Putin says bewildered by Tymoshenko verdict

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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said he was bewildered by the seven-year sentence handed to his former Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko.

The Russian leader spoke in Beijing after a Ukrainian judge earlier in the day sentenced Tymoshenko to seven years in jail for abusing her powers in a gas deal with him in 2009.

"I do not completely understand why she has been given these seven years," Russian news agencies quoted Putin as saying on a visit to Beijing.

The fiery opposition leader was convicted for exceeding her authority while signing a 2009 deal with Putin to end a price dispute that led to a three-week disruption of supplies to Ukraine and some EU states.

A Ukrainian judge said Tymoshenko sustained a loss to state gas firm Naftogaz of 1.5 billion hryvnia ($190 million) by agreeing the 10 year contract at terms overly advantageous to Moscow and ordered her to pay back the money in full herself.

Putin said it was "dangerous and counterproductive to question this set of agreements."

The Russian prime minister, who developed a good rapport with Tymoshenko in her years as prime minister, sought to shield himself from possible criticism, saying he viewed her as a "political opponent" rather than a friend.

"She has always been a pro-Western person in politics," he was quoted as saying.

Putin is in China on his first foreign visit since announcing his plan last month to seek a third mandate in March presidential polls.

© 2011 AFP

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