Yulia Tymoshenko, former Ukraine Prime Minister, waves from a prison window in November of 2011. She has since been moved to a remote prison camp.
Ukraine has had a rather wild political life over the past decade. A sea change election in 2004 saw the pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych nearly steal the vote from the pro-European candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Yushchenko himself was a victim of dioxin poisoning during the campaign – a murky incident that points in the general direction of former Ukrainian security service deputy chief Volodymyr Satsyuk (who today lives safely in Russia).
As domestic and foreign election observers began to release information on voter fraud, up to a million people turned out to occupy the center of the capital Kiev until runoff elections were announced. Yushchenko won the re-vote, but his political career didn’t get much better. Peaking in popularity within six months of his election, Yushchenko would go on to see an approval rating only the U.S. Congress can be familiar with – the single digits, with disapproval in the mid 70′s by mid-2008 and continuing through the remainder of his term.
One of Yushchenko’s fellow Orange Revolutionaries, Yulia Tymoshenko, became Prime Minister under Yushchenko. The honeymoon did not last very long though as Tymoshenko’s government was dismissed by Yushchenko, and Tymoshenko was thrown under the bus for perceived economic weakness & instability in the ruling coalition. Tymoshenko would return to the post in 2007 behind a new coalition, and would wind up outlasting her former ally Yushchenko in a 2010 Presidential election – an election that saw the narrow victory of the still pro-Russian Yanukovych, six years after his 2004 defeat.
Tymoshenko went on the offensive against Yanukovych and his administration, becoming an outspoken thorn in his side as an opposition leader. Her bloc would boycott Yanukovych’s inauguration ceremony, and raise a rather loud stink about Ukraine’s securing of a treaty with Russia where they would lease naval bases to Russia in exchange for a guaranteed supply of natural gas. Weeks after this deal, Ukraine authorities reopened a case against Tymoshenko that was shut by the country’s supreme court in 2005 – alleging that Tymoshenko had tried to bribe supreme court judges. From here charges would morph until their ironic outcome: Tymoshenko was tried and found guilty in October of 2011 for signing a natural gas deal with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that was deemed to be “abuse of power”. This deal cut out a middle-man company in Ukraine, allowing the country to work directly with Russia – but it was deemed illegal by Yanukovych’s government, whereas Yanukovych’s deal involved the stationing of Russian military forces on Ukrainian soil.
Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison and ordered to pay $188 million to the state. While in prison in December she was arrested again on a tax evasion suspicion. She was placed on indefinite arrest and was moved on December 30th to a remote prison camp:
“Tymoshenko has been moved to a prison in the Kharkiv region,” the state penitentiary service said in a statement.
The European Union, which had planned to initial agreements on political association and free trade with Ukraine at a summit this month, put off the signing and cited Tymoshenko’s case as an example of selective justice in the former Soviet republic.
Yanukovich has refused to intervene and the parliament, dominated by his supporters, has turned down several proposals to remove her alleged offence from the criminal code.
Tymoshenko’s lawyers say she hopes that the European Court for Human Rights, where she has filed a case against Ukraine, will exonerate her. The court said this month it would fast-track the case.
International reaction has been harsh, with even Russia surprised by the severity of the sentence. Amnesty International has called for her release.