A brief look: The theatrical criminal trial of Ukraine’s former PM

By Sipho Hlongwane 10 August 2011

Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister of Ukraine, is on trial in Kiev, accused of abuse of office. She says the trial is politically motivated, the Ukranian government says it is definitely not – and now it looks like the European Union wants to step in. Tymoshenko herself isn’t helping her case by grandstanding in court. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

What is it with populists and corruption charges? Yulia Tymoshenko, the popular former prime minister of Ukraine is currently facing charges of abuse of office, with respect to a 2009 gas imports deal with Russia, which, according to her charge sheet, was ruinous for the country’s economy. She also allegedly signed it without the approval of her cabinet.

Tymoshenko herself is saying the charges are politically motivated, a point she is reinforcing by disrespecting the court process, according to reports. Her misdemeanours included calling her successor corrupt and mocking the judge on Twitter during court proceedings. The judge in question responded by tossing her in jail for the weekend.

The Ukrainian ruling party is also quite worried about what it sees as a portrayal of Tymoshenko as a “defender of democracy” in the media. The Region’s Party concerns aren’t unfounded: the Ukraine is due to sign an association deal with the European Union later today, and the trial of the former prime minister could be linked to the deal. The US government has already loudly called for the release of Tymoshenko, saying the government of the Ukraine was clearly only going after its political opponents.

A former businesswoman and academic, Tymoshenko rose to prominence in 2004 Orange Revolution, a mass uprising against Viktor Yanukovych, who had claimed victory in a disputed presidential election. Yanukovych responded by appointing Tymoshenko as prime minister, and included Orange Revolution leaders in his government.  The president sacked his prime minister a few hours later due to fighting, but had to put her back in her position in 2007. Last year, Tymoshenko was defeated by – you guessed it – Yanukovych in a presidential run-off.

The trial has attracted the usual sort of crowd, intense supporters of either faction.

Tymoshenko’s biggest hope for getting out of this one (since she’s not exactly currying favour with the judge) is to hope that the EU continues to view her as a political prisoner, and then make the Ukraine’s signature on the association deal conditional on her release. DM



Read more:

  • Ukraine rejects criticism of Tymoshenko arrest in AFP;
  • US calls for immediate release of Ukraine former PM Tymoshenko in Voice of America;
  • Q&A: Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko on trial in BBC News.

Photo: Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko attends a court session in Kiev July 6, 2011. Ukraine’s state security service SBU said on Tuesday it had launched a criminal case linked to the affairs of an energy company once run by Tymoshenko. She had denied on Wednesday, attempted theft accusations against her as based on “fakes”, as wrangling continued in her trial over earlier abuse of office charges. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich.


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