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Yulia Tymoshenko sentence may push Ukraine away from EU, toward Russia

Yulia Tymoshenko, the Ukrainian opposition leader, was sentenced to seven years in prison for 'criminal abuse' during her term as prime minister, though critics say the trial was politically motivated.

By Correspondent / October 11, 2011

Riot police stand guard near a board, displaying a portrait of Ukrainian former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and reading 'The 68th day,' during a rally near the Pecherskiy district court in Kiev on Tuesday.

Alexandr Kosarev/Reuters

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Moscow

In a verdict that could ruin Ukraine's hopes of integration with Europe and instead drag it back into Russia's orbit, a Kiev court today handed down a harsh seven-year prison sentence against the country's main opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, for "criminal abuse" during her former tenure as prime minister.

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Ms. Tymoshenko, a fiery Ukrainian nationalist who was narrowly defeated in presidential elections last year by pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych, has been on trial since June on charges that she exceeded her powers and betrayed the interests of her country by signing a disadvantageous gas deal with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin two years ago.

Judge Rodion Kireyev told a hushed Kiev courtroom Tuesday that former Prime Minister Tymoshenko "used her official powers to criminal ends and, acting consciously, committed actions which clearly exceeded her rights and powers which had heavy consequences."

Mr. Kireyev said Tymoshenko's bad bargain caused a loss of $190 million to the state gas firm Naftohaz, and that she had allowed an unfair price for Russian gas to be locked in for a period of ten years, the duration of the contract.

Analysts say the draconian seven-year prison sentence meted out to Tymoshenko will galvanize internal opponents of Mr. Yanukovych's increasingly authoritarian regime, wreck Ukraine's chances of signing a nearly-negotiated free trade agreement with European Union, and leave it little choice but to drift into a Moscow-led customs union, which will permanently link its economy with those of Belarus, Russia, and Kazakhstan.

About 2,000 Tymoshenko supporters demonstrated outside the court while the verdict was being read, and thousands of special riot police of the elite Berkut special operations unit were reportedly being bussed into central Kiev in anticipation of wider protests.

"This trial has greatly worsened the situation in internal Ukrainian politics, because the authorities simply did not understand what the consequences would be," says Pavel Movchan, a deputy of the Supreme Rada (parliament) with Tymoshenko's BYuT party. "There will be waves of protest."

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