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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid