Russia urges impartiality in Ukraine’s Tymoshenko trial

Ukraine's former Prime Minister and a leader of the opposition Yulia Tymoshenko (AFP Photo / Sergey Supinsky)
Russian Foreign Ministry urged justice and impartiality in the trial of Ukrainian ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko, saying that the 2009 gas agreements between Russia and Ukraine were signed in strict accordance with the law.

The Russian Foreign Ministry published the statement on its web-site after a district court in the Ukrainian capital Kiev ordered the arrest of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has been charged with abuse of power and damaging the national economy when she signed a 2009 gas transit deal with Russia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry 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 norms. The deals also received all the necessary approvals from the presidents of the two countries. 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." 

The US Administration also voiced concern over Tymoshenko's arrest. An official statement distributed by the US Embassy in Kiev reads that "incarceration of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko has raised concerns internationally about the application of the rule of law in Ukraine and further contributes to the appearance of politically-motivated prosecutions". "The U.S. government shares those concerns and urges that Mrs. Tymoshenko's incarceration be reviewed and consideration be given to her immediate release," the statement said.

A judge from the Pechersky District Court in Kiev ruled to arrest Yulia Tymoshenko on Friday. The judge announced that since Tymoshenko is being accused of graves crimes which are punishable by up to seven years in jail, “she might attempt to avoid trial and other legal procedures”. Therefore, the judge decided to order her arrest, changing his original ruling that had allowed Tymoshenko to stay out of jail for the duration of her trial upon signing a written oath not to leave the country.

Kireyev also pointed out that Tymoshenko was being disrespectful to the members of the court and those participating in the trial by disobeying the orders of the trial chairman, refusing to tell the court her permanent address, and "systematically disrupting the court hearings.".

On Monday the court also heard two appeals by Tymoshenko’s defense team that requested the release of the former prime minister from custody, though they were both rejected. The first appeal simply asked the court to release the suspect, stating that she posed no risk of flight, and the second contained a letter from Filaret, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kiev Patriarchate, who offered personal guarantees for Tymoshenko’s continued personal participation in the trial. Representatives of the Greek Catholic Church and the Evangelist Christian Baptist Church joined Filaret in this request. The Ukrainian parliamentary representative for Human Rights Nina Karpacheva also asked the court to modify the security measures for Tymoshenko, as the arrest was too harsh a punishment for violating the court procedures. The judge summarily turned down all the requests.

Meanwhile, around 15 deputies attempted to block the movement of a paddy wagon that was supposed to deliver the former premier, now the opposition leader, to the investigative isolation ward. First deputy chair of Yulia Tymoshenko’s political bloc “Batkivschyna” (Fatherland) Aleksandr Turchinov, called on the people who gathered on Kiev’s central Kreschatik street, not far from the court, to unite in order to oppose the authorities.

Tymoshenko is no stranger to criminal charges. The current case is the third court proceeding to be launched against her in Ukraine. The first case dealt with the embezzlement of funds acquired from the selling of carbon emission quotas to bankroll pension payments, while the second was connected with the purchase of a batch of ambulances at inflated prices.The third set of accusations pertain to the purchase of gas and subsequent transit agreements between Ukraine and Russia that Tymoshenko signed as prime minister in 2009. Prosecutors accuse the former PM of abuse of power, which they claim damaged Ukraine’s financial interests.

Several Ukrainian politicians have harshly criticized the government for arresting Tymoshenko. For example, first deputy head of the Batkivshchina Party, Aleksandr Turchinov, said on Saturday that this arrest by the authorities "has passed the line beyond which democracy starts to call it a wraps and totalitarianism begins". “By throwing Tymoshenko behind bars without any legal grounds, the regime has demonstrated that it was not going to stop at anything to destroy its political opponents,” Turchinov said. 

Analysts saw Tymoshenko’s arrest as the beginning of a new round of gas talks between Ukraine and Russia. Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted Boris Kushniruk, an economy expert from the Ukraine’s People’s Party, as saying that the authorities deliberately decided to arrest Tymoshenko on Friday evening in August in order to start the gas talks with Russia’s Gazprom as soon as possible, and not to wait till winter when Gazprom would have an upper hand. To avoid this, the Ukrainian authorities are forcing the announcement of Tymoshenko’s conviction in order to apply pressure to Russian officials, especially on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as it was he who held negotiations with Tymoshenko in 2009.

The head of the Public Politics Institute Viktor Chumak has said that many Ukrainian experts share this opinion. He said that the growing price for natural gas is the main challenge that the Ukrainian state and officials have to face. As Gazprom refuses to reconsider the price and the formula by which the gas price is calculated, the Ukrainian side tries to decry the initial contract as invalid. The analyst added that the fast and harsh reaction of the Russian Foreign Ministry indirectly confirms this hypothesis.

Russian and Ukrainian presidents are scheduled to meet in Sochi on August 11 to discuss the gas trade and Russia’s acquisition of the Ukrainian energy corporation Naftogaz.