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
TEXT SIZE - +

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.


James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population 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.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid