News / Europe

Tymoshenko Conviction Puts Ukraine at Crossroads with Russia, Europe

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko speaks during her trial, with Judge, Rodion Kireyev, left, reading the indictment at the Pecherskiy District Court in Kiev, Ukraine, October 11, 2011.
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko speaks during her trial, with Judge, Rodion Kireyev, left, reading the indictment at the Pecherskiy District Court in Kiev, Ukraine, October 11, 2011.

Multimedia

Audio
James Brooke

A Kyiv court has sentenced former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in jail for abusing her power in a 2009 gas deal with Russia. The conviction and jail sentence comes just as Ukraine hopes to sign a free trade agreement with the European Union.

Protesters jostled with riot police on the main street of Ukraine's capital as news came that Yulia Tymoshenko had been sentenced to prison and to repay $190 million lost in a gas deal with Russia.

But Tymoshenko, with her trademark blond peasant braid, also has supporters in Brussels, the seat of the European Union.  Last week, with Tymoshenko already in jail for two months, European officials warned Ukraine's government that her conviction would threaten a free trade pact with the European Union.

"The European Union has warned [Viktor] Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president, that his attempts to finalize a free trade agreement with the bloc would be put in jeopardy if the case went forward, and [it] ended in a sentence for Yulia Tymoshenko," said Yevgeny Kiselyov who runs a political talk show in Kyiv.

Sweden's Prime Minister Carl Bildt warned recently, as the trial ground through its third month, that "political show trials have no place in our Europe." On Tuesday, after the court decision, Catherine Ashton, the EU's top foreign affairs official, said from Brussels that the EU is "deeply disappointed" with the verdict.

The verdict comes as Ukraine, the largest nation to emerge from the Soviet Union after Russia, stands poised between Russia and Europe.

After four years of negotiations, Ukraine hopes to sign a free trade agreement with the EU in December. This is to be a first step toward Ukraine eventually joining the EU. But with many Europeans saying the EU has expanded too far, too fast, the trial of Tymoshenko is now a lightning rod for opponents of further eastward expansion.

At the same time, Russia is offering membership in a Kremlin-dominated customs union and deep discounts on gas prices, with no lectures on democracy.

With President Yanokovych scheduled to meet with EU officials in Brussels in 10 days, analysts say fast political footwork will be needed to preserve Ukraine's European option.

Viktor Chumak, director of the Ukrainian Public Policy Institute in Kyiv, says now that President Yanukovych has seen his main political rival humiliated by a court trial and conviction, his supporters in Ukraine's parliament will quickly pass a law to change the penalties under the abuse-of-power statute she was convicted of violating. Violators would no longer serve time in jail and would no longer be barred from running for political office.

Shortly after the verdict was announced President Yanukovych unexpectedly broke his long silence on the Tymoshenko case. Talking to journalists Tuesday, he lamented that it was "a regrettable case, which today is thwarting Ukraine's European integration."

He went on to stress that his government is working to update Ukraine's criminal code. But his supporters will have to move fast. The next session of parliament is October 18, and the president is expected in Brussels on October 20.

Kiselyov, the political analyst, says the government's control of the parliament makes that timetable possible.

"They can always vote the same day and the president can sign the respective legislation on the next day or on the same day," noted Kiselyov.

Some European officials have said Ukraine's leader will not be welcome in Brussels if Tymoshenko is still in jail when he visits.

Tymoshenko believes that the European card is her best one to play. Before the verdict, she announced plans to appeal her conviction to the European Court of Human Rights. As soon as the verdict was announced, a parliamentary supporter flatly announced that Ukraine's trade pact with Europe is now dead.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, some analysts say the verdict closes Ukraine's door to Europe and opens its door to Russia.

But Russia's foreign ministry was more cautious Tuesday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich denounced what he called "an obvious anti-Russian underlying message to this whole story."

The Kremlin fears Ukraine's president will try to use the court case to break the gas agreement.

In Kyiv, Victor Chumak said Russian officials were right to be cautious.  Faced with the choice between Russia and Europe, Chumak estimated that the odds are 60-40 in favor of Ukraine successfully taking the European road.

The coming weeks may decide the East-West tug of war over Ukraine - perhaps the biggest prize from the old Soviet Union.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs