Yulia Tymoshenko Trial: Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Sentenced To 7 Years In Jail
KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison Tuesday on charges of abuse of office in signing a gas deal with Russia, a verdict the European Union and the United States both condemned as politically motivated.
Tymoshenko, the driving force of the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution and now the nation's top opposition leader, denounced the trial as rigged by President Viktor Yanukovych to get rid of a political opponent.
The case has galvanized the opposition. A crowd of several dozen angry Tymoshenko supporters clashed following the verdict with helmeted riot policed who flooded the city center, but they were quickly pushed away and it was unclear if the protests would last.
Judge Rodion Kireyev declared Tymoshenko, 50, guilty of exceeding her authority as premier when she signed a natural gas imports contract with Russia in 2009. He also banned her from occupying government posts for three years after the completion of her prison term and fined her 1.5 billion hryvna ($190 million or euro140 million) for the damages her actions cost the state.
Tymoshenko, clad in a beige dress and wearing her trademark blond braid around her head, has called the trial a "lynching." She appeared unfazed by the verdict and began addressing reporters in the courtroom without waiting for Kireyev to finish reading the lengthy ruling.
She said Yanukovych wrote the verdict himself and compared it to the show trials and horrific purges by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
"The year 1937 has returned to Ukraine with this verdict and all the repression of citizens," she said. "As for me, be sure that I will not stop my fight even for a minute. I will always be with you as long as it is necessary."
"Nobody, not Yanukovych, not Kireyev, can humiliate my honest name. I have worked and will continue to work for Ukraine's sake," Tymoshenko told reporters earlier.
As Kireyev was leaving the courtroom, Tymoshenko's husband Oleksandr yelled out that the judge would someday get a similar verdict. One Tymoshenko supporter shouted "Shame!"
Tymoshenko was taken back to jail in a detention van right after the verdict was announced.
The EU was quick to condemn the verdict as politically driven and urged the Ukrainian authorities to ensure a transparent and fair appeals process for Tymoshenko. A failure to do so would have "profound implications" for Ukraine-EU relations and could jeopardize the conclusion of a landmark association agreement, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
That would be a major blow to Yanukovych who has lobbied for membership in the bloc.
The U.S. also expressed a deep disappointment about Tymoshenko's "politically motivated prosecution" and urged the Ukrainian authorities to release her and other opposition members.
"The charges against Mrs. Tymoshenko and the conduct of her trial, as well as the prosecution of other opposition leaders and members of the preceding government, have raised serious concerns about the government of Ukraine's commitment to democracy and rule of law," the White House said in a statement.
Amnesty International denounced Tymoshenko's conviction as "illegitimate," saying that her trial "casts doubt over the independence of the judiciary."
Tymoshenko said she would contest the ruling in the European Court of Human Rights and her lawyers said they would appeal the verdict in local courts.
Some analysts believe Tuesday's decision could still be reversed, giving Tymoshenko the chance to walk free and still take part in elections next year. That could be done either on appeal or by decriminalizing the article under which she is being charged – something lawmakers loyal to Yanukovych have hinted they could try to do.
"A compromise is still possible," said political analyst Oleksiy Haran. "She gets the guilty verdict and Yanukovych's sense of revenge is satisfied, but then she is released and allowed to stand in elections."
Yanukovych himself appeared to signal Tuesday that Tymoshenko's case was not over yet and hinted that new legislation, adopted by the time the case is heard by an appeals court, could be of great importance.
The trial has helped unite Ukraine' fractured opposition, but experts said the verdict was unlikely to draw the kinds of mass street protests seen during the Orange Revolution. As reforms stalled and economic hardships hit, many Ukrainians have become disillusioned with Orange leaders, including Tymoshenko, and with politics in general.
Tymoshenko helped lead the 2004 mass street protests against Yanukovych's election victory that year. Those demonstrations drew hudreds of thousands to Kiev's central square, the Maidan, setting the stage for the Supreme Court to overturn Yanukovych's victory and call for a revote, which Tymoshenko's ally, Viktor Yushchenko, won by a narrow margin.
Yanukovych staged a comeback, narrowly defeating Tymoshenko in a 2010 presidential vote amid the public disenchantment.
Valeriy Chaliy, a senior analyst with the Razumkov think tank, said that it was too early to make predictions on opposition protests, since Tymoshenko will be appealing the verdict.
"But the Maidan that took place in 2004 will not take place," Chaliy said. If protests do take place this time around, they will be smaller, but more aggressive, he added.
Tymoshenko maintains that as prime minister she did not need any special permission to order the signing of the gas deal. She says her actions helped end a bitter pricing dispute between Moscow and Kiev, which had led to energy supply shortages across Europe.
Yanukovych's government has insisted that the contract Tymoshenko signed should be renegotiated in favor of a lower price. Moscow has signaled it would only do so if Ukraine sacrifices a free-trade agreement with the EU in favor of a Moscow-led customs union.
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin insisted that the deal he struck with Tymoshenko conformed to both Russian and Ukrainian law. "I don't quite understand why she was sentenced to seven years," he said in televised comments during a visit to China.
Tymoshenko has been in jail for more than two months on charges of contempt of court. She spent several weeks in prison in 2001 on charges of document forgery and tax evasion, but the charges were later dropped.
