The martyrdom of Yulia Tymoshenko

There are three obvious explanations for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s behaviour in the case of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has just been sentenced to seven years in prison and a $186 million fine for a decision she made while in office that would never end up in court in a normal democratic country. None of the three reflect well on Yanukovych.

There are three obvious explanations for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s behaviour in the case of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has just been sentenced to seven years in prison and a $186 million fine for a decision she made while in office that would never end up in court in a normal democratic country. None of the three reflect well on Yanukovych.

The first explanation is that he is simply waging a vendetta through the courts against Tymoshenko’s party. Seventeen other members of the government she led have also faced criminal charges over their conduct while in office, and several are already serving jail terms. So maybe Yanukovych is just a political thug who wants to destroy the opposition.

That would make sense, for Tymoshenko is a real threat to him: in last year’s presidential election, she lost by only three per cent of the votes. However, she herself favours a different explanation. “This is an authoritarian regime,” Tymoshenko said when her sentence was read out on Tuesday. “Against the background of European rhetoric, Yanukovych is taking Ukraine farther from Europe by launching such political trials.”

“Taking Ukraine farther from Europe” is political code for taking it closer to Russia. There is a tug-of-war between Russia and the European Union over the future orientation of Ukraine, and in this analysis Yanukovych, who draws his support from the heavily Russified eastern Ukraine, is secretly Moscow’s man.

Tymoshenko, whose votes come mainly from western Ukraine, is the European Union’s favoured candidate for leader of Ukraine. So in this second explanation, favoured by Tymoshenko, she is being railroaded into jail to serve the interests of the Kremlin. But there is a problem with this explanation.

The main charge against Tymoshenko is that she was too generous to Russia in a gas deal she signed in 2009 to end a dispute over the price Ukraine paid for gas and the transit fees it collected for Russian gas flowing across Ukraine in pipelines to customers further west. Tymoshenko has actually been convicted of being too nice to Russia. How can you reconcile that with a Kremlin plot to draw Ukraine into its web?

Nobody believes the official claim that the Ukrainian courts are acting independently in this matter, and Yanukovych appears to have angered both the Russians and the West equally by his actions. Could there be a third explanation here? Could it all be just a very clumsy attempt by Yanukovych to prove that he is independent of both sides?

One should never underestimate the role of stupidity in politics, but this explanation is highly unlikely. Yanukovych is a ruthless and devious man, but he is not stupid. Let’s go back to Explanation Two, and try a subtler version of it.

Let us assume that Yanukovych is indeed Moscow’s man, and that his ultimate goal is to integrate Ukraine into the free-trade bloc that Russia is building with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Then he must somehow get the rival proposal for a free-trade agreement with the European Union off the table — but he doesn’t want to cancel it himself, for at least half of Ukrainian voters want closer integration with the West.

So the ideal solution would be to trick the EU into breaking off the free-trade talks with Ukraine by presenting it with some human rights issue that forces its hand. If the EU suspends the talks over the legal persecution of Yulia Tymoshenko, it’s win-win for Yanukovych.

If this is really the strategy, then Moscow would have to play its part by protesting about Tymoshenko’s trial too — as it is indeed doing. Once the Ukraine-EU talks on a free-trade area have been broken off, Kiev and Moscow can kiss and make up. And after a decent interval, Yanukovych could bring Ukraine into the rival customs union with Moscow without too much domestic opposition.

This is what Tymoshenko herself fears. She does not want the EU to break off the free-trade talks because of her trial and conviction. “Ukraine must be saved,” she said last June. “If the EU pushes Ukraine away now and leaves it alone with this regime, our country will be thrown back for several decades.”




Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries



Just Posted

Wade Cudmore, seen here with his mother Kathy Richardson, had his first court appearance in relation to first degree murder charges in the deaths of Erick and Carlo Fryer Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Kathy Richardson/Facebook)
Man charged in Naramata double homicide appears in Penticton court

Wade Cudmore appeared for the first time in relation to first degree murder charges

(John Arendt - Black Press)
Penticton wants to give you money to make something fun happen in the city

City launches community grant program to help post-COVID recovery

The defunct 100-year-old Enloe Dam on the Similkameen River in Washington State blocks access by salmon and steelhead to over 500 kilometres of high-quality river habitat, much of it in British Columbia. (Photo submitted by Alex Maier.)
An obsolete, environmentally harmful dam south of Osoyoos is one step closer to removal

The Enloe Dam hasn’t produced electricity since 1958; all it really does is block fish

Penticton mayor John Vassilaki and Minister of Housing David Eby have been battling over the Victory Church shelter and BC Housing projects in the city. (File photos)
Penticton heads to court over homeless shelter as BC Housing audit begins

The city was not satisfied with the response from Minister David Eby regarding the ongoing situation

With high temperatures forecasted for the week and into the next, Interior Health is offering some tips on how to keep yourself safe from heat-related illness. (Pixabay)
Interior Health offers safety tips as temperatures soar

‘Too much heat can be harmful to your health’

Teenagers make their way to Truswell Road after a party is broken up by police at the end of Mission Creek (Lorraine Besner/Contributed).
Kelowna residents concerned about ongoing alleged underage beach parties

Public urination, property damage, drinking and drug usage have become weekly concerns

Mayla Janzen and Ashley Hoppichler, with her daughters Lily and Sophia, are bringing a Friday evening market to Polson Park, starting July 2. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Entrepreneurs craft up Vernon night market

Friday evening Polson Park event to take place throughout the summer

Robin Sanford and her fiance Simon Park were married in an impromptu ceremony at Abbotsford Regional Hospital on June 16. (Submitted photo)
Mom dies day after witnessing daughter’s hospital wedding in Abbotsford

Nurses help arrange impromptu ceremony in 3 hours for bride and groom

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson with Premier John Horgan after the budget speech Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. home owner grant won’t be altered, despite expert advice

Tax break for residences worth up to $1.6 million too popular

B.C. conservation officer Sgt. Todd Hunter said a black bear is believed to have killed local livestock. (THE NEWS/files)
Black bear believed to have killed miniature donkey in Maple Ridge

Trap set for predator that has been killing livestock

People enjoy the sun at Woodbine Beach on June 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
BC Hydro assures customers it has ‘more than enough’ power to weather the heatwave

Despite an increase of pressure on the Western grid, blackouts are not expected like in some U.S. states

Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pilots say no reason to continue quarantines for vaccinated international travellers

Prime minister says Canada still trying to limit number of incoming tourists

Six United Way chapters around the province are merging into United Way B.C. (News Bulletin file photo)
6 United Way chapters merging around B.C.

Money raised in communities will stay in those communities, agency says

Val Litwin is the latest candidate to declare his bid for the B.C. Liberal leadership. (Litwin campaign video)
Political newcomer joins contest for B.C. Liberal leadership

Val Litwin a former B.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO

Most Read