The lengthy and controversial trial of Julia Tymoshenko was brought to a close in Kiev yesterday, with Ukraine's former Prime Minister jailed for seven years.
Ms Tymoshenko, one of the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution, was found guilty of exceeding her authority as Prime Minister when she signed a gas deal in 2009 with Russia. The case has been derided in Ukraine and internationally as politically motivated.
She was also ordered to pay a huge fine of around £120m to compensate the state gas company for funds lost as a result of the deal. Her supporters insist that the case was trumped up by President Viktor Yanukovych and designed to remove his charismatic opponent from the political arena before parliamentary elections next year.
Judge Rodion Kireyev delivered the sentence after a two-hour summing-up of the case. Ms Tymoshenko, who was flanked in the small courtroom by her daughter and husband, interrupted him several times. Within a few minutes of the case ending, she was driven away from the court in a police van. Thousands of her supporters had gathered to protest outside and there were a number of minor scuffles as they clashed with riot police.
"The verdict was decided on by President Yanukovych, not Judge Kireyev," Ms Tymoshenko told reporters in the courtroom during a recess, before the final verdict was read out. "What the verdict will be, how many years I get – that depends on the level of Yanukovych's immorality and on how much they want to trample on the law."
Ms Tymoshenko has always denied the charges. "Nobody, not Yanukovych and not Kireyev, can humiliate my honest name," she said. "I have worked and will continue to work for Ukraine's sake."
Western diplomats in Ukraine are privately sceptical about Ms Tymoshenko's claims to be a pure democratic crusader, but have nevertheless condemned the trial as politically motivated and based on absurd charges.
International condemnation of the sentencing was swift. "This will endanger the entire relationship," wrote Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt on Twitter. Mr Bildt was part of an EU delegation that met Mr Yanukovych last month and told him that if Ms Tymoshenko was sent to prison, Ukraine could forget about a new partnership agreement with the European bloc.
Mr Yanukovych came to power with a reputation as a pro-Moscow leader, but the relationship between the two countries has soured during his presidency. The Russian foreign ministry said yesterday that there was an "obvious anti-Russian subtext" to the trial, given that it cast doubt on the gas agreement that Ms Tymoshenko had signed with Moscow, which is still in force. Russia's Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, described the verdict as "dangerous and counterproductive".
Mr Yanukovych has denied ordering the court case and hinted that he may be considering changing the law to find a way out of the international embarrassment that the case has caused him.Reuse content