Article first published as Ukraine Ex-Prime Minister Jailed for Seven Years on Technorati.
In the winter of 2009, Yulia Tymoshenko, the charismatic leader of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, was found guilty of exceeding her powers, fined an equivalent of $187 million and sentenced to seven years in prison. The highly controversial trial was an epilogue to a financial dispute between Russian gas monopolist Gazprom and its Ukrainian counterpart Naftogaz, responsible for gas transportation through the Ukraine, which resulted in crippling gas shortages in Western Europe back in 2009. Humanitarian crisis aside, the conflict considerably damaged the image of the Ukraine as a reliable supplier of energy resources in the eyes of the EU. With Europeans literally freezing to death and gas companies unable to reach consensus, Tymoshenko flew to Moscow and had a five-hour talk with then prime minister Vladimir Putin. The gas supplies restarted the next day and everyone seemed happy.
Although few people doubted that negotiating with Putin wasn’t easy, the new, financially burdensome, agreement allowed various political parties in the Ukraine to accuse Tymoshenko of betraying national interests. As long as she was in power, Tymoshenko could ignore the opposition, reasonably counter-arguing that she got job done. But, after losing the 2010 presidential elections to her political nemesis Victor Yanukovich, trouble seemed imminent. Tymoshenko was indeed arrested in August 2011, dragged through a public trial and sentenced. Reading current reports, it is very tempting to see the story in black and white. Ukrainian politics, however, have never been a place for fair play. At the height of her power, Tymoshenko was not the most liberal and democratic opponent to Yanukovich either. The current president has two convictions for robbery and assault to his name. Victor Yushchenko, president from 2005-2010, managed to obtain the copyright on the slogan of the so-called Orange Revolution, the protest movement that brought him to power. Imagine Barak Obama copyrighting “Yes We Can.” Yushchenko’s predecessor Leonid Kuchma is suspected of corruption and political executions. In short, the country’s political landscape is not for the lighthearted.
Revenge may come at a high cost for Victor Yanukovich. First, both Russia and the EU have sided with his jailed opponent. Second, while silencing his most able opponent before the forthcoming general elections would seem like a good idea, the polls predict a crushing defeat for his party. Regardless. Yulia Tymoshenko has been imprisoned before, in fact, it was a brief imprisonment in 2001 that propelled her to Ukraine’s political Olympus. Another prison interlude will undoubtedly, fortify her image as a fearless leader even further. The only political entity that stands to benefit from any scenario is Russia. If president Yanukovich keeps Yulia Tymoshenko in prison, there will be no integration with the EU and Russia will become his core strategic partner. If Tymoshenko is freed before the elections, there will be a nasty fight. With gas and transit still playing major roles in the economy, both parties will appeal to Russia for support. Thus, the trial does not conclude the story, it is merely the beginning.