Ukraine's former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko speaks to press in front of a court building in Kiev on on August 5, 2011, moments before she was arrested. A Kiev court placed former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko under arrest, amid her trial on charges of abuse of power while in office, an AFP correspondent reported.(Getty)
Supporters of Ukraine's former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko cheer and shout slogans in front of the Pechersk district court on August 8, 2011 in Kiev as Tymoshenko's return to trial today on charges of abuse of power over gas deals she signed with Russia in 2009. (Getty)
A supporter of detained Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko demonstrates with hundreds of people in Kiev on August 24, 2011, trying to march to the offices of President Viktor Yanukovych and defying a court ban to stage a tense protest on Independence Day. A Kiev court banned the day before the protest which is being held to mark the 20th anniversary of the Ukrainian parliament's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. (Getty)
A Ukrainian opposition lawmaker stands on September 6, 2011 next to a giant poster, featuring former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko with the slogan, reading: 'No political repression,' in the parliament while President Viktor Yanukovych addresses the floor during a ceremony marking the opening of a new parliament session in Kiev. Tymoshenko's supporters argue her ongoing trial on abuse of power charges and her arrest are part of a vendetta pursued by the Regions Party of Yanukovych against her faction. (Getty)
A huge poster placed by opposition lawmakers, featuring former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko with slogans, reading: 'No political repression' and 'Free Ukraine!' covers a part of the Ukrainian Parliament while President Viktor Yanukovych addresses the floor on September 6, 2011 during a ceremony marking the opening of a new parliament session in Kiev. (Getty Images)
Police officers block on September 27, 2011 supporters of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in front of the Pechersk district court in Kiev. Ukraine began final hearings on September 27 in the trial of Tymoshenko after a two-week suspension that saw Kiev come under renewed EU pressure to release the opposition leader and ex-premier. Tymoshenko's abuse of power trial has set the current leadership at odds with the European Union in the heat of crunch negotiations on Ukraine taking the first step towards European Union membership. (Getty)
Riot policemen block supporters of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in front of the Pechersk district court in Kiev on September 27, 2011. Ukrainian prosecutors today demanded a seven-year sentence for opposition leader and ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko in an abuse of power trial that has undermined Kiev's budding relations with the EU. (Getty )
An elderly woman, supporter of the former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko holds placards with her portraits during a protest in front of Pechersk district court in Kiev on September 28, 2011. (Getty )
A woman, supporter of former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko, shouts slogans before a line of police in front of Pechersk district court in Kiev on September 30, 2011. The court on Friday announced the judge will start reading the verdict on Tymoshenko's case from October 11. (Getty)
A protester forms a heart shape with his hands as he demonstrates his support for Yulia Tymoshenko outside the court where she is being tried, after breaking a police cordon, in Kiev, on September 30, 2011. (Getty)
A police vehicle supposedly carrying Ukraine's former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko leaves the Pechersk district court in Kiev on September 30, 2011. (Getty)
Supporters of the former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko shout slogans in front of Pechersk district court in Kiev on September 30, 2011. (Getty)
Supporters of the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko breal a police line in front of Pechersk district court in Kiev on November 11, 2011. (Getty )
Ukraine's former Yulia Tymoshenko (L), her daughter Yevgenia and husband Alexander react after Judge Rodion Kireyev of the Kiev Pechersky court rendered his verdict on her case on October 11, 2011. Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in jail for abusing her powers in a 2009 gas deal with Russia, a verdict that is set to harm ties with the European Union. Kireyev said the 10-year contract for gas imports from Russia had sustained heavy losses for Ukraine and ruled that her actions were criminal. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Riot policemen block supporters of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (appearing on a poster) in front of Pechersk district court in Kiev on October 11, 2011.(Getty)
Lawyer Mykola Siryi (L) looks at his client Yulia Tymoshenko in court in Kiev on October 11, 2011. A Ukrainian judge on Tuesday sentenced former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in jail for abusing her powers in a 2009 gas deal with Russia, a verdict that is set to harm ties with the European Union. Amid emotional scenes in the packed court, judge Rodion Kireyev said the 10 year contract for gas imports from Russia had sustained heavy losses for Ukraine and ruled that her actions were criminal. (Getty)
Ukraine's former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko listens as Judge Rodion Kireyev of the Kiev Pechersky court reads his verdict on her case on October 11, 2011. (Getty)
Policemen escort Ukraine's former Yulia Tymoshenko out of the court after Judge Rodion Kireyev of the Kiev Pechersky court rendered his verdict on her case on October 11, 2011. (Getty)
Ukraine's former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (L), her daughter Yevgenia and husband Alexander react after Judge Rodion Kireyev of the Kiev Pechersky court rendered his verdict on her case on October 11, 2011. (Getty)
Special police hold back the crowd of journalists trying to go to Kiev Pechersky court to cover Yulia Tymoshenko verdict reading in Kiev on October 11, 2011. (Getty Images)
Pro-Yulia Tymoshenko protesters demonstrate their support as they sit and shout slogans outside the court. (Getty)
Supporters of the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko break a police line in front of Pechersk district court in Kiev on October 11, 2011. (Getty Images)