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Travesty of justice a bad omen for Ukraine

The sentence passed on Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine this week looks clearly politically motivated from where I am ...

The sentence passed on Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine this week looks clearly politically motivated from where I am standing. However, I can’t rule out that one of the motives behind the court’s decision was the desire to get Russia to lower its gas prices. One way or another, the verdict obviously has nothing to do with justice. The bottom line is that a woman has just been convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison on dubious charges.

Let us see what Mrs. Tymoshenko has been charged with. Abuse of power? Whenever an opposition party comes to power, it can almost always find a pretext for accusing its opponents in the previous government of one thing or another, be it an ill-advised agreement or any other action deemed “contrary to the national interest.” Almost any Russian political leader could get convicted on these grounds: say, for signing a treaty with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez or Iran’s MahmoudAhmadinejad. With enough hindsight, you can label pretty much any agreement as counterproductive to the national interest. But this is not the way things should be done. Politicians are not supposed to be prosecuted for the political decisions they make. In Tymoshenko’s case, her signing of the gas treaty with Russia was not motivated by personal profiteering, nor did it constitute any public hazard – even Ukrainian government officials and Tymoshenko’s other sworn enemies have not accused her of either. This woman has been jailed for merely signing a contract that the present government considers disadvantageous for Ukraine. Pressing criminal charges for something like this is downright absurd.

As far as the gas issues are concerned, the implications of the Tymoshenko case also seem controversial. The former Prime Minister has been convicted for signing a treaty that is currently in force, which suggests that Ukraine will now try to amend its terms. I wonder how they are going to do that? Will they put the Russian government, including Prime Minister Putin, on trial as well?

What I find funny in this situation is President Yanukovich suddenly turning into a bleeding heart,  asking plaintively how the court could be so harsh on Mrs. Tymoshenko – whereas I am sure there is no way the court could have delivered such a verdict without the president being in on it. But if we are to give Mr. Yanukovich the benefit of the doubt and assume he is being honest, you can see a logic behind his lament. If his predecessors are getting jailed under his presidency, the same could happen to him once he is out of office. In this sense, this trial has set a bad precedent for Yanukovich.

It is a shame that such developments should take place in a country that some time ago appeared in some ways to be more liberal and free than Russia. The Tymoshenko sentence, among other things, has shown this to be no longer true. Instead, we are left with the strong impression that President Yanukovich is following Russia’s worst political practices and trends. This serves to support the notion that Ukraine is trailing one step behind Russia. While just a few years ago it was reminiscent of Russia in the 1990s, today Kiev is rapidly catching up with Moscow in some of its least decent attitudes vis-à-vis its political opponents.

Moreover, there is an analogy that springs to mind the moment you look at the Tymoshenko case: the Khodorkovsky trial. Only this time it looks even worse: Tymoshenko is not only a female version of Khodorkovsky, she is also a former Prime Minister, and, in contrast to the former Yukos CEO, she has not even been convicted of personal profiteering. Finally, she only lost 3 per cent of the vote to Yanukovich during the last presidential election, which means that she is actually a highly popular and influential politician backed by millions of Ukrainian voters.

It might come as a surprise, but the Ukrainian government’s awkward move has set almost all political parties and actors against it, not only in Ukraine, but also internationally. Tymoshenko’s Ukrainian supporters, the Russian government, Russia’s opposition and the West have all come together to condemn the sentence, even if each of them have their own reasons for doing so. Even if this turns out to be Kiev’s ploy for pushing down Russian gas prices, it is unlikely this will fly with either Russia or the entire international community.

­Nikolay Svanidze, for RT

­The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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