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Ukraine: Tymoshenko's Courtroom Drama

Since late June 2011, former Prime Minister of Ukraine and one of the Orange Revolution‘s leaders, Yulia Tymoshenko, has been on trial in capital Kyiv for abuse of power.

According to investigators, Tymoshenko overstepped her authority when signing a natural gas contract with Russia, as the prices she negotiated with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin were too high for the Ukrainian economy. If found guilty she faces up to ten years in prison.

Since the beginning of the trial, netizens inside and outside Ukraine have actively discussed her case. LEvko of Foreign Notes found that the charges were impossible to prove:

So, “Tymoshenko is accused of causing a loss of some $190 million to the Ukrainian state because of a 2009 energy deal she signed with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.”

How can anyone be so sure of this figure?

Has Putin or Gazprom ever admitted on the record that they would have sold the gas in question for $190 million less to NaftoHaz Ukrainy in the event that, in 2009, the Ukrainian side had been represented by anyone else? Not very likely…

So to claim anyone else would have got a better deal is pure conjecture..

While, if found guilty, Tymoshenko faces up to 10 years in jail, many are questioning the fairness of the trial against the leading opposition figure in the country ahead of the 2012 Parliamentary and 2015 Presidential elections. At Opendemocracy.net Natalia Sedletska wrote:

Since President Yanukovych came to power almost 16 months ago, the opposition has been virtually wiped out. Criminal cases are being brought against members of the Yushchenko government, but is this Yanukovych’s fight against corruption? Or are these cases politically motivated?

[…]

Everyone understands Viktor Yanukovych’s main strategy is absolute power: he wishes to have an absolute parliamentary majority, so at least 226 seats out of 450 have to go to the members of his Party of the Regions. This is the stated aim of all Yanukovych’s cronies. The Prosecutor General’s Office has been chosen as the main tool for achieving this goal. Convicts cannot stand for election, which explains the avalanche-like campaign of persecution against the opposition in Yanukovych’s first year in office. All investigations against members of Tymoshenko’s team must be concluded before the start of the pre-election campaign is announced.

The events in the courtroom seemed to do nothing less than reinforce the impression of a politically-motivated trial. The first day of a pre-trial hearing took place in a room of no more than 40 square meters, which, at one time, reportedly held up to a hundred people – conditions that the Head of the European Commission to Ukraine, Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira, called “inhuman” [uk] and Tymoshenko compared to a Soviet-time dissident trial.

To make matters worse, on the 6th of July, Judge Kireyev ordered Tymoshenko and her supporters to be removed from the courtroom for disturbing order. This is how blogger Taras of Ukrainiana described the events:

A joke of a trial turned into a show of force after the judge stopped tolerating habitual violations of courtroom order. The ax fell on Tymoshenko and some of her supporters, including MP Mykhailo Kosiv (BYuT), 77, a political prisoner in Soviet times.

Apparently, after police refused to use force against Members of Parliament (MPs), the Berkut special forces were called in to push Tymoshenko’s supporters and journalists out (see videos here). Opposition MP Andriy Shevchenko, who was also present in court, tweeted [uk] about the special treatment he received by Berkut officers:

Вивихнули руку, здається. Не звернув увагу зразу

It seems [they have] dislocated my arm. I didn't notice [it] at first

According to Yulia Tymoshenko, her lawyer was given [uk] one and a half days to familiarize himself with the case of 5000 pages, which resulted in him sleeping for 2-3 hours a day for three days in the row, while also going to the hearings. On the 8 of July he had to be taken to a hospital.

All of this, however, seems to have only spiked Tymoshenko’s popularity in both Ukraine and abroad. Alexander Motyl of Ukraine's Orange Blues explained it in the following way:

The very last thing you do with a prominent, influential, charismatic, smart, articulate, rich, and photogenic political opponent is put her on trial—for anything. Unless, of course, you really do have a smoking gun and your evidence is incontrovertible. A bad case against a tough defendant is guaranteed to transform Tymoshenko into an international cause célèbre and bring down fire and brimstone on the regime—especially in Europe, which Yanukovych says he wants to join.

The growth of Tymoshenko’s popularity was also evident on Twitter. She currently has accumulated 23,501 followers – a number which rose [uk] sharply from the moment she launched a personal Twitter account and started a live Twitter feed from the courtroom. Attention to her account was also accelerated by the judge's Wednesday ban on live television broadcast from the hearings.

Twitter user Slavik (@Slavik_Krayevsk) reiterated [uk] a popular conclusion in his message to Tymoshenko:

@YuliaTymoshenko: Незвиртайте уваги на той тиск який чинить на вас янукович, тільки на твіттері ЗА ВАС майже 23,500 тис. Громадян

@Yulia Tymoshenko: Don’t pay attention to the pressure put on you by [President] Yanukovych, only on Twitter YOU are SUPPORTED by nearly 23500 citizens

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