Ukraine's highest court in Kiev upheld a guilty verdict against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, 51, on Wednesday. Tymoshenko was convicted of abuse of office in October 2011 for negotiating and signing a natural gas contract with Russia. She was sentenced to seven years in prison, and is still awaiting trial on charges of embezzlement and tax evasion.
The European Union, the United States, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Tymoshenko brokered the deal, have condemned the court's ruling. Putin himself said that Tymoshenko has not done anything wrong. The United States said it was "disappointed" by the decision. The EU issued a statement telling the Ukraine it needs to "redress the effects of selective justice."
Ukrainian Judge Oleksandr Elfimov said in his ruling that he "found no grounds to uphold the appeal," and that the prison term is "adequate to the gravity of the crime," according to the AP.
Tymoshenko's convinction and incarceration is widely seen as politically motivated on the part of the majority government, led by current President Viktor Yanukovych, to keep Tymoshenko silent. Tymoshenko is the leader of the opposition party in the Ukraine, called the All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland" Party. She is also widely seen as one of the foremost pro-democracy activists in Ukraine, and is credited with orchestrating the 2004 Orange Revolution, in which massive protests broke out across Ukraine when allegations of fraud in the previous election began circulating.
Tymoshenko's lawyer, Sergiy Vlasenko, said they are filing another appeal in the Starusbourg European Court of Human Rights. "We will complete our additional appeal and file it (with the Strasbourg court) by the end of the week," he told AFP.
Tymoshenko's supporters in the Ukraine, including Tymoshenko's daughter Eugenia, have all said that the verdict is evidence of the corruption inherent in the system, and the loss of this appeal could be the canary in the coal mine of what has been called the Ukraine's democratic backsliding. "Today we again received a shameful decision which proves that a dictatorship is establishing itself in Ukraine," Eugenia Tymoshenko told reporters.
The EU, US, and other major powers already condemned the Ukrainian government when Tymoshenko was convicted, and the whole trial process hurt President Yanukovych's image in the West, according to Steven Pifer, senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institute.
When Tymoshenko was convicted in 2011, European Union stated that the trial "did not respect the international standards as regards fair, transparent and independent legal process." Even Poland and Sweden, which are, according to Pfier, two of Ukraine's closer friends, expressed dismay when Tymoshenko was convicted. The Polish foreign ministry said that "the manner in which the trial is conducted and today's conviction are the example of politicization of the Ukrainian judiciary." And Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said "we do not see that European laws, standards and values are respected in this case. We do not see any grounds for this sentence." Even Putin said that he was "puzzeled" by the verdict.
"Yanukovych got an earful at the ... 'Yalta European Strategy' conference [in 2011]," Pifer wrote in an opinion piece. "All pounding on the same theme: Kiev needs to stop the trail and release Tymoshenko, or its European integration hopes will go nowhere."
To contact the editor, e-mail: