Ukraine's trial of Yulia Tymoshenko backfires
Unkrainian President Viktor Yanukovych appears to have miscalculated the political consequences of bringing a corruption case against his rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
The fiery heroine of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko, is fighting for her political life in a Kiev courtroom against charges of corruption and abuse of office while she was the country's prime minister in 2009.Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Tymoshenko's trial began in late June, but on Friday the judge, infuriated by her repeated displays of defiance, had her arrested and imprisoned for the Ukrainian equivalent of "contempt of court." On Monday the court rejected her lawyers' appeal to have her released from jail.
But President Viktor Yanukovych, who narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in presidential polls last year and may have seen the corruption trial as means of finally burying a perennial opponent, appears to have miscalculated badly.
Tymoshenko's supporters have rallied to her defense, both the US and the European Union have expressed deep concern over what they suspect to be a "politically motivated" trial. Even Russia is growling angrily about Mr. Yanukovych's decision to make the centerpiece of the case a controversial 2009 gas agreement that Tymoshenko signed with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
"Yanukovych's decision to put Tymoshenko on trial looks increasingly irrational," says Sergei Strokan, a foreign affairs columnist with the Moscow business daily Kommersant. "By putting a defeated opponent in the dock, he granted her a whole new political lease on life.
"And by indirectly implicating top Russian leaders in the case, especially Vladimir Putin, Yanukovych has aroused the anger of the Kremlin," he adds. "That gas deal was Putin's brainchild, and calling it into question puts his personal prestige and credibility on the line."
Boon for Tymoshenko
Tymoshenko, whose political popularity had been flagging since she was forced out of her job as prime minister last year, has been thrust back into the public eye and handed a role that she has honed to perfection in the past: that of a true daughter of Ukraine, persecuted for her patriotism by pro-Russian leaders.
With hundreds of supporters rallying outside the court house and camping in a nearby park, Tymoshenko has used her court appearances to accuse Yanukovych of selling out on Ukrainian independence and installing a pro-Russian dictatorship in the country. After her arrest Friday she posted a defiant statement on her official website insisting that she is a "political prisoner."