned the verdict in Ms. Tymoshenko’s case — in part because her conviction centered on a deal she struck with Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin in 2009, agreeing to pay what prosecutors called an excessively high price for Russian natural gas. Russian analysts said Ukraine might be trying to annul Ms. Tymoshenko’s gas deal and renegotiate for a better price.
Russia’s foreign ministry said the prosecution was “initiated exclusively for political motives,” and noted “an obvious anti-Russian subtext to this whole story.” Mr. Putin, who is on a visit to Beijing, told reporters that “I don’t really understand what they gave her seven years for.”
Several hundred supporters of Ms. Tymoshenko set up tent camps outside the courtroom on Tuesday, and the police were nervous enough to deploy 1,500 riot police officers in balaclavas and camouflage. But the case is unlikely to mobilize the throngs that coalesced around Ms. Tymoshenko in 2004, when she, dressed in the style of an unusually glamorous peasant woman, became the face of the pro-Western Orange Revolution.
The euphoria faded over the next few years, as the Orange coalition bickered endlessly among themselves and Ukraine’s economy foundered. During the last presidential election, Ms. Tymoshenko struggled to engage her voting base — Ukrainian speakers from the west of the country — and lost narrowly to Mr. Yanukovich, who represents the more Russified east.
Mr. Yanukovich surprised many by embracing an emphatically pro-European path, but that choice did not extend to domestic politics. His inauguration marked the opening of numerous criminal cases against his political rivals, a tactic some trace back to his experience in the bare-knuckled politics of eastern coal country.
While citizens of the capital allowed that Ms. Tymoshenko was guilty of some wrongdoing, most saw the case as fundamentally political.
“The politics of this country are horrible,” said Gleb Katerynchuk, a linguistics student at Kiev Linguist University, who said he supported Tuesday’s conviction. “All they want to do is get money for themselves and not help the country. Tymoshenko was the same way.”
Kateryna Lukanchuk, who opposed it, said she believed Ms. Tymoshenko had stolen money from the state, something she said was “normal here,” but that she had done a wonderful job of representing Ukraine on the world stage.
“Everyone in our political system is taking money,” Ms. Lukanchuk said. “Why should it be her who goes to jail?”
Leslie Wayne contributed reporting from Kiev, and Michael Schwirtz from Moscow.
This continues an early thread we had here which involved her initial arrest and announcement of charges that she had been abusing her power while in office.
Interestingly enough Putin, while pointing out she is a political opponent to his goals, stated that the sentence was 'dangerous' to relations between the two countries with regards to the natural gas agreements, pointing out that the main agreements didn't originate from her but rather Gazprom and Naftogaz.
This of course may preempt an Ukrainian government attempt to take the Russian government to international arbitration over gas agreements.
I'm too cool to Post
17th July 2003
I just read that USA, Europe, and even Russia have condemned this as politically motivated.
What better way to remove your political opponents than to frame them, arrest them, try, them and throw them in jail where anything can and sometime does happen. Lets hope Ms. Tymonshenko does not meet with a most unfortunate "accident" while in Prison.
I wouldn't say that's a possibility she'd 'die'. Wouldn't really do anything to begin with.
She probably won't serve the entire sentence either. Can't see her becoming another Aung San Suu Kyi either. She just caught up in a mess between Ukraine and Russia, bad for her at least.
It's kind of wacky though, considering that Yanukovych has been taking a pro-EU stance in recent months, and this is certainly not the way to warm up to them.
I'm too cool to Post
17th July 2003
I dont see her being killed, Im just saying it possible with being in prison.
I see this more as a attempt to discredit and humiliate her and ruin any chance of a continued political career.
SCHOFIELD DID 4/30
10th August 2004
Red Menace;5570993Well, she is forbidden to run for political office for the duration of her sentence (ie. the 2012 and 2015 elections).
Yes, I think that's really where the focus is. Even if she's pardoned and moved out of confinement, as a political force she can't do much. Though I wonder how much political credibility she had left after the experience of the Orange Revolution.
SCHOFIELD DID 4/30
10th August 2004
Red Menace;5571160I really can't say, but the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc got their most seats ever in parliament in 2007 and she got 45% of the presidential vote in 2010.
In 2007. And it's been over four years since that. Afterwards the support for her block went downwards, though her block fared better than Yushchenko's. The support for her in 2010 was more out of people who didn't want to see Yanu win than support for her or her views directly (lesser of two evils), as she was able to represent a more 'unifying' force than Yuschenko who, for various reasons, didn't appear to get the same label.