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  • Tymoshenko Verdict May Push Ukraine Toward Russia

    Today, a regional court in Kyiv has found Yuliya Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s former prime minister and leading opposition figure, guilty of “abuse of office” stemming from her role in the 2009 Ukraine–Russia gas deal.

    The sentence includes a seven-year prison term with an additional three-year prohibition to hold political office, as well as the stipulation that she must pay $190 million in compensation to Ukraine’s gas monopoly Naftogaz. Tymoshenko herself, her supporters, and even her critics—as well as European leaders and legal experts—view the prosecution and the sentence as a political vendetta.

    This decision has spawned public outcry and protests by Tymoshenko supporters. Nearly 800 of the former prime minister’s supporters have set up tents in front of the court protesting the verdict while facing pro-government demonstrators and over 1,100 policemen. Opposition leaders, however, claim that there are plans to disperse the protesters forcefully.

    Tymoshenko herself decried the decision as evidence of blatant corruption of the judicial system. “It is not Judge [Rodion] Kireyev but President [Victor] Yanukovych who is handing down the verdict,” she said. Tymoshenko promised to appeal the verdict both in Ukrainian courts and the European Court of Human Rights.

    The controversial and heavy-handed handling of the Tymoshenko case has found no support in the international community, either. European politicians attempted to reach out to the Ukrainian president even before the verdict was meted out, but the effort was in vain.

    John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Program Director of Amnesty International, called the charges against Tymoshenko “attempts to criminalize decisions that she made in the course of her work.” This is likely to open the door for declaring Tymoshenko a political prisoner. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero lamented “the degradation of the rule of law in Ukraine.”

    The trial has damaged not only Ukraine’s reputation as a democratic country but also bilateral and multilateral relations with its neighbors. The verdict effectively removes Tymoshenko as a candidate for the upcoming 2013 presidential elections. This has placed EU–Ukraine relations in jeopardy, particularly the negotiations on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.

    As the Member of the European Parliament Jacek Emil Saryusz-Wolski of Poland commented, “In the European Parliament, I don’t see the slightest chance of any ratification of any document between the European Union and Ukraine in the present circumstances…. I think that today Ukraine does not deserve mention of membership perspective.” This is unfortunate, as close integration is in both Europe’s and Ukraine’s interests.

    Only Moscow wins from the chill in Europe–Ukraine relations, as it is readying to push Kyiv into the membership in the Russian-dominated Customs Union. Additionally, Russian officials expressed concern that the verdict may be used as a pretext to renegotiate (or violate) “still valid, legally binding agreements between [Russian-owned gas company] Gazprom and Naftogaz Ukraine.”

    Yanukovich called the verdict “regrettable” and acknowledged the international implications. He expressed hope that the upcoming changes in the Ukrainian criminal code may soften Tymoshenko’s punishment. The Parliament, however, dominated by Yanukovich’s Party of Regions, voted last week against the amendments that would decriminalize her offense, casting doubt on the president’s suggestions of clemency.

    Even if the appeal succeeds, however, the damage to Ukraine’s reputation has already been done. Ukrainian officials chose to go through with the trial despite the questionable nature of the offenses and the evidence presented in court and warnings of serious diplomatic repercussions from international experts even before the case went to court. The lost faith in their commitment to democracy and rule of law in Ukraine and abroad will be difficult to restore.

    The Tymoshenko affair may alienate Ukraine from Europe and push it closer to Russia. Mykola Tomenko, currently the leader of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, as her political party is known, said that they will appeal for international sanctions on Ukrainian officials involved in the case.

    Neither Europe nor the United States needs a second repressive regime, like Belarus, in Eastern Europe. U.S. officials should condemn the recent developments, and engage the government of Ukraine in a way that would encourage a return to democratic consolidation rather than promote alienation and further backsliding away from democracy.

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    3 Responses to Tymoshenko Verdict May Push Ukraine Toward Russia

    1. Jimboaz says:

      Ukraine is not only "little Russia," it is increasingly (like Belarus) Putin's new Potemkin Village. The U.S., Britain and the EU must continue to urge progress as an alternative to Russian regression. Do not the Ukrainians recall that past Russian benevolent paternalism included the holodomor and the suppression of the Ukrainian language and culture? I fear the suffix S.S.R. may soon return to Ukraine's name; and this time under the "guise" of democracy.

    2. Bohdan A Oryshkevich says:

      Ukraine has spiraled downward ever since the end of the Orange Revolution. The inept leadership of President Viktor Yushchenko and the histrionic confrontational premierships and opposition by Prime Minister Tymoshenko led to indifference and disgust among Ukrainian voters. In addition, in his ineptness, President Yushchenko brought Mr. Viktor Yanukovych back to political life in return for his assistance to control his nemesis, Ms. Tymoshenko.

      When the presidential elections finally came around in 2010, the electorate selected what was in their mind the least odoriferous of three evils.

      Today, we are seeing the current generation of leaders destroying each other and probably taking their country with them. In the last six years, every month has seen a new low. There is no end in sight.

      Ukraine, because of centuries of individual and group subservience and division, has no leadership class or tradition. It has no mechanism of having political, scientific, or literary talent rise to the top. Ukrainians and their politicians do not know or recognize the differences between anarchy, demagoguery, authoritarianism, and leadership. It is not part of their ken. Governance is alien to them. Laws are made to be broken or ignored. While Russians generally support Putinism, Ukrainians remain confused as to what they seek in a leader.

      It is as if one student from Ukraine put it, Ukraine had to evolve from a leaderless Indian Reservation or Bantustan into a modern nation state with all its necessary functioning components. It is a huge leap forward that will take generations.

      In addition, Ukraine has a tiny but insatiably acquisitive (so called business class) that is living off the country without modernizing it. It too is holding the country back. The result is that millions of Ukrainians have emigrated to work and live abroad. Ukraine has, in fact, the worst demographic statistics of any major country in the world.

      There is little that the West or the Democrats can do since the so-called Democrats are part of the problem. At the same, this inchoate leadership uses its internal dysfunctionality to prevent economic and political absorption by the Russian Federation.

      On the other hand, the West using its best universities can educate a new generation of leaders who will eventually coalesce and hopefully provide a new vision of Ukraine. This is a low key, inexpensive long term strategy. Such an approach may well provide transformative leaders who will have seen the world and benefited from a world class education. Only they will be able to generate a modern vision for Ukraine and eventually hopefully right the course of the country.

      But this will take long term and tenacious vision, patience, time and hard work.

      We at the USA/USA Program are doing that. Friend us on Facebook.

      Bohdan A Oryshkevich,
      Founder, USA/USA Program http://on.fb.me/jiWGAg

    3. John says:

      It is natural for us to feel sadness for the people of Ukraine as the Tymoshenko verdict will surely place them in a situation where they have to be again reliant on the Russian bully. To eventually become a member of the EU was a far better option than affinity with Russia whos record of human rights is not one to be envied. Tymoshenko is the future of Ukraine and the present administration knows and fears this.

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