Russia, West slam Ukraine over Tymoshenko jailing
Ukraine on Wednesday attempted to contain the damage caused to its image and diplomatic ties after both the West and Russia angrily condemned the jailing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
A Kiev court on Tuesday jailed Tymoshenko for the full seven years demanded by prosecutors, prompting allegations that President Viktor Yanukovych was resorting to Stalinist methods to deal with opponents.
The jailing of Tymoshenko for abusing her powers in a gas deal signed with Russia in 2009 -- an offence that would not have even come to a criminal court in Europe -- has also endangered Ukraine's hopes of EU integration.
Yanukovych emphasised the court's decision was not final and a leading figure in his Regions Party hinted that possible law changes to decriminalise the articles under which Tymoshenko was condemned could resolve the crisis.
"It is possible that what has happened will give a push to accelerate reforms of Ukraine's entire security system," top Yanukovych advisor Anna German told Channel 5 in an interview.
Apparently acknowledging that the verdict risks having grave consequences for Ukraine, she said: "We need to take lessons from what has happened and reform our laws so that similar situations are not so painful for Ukraine."
Pro-Tymoshenko MPs in the Ukrainian parliament have said they will next week put forward a proposal to decriminalise the article in the criminal code when it resumes sitting next week
The Regions Party of Yanukovych, which holds the majority in the Verkhovna Rada, has said that it could also support such a move, although it has yet to make any concrete decision. Yanukovych is due to visit Brussels on October 20.
Tymoshenko was also ordered to repay the full 1.5 billion hryvnia ($189 million) financial losses she was judged to have caused state gas company Naftogaz in the 2009 deal to import gas from Russia.
Energy Minister Yuriy Boiko said Wedneday that the court decision would be implemented and the funds used to buy natural gas for Ukraine, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported.
The dramatic jailing of Tymoshenko earned condemnation not only from the West and the European Union but also Russia, leaving Kiev in a state of diplomatic isolation.
"Getting such a reaction from the world really must have required some work," said Vitaly Portnikov, editor-in-chief of the TVi channel, writing for the online newspaper Levy Bereg.
"By quarrelling at the same time with Moscow, Brussels and Washington, angering Warsaw and infuriating Berlin, Ukraine has become a unique state on the map of Europe," he wrote.
Online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda poured scorn on the attempts by Yanukovych to minimise the impact of the verdict.
"It only accelerates the process in which the Ukrainian president is moving towards the status of a second European Lukashenko," it wrote, referring to the autocratic ruler of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko.
Ukraine had hoped to sign an association agreement with the European Union this year, a first step towards membership.
But EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton warned that a full reassessment of the EU's ties with Kiev could be needed. "The EU is deeply disappointed with the verdict. The EU will reflect on its policies towards Ukraine," she said.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington was "deeply disappointed" by the decision to jail Tymoshenko. The verdict raised "serious concern" over Ukraine's commitment to democracy, she added.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who oversaw the signing of the 2009 gas deal, said he did not "completely understand why she has been given these seven years."
© 2011 AFP