A court in Kiev sentenced the country’s most prominent opposition politician, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, to seven years in prison. European leaders have condemned the case as politically motivated, and hinted that they are unlikely to ratify a free trade and association agreement with Ukraine, a project four years in the making.
“This is an authoritarian regime,” she said. “Against the background of European rhetoric, Yanukovich is taking Ukraine farther from Europe by launching such political trials.” As bailiffs led her from the courtroom, Ms. Tymoshenko turned in the doorway to wave goodbye, a small figure in a white coat and helmet of blond braids.
But international legal experts saythat she seems to have been performing a routine administrative function for which she might conceivably be disciplined, if the government was displeased with her performance, but not charged with a crime.
With Ms. Tymoshenko’s trial at an end, European governments will have to decide whether to make good on their warnings that imprisoning her will freeze efforts to integrate with Ukraine politically and economically. On one hand, Mr. Yanukovich has defied intense diplomatic pressure from Western partners, crossing what one analyst called “the reddest of red lines.”
On the other hand, Ukraine has been under pressure from Russia to join its own economic bloc, along with Kazakhstan and Belarus. Even compared to the other former Soviet nations, Ukraine — with a population of 46 million, about the size of France — seems to waver between Europe and Russia, so that isolating it from the West could have profound consequences.
Mr. Yanukovich has made integrating with Europe a central goal, and he is likely to head off catastrophic damage by softening Ms. Tymoshenko’s conviction swiftly. One route to this would be decriminalizing the article under which she was convicted. In that event, her name will be cleared and she will be able to run in parliamentary elections in 2012, said Serhiy Vlasenko, one of her lawyers. This could occur as soon as next week, so that Mr. Yanukovich would be welcome at European Union talks in Brussels scheduled for October 20.
He suggested as much on Tuesday, when he told journalists, “This is not a final decision.”
Tonight there is a demonstration in front of the Ukrainian Consulate in Toronto at 6:30PM: 2275 Lakeshore Blvd West.