Image via WikipediaThe political trial of Yulia Tymoshenko is over but an appeal could change everything. By bringing her to trial for negotiating a generous (from Moscow’s point of view) gas deal while Eastern Europe was freezing in and of itself revealed the motive behind the persecution. Seven other members of her party are already in jail. It stincks of a political murder. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck – well….
The question, like everything in Ukraine, is the underlying reason for this mock trial run by a neophyte, 31 year old judge whose sentence was written for him by the Presidential Administration. It has resurrected Tymoshenko politically, rather than the opposite. It has put Yanukovich in the worst possible light as his government is condemned by the EU and the US. Russia, which appeared equally surprised, may be play-acting as putting political opponents in jail is the norm for the Kremlin (journalists are merely murdered). And this may be key – Russia’s interest in the case as crocodile tears’ come to mind.
Does Yanukovich really care about deeper integration with Europe? Personally, I doubt it. Will he agree to join the economic union Russia has slapped together with Belarus and Kazakhstan? Perhaps – but that is no substitute for the loss of a trade agreement with the EU, despite the Kremlin’s glee should it come to pass.
I prefer not to think that Yanukovich is both stupid and a thug. The latter maybe, but not the former – at least until now. On the other hand, collapse of trade negotiations with the EU gives him the excuse to run to Russia without being the instigator of the break with the EU. But with Putin set to return to power, criticism from the big brother to the north is not a welcome sign for Yanukovich.As always, nothing is clear in Ukraine and conspiracy theories are a daily menu item. But this prosecution and conviction appear to be a gross misjudgment if the purpose was to remove Yulia from the political arena. It has made her a martyr and, since she has been through this before, even more dangerous for Yanukovich and his Party of the Regions.
The stage is set for what could be a remarkable comeback. First there is a sentence pronounced by a non-entity child judge under pressure by her political opponent Yanukovich for the “crime” of negotiating a bad deal with the Russians. Putin remarked that the sentence is odd at best and the agreements were, in any event legal. Then she is jailed during the appeal process because of, essentially, being rude to the court (not hard considering the court). This is followed by the loss of a major trade agreement with the EU and condemnation from every European leader and principal EU legal experts. Yanukovich has given her what she needs. She lost to him by less than 3% of the vote in 2010. He clearly did not want her, or her party, another grab at the ring. But, tired old apparatchik bully from the East that he is, he could not let her just fade away.
Call it a gut feeling, but I believe the appeal is likely to go her way. If that happens (and even Yanukovich appears to think it may) she will come out of this unscathed and emboldened. She is a ferocious, dangerous competitor and Yanukovich may soon regret his actions.