Tymoshenko verdict a lose-lose for Yanukovich

A file photo taken on August 11, 2011 shows Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (C) inside a courtroom in Kiev (AFP Photo / Pool / Aleksandr Prokopenko)
By jailing former PM Yulia Tymoshenko for power abuse during gas deal negotiations with Russia, Ukrainian govt is spoiling relations with Europe while failing to open talks on the gas deals.

Yevgeniy Minchenko, director of the Russian International Institute of Political Expertise told RT that Tymoshenko’s sentence of seven years imprisonment is an attempt to pressure Russia on the 2009 gas agreements. According to Minchenko, those efforts will ultimately fail.

Tymoshenko’s prosecution is more of a PR move and has no legal basis for revoking the deal, the Russian analyst said. If Ukraine had real arguments which it could bring to the Stockholm International Arbitration court, it would have already done so, he added.

The court decision against Yulia Tymoshenko, 51, means that the former darling of the opposition will be forced to compensate the enormous damage she had allegedly inflicted, while the gas deal between Russia and Ukraine will remain as it is, Minchenko said.

He added that the sentence will not affect relations between the two countries. As for the relations between Ukraine and the international community, especially the EU that will depend on whether or not Tymoshenko actually serves time in prison Minchenko said.

Here, the Ukrainian authorities face a serious dilemma: on the one hand, it wants good relations with the European Union. After all, free travel and free trade with the European bloc of nations depend on the strict observation of democratic principles.

Meanwhile, European officials have stressed that Tymoshenko and her allies should avoid prosecution. This is because the former PM and her close ally, the former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, are the only powerful opposition politicians in Ukraine. Their prosecution will inevitably be seen as political repression both in the country and abroad.

On the other hand, Viktor Yanukovich and his cabinet may face the wrath of Tymoshenko should the former PM ever return to power.

“Yanukovich fears that Tymoshenko will settle the accounts if she wins in some distant future,” Russian political scientist Andrei Okara was quoted as saying by the Rosbalt news agency. “In this case he is acting not from personal dislike but for personal safety.”

A court in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Tuesday sentenced the country’s former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in prison after finding her guilty of abuse of power and deliberately inflicting financial damage on the state when she signed gas contracts with Russia in 2009.

The judge said at the court session on Tuesday that in January 2009 Tymoshenko, while occupying the post of prime minister, had violated Article 19 of the Ukrainian Constitution (which stipulates that officials must act only in accordance with the law) and used her official powers with criminal intent causing grave consequences. The court ruled that the former prime minister’s actions caused damage to Ukraine’s state-owned energy corporation, Naftogaz.

Tymoshenko has pleaded not guilty in court and repeated her protestations of innocence on Tuesday. The former premier says the trial was initiated by her political opponents, led by incumbent President Viktor Yanukovich. Tymoshenko said that Tuesday’s verdict “was a fake” and called on the nation to fight the “authoritarian regime”. “I am asking you – do not be afraid of the regime! Ukraine will topple this authoritarian regime! The authoritarian regime and the dictatorship will be destroyed in the nearest future,” the opposition leader said. She added that she will fight Yanukovich until as soon as she has the opportunity and as long as she has the stamina.

Tymoshenko’s political allies say they will contest the verdict. Deputy speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament and one of the leaders of the Batkivshina party, Nikolai Tomenko, has told the press that there were several possible scenarios. “It is absolutely obvious that the court had been charged with passing a conviction and thus we have several options open to us. A parliamentary option – we will register common amendments from the opposition and demand to decriminalize the articles under which Tymoshenko is charged. We will also contest the sentence in Ukrainian and European courts and regardless of the situation, we will address the people to help us in our struggle,” Tomenko said. The opposition politician stressed that they were against any form of violence. “When we have several thousand riot police near the court this means that the authorities are afraid of us and do everything to ban all peaceful gatherings, strikes or protest rallies,” Tomenko said.

The Ukrainian media reported that about 3,000 of Yulia Tymoshenko’s supporters were holding a rally in central Kiev as the court pronounced the sentence. The police started to push them away from Kreshchatik Street after they blocked the traffic, but there were no major clashes.

The Ukrainian authorities launched a criminal case against Tymoshenko in May 2010. Initially, the former PM was not put in custody and turned every court appearance into a vivid spectacle. However, the judge ruled that she was not showing enough respect to the court and in August 2011 she was sent to a pre-trial detention center.Many observers have noted that Tymoshenko’s incarceration coincided with Viktor Yanukovich’s move to cancel the gas transport treaties with Russia. After failing to settle the gas price issue in talks, Ukraine is now preparing to take Russia to an arbitration court. The sentence handed down to Tymoshenko, who prepared and signed the treaty that is now being contested, will be a demonstration that Ukraine is serious in its intent.

Such developments have already caused concern in Russia and in the international community. After Tymoshenko’s incarceration in August, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement in which it insisted that all gas agreements between Russia and Ukraine in 2009 were signed in strict accordance with the national laws of the two states as well as with international law. Therefore, the Russian side insisted that "the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko be fair and impartial, respond to all the requirements of Ukrainian legislation, must allow her to defend herself, and observe basic humanitarian standards and rules."

Chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Petros Efthymiou has also said that developments in the Tymoshenko trial gave cause for concern and promised to raise the question in his talks with the Ukrainian authorities. US Secretary of State Secretary Hillary Clinton said that the situation in Ukraine was a threat to democracy.

­The European Union on Tuesday expressed deep disappointment with the verdict of a Kiev court in the Yulia Tymoshenko case. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said in a statement that "the EU urges the competent Ukrainian authorities to ensure a fair, transparent and  impartial process  in  any appeal  in  the case  of  Ms Tymoshenko and in the other trials related  to members  of the  former government.

"The EU will reflect on its policies towards Ukraine. The way the Ukrainian authorities will generally respect universal values and the rule of law, and specifically how they will handle these cases, risks  having profound implications for the EU-Ukraine bilateral relationship, including for the conclusion of the Association Agreement, our political dialogue and our co-operation more broadly," the official said.

The German Minister for Foreign Affairs, Guido Westerwelle, issued an even harsher statement on Tuesday saying that the court verdict was a blow to the legal foundations of the Ukrainian state and promised it would not be without consequences for relations between Ukraine and Germany and the European Union. “We will watch very closely how Kiev is treating the Tymoshenko case and the cases of other former government members. We expect Ukraine to adhere to democracy and the rule of law,” the German minister said.