Tymoshenko trial marks end of Orange Revolution
Seven years after the dawn of Ukraine's ill-fated "Orange Revolution", the woman who once served as its face and voice, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, goes to court to face charges of abuse of power.
Little is left of the enormous hopes raised seven years ago by Ukraine’s pro-democracy "Orange Revolution". Yulia Tymoshenko, a leading figure of the political coalition that helped topple the pro-Russian government in 2004, goes to court Monday to face charges of abuse of power. She says her sentence has been pre-arranged.
A former prime minister and presidential runner-up, Tymoshenko faces a possible 10-year jail term. "Everything that is happening is political revenge," she argued at Wednesday’s preliminary hearing.
She later referred to the court as the “annex of the presidential administration”. At 50, the blond and braided firebrand has lost none of the animosity she displayed over the years against her main rival, current President Viktor Yanukovych.
On Thursday, she told supporters via the Internet that Yanukovych had called a meeting in his office with the head of the court, Inna Otrosh, during which they and others “were agreeing on my sentence."
'Undermine the opposition'
Tymoshenko is accused of abusing her power in the negotiation of a gas contract with Russia when she served as prime minister in 2009. Prosecutors say the contract cost Ukraine an unnecessary 1.5 billion hryvnias (130 million euros), in addition to provoking a serious dispute with the country's powerful neighbour.
Tymoshenko’s camp has denied all charges, saying there is no evidence to back the allegations.
Alexandra Goujon, a Ukraine expert and professor at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris, says the charges brought against Yulia Tymoshenko are "very questionable".
"It is clear that this trial is mostly political. The goal is to harm the old leaders of the Orange Revolution and undermine the opposition," Professor Goujon told FRANCE 24 in a telephone interview.
Both the United States and the European Union have also expressed reservations about the trial.
The troubling case of Yuri Lutsenko
Doubts over the independence of Ukraine’s judiciary have been heightened by a separate trial involving another former influential member of the Orange Revolution – Yuri Lutsenko.
Lutsenko, a former interior minister, was arrested in December 2010 on charges of abuse of power and is being held in prison pending sentencing.
State lawyers have accused Lutsenko of inappropriately granting his driver 4,000 euros as a retirement bonus. Lutsenko says the criminal case against him is simply a matter of political persecution. His lawyers insist the trial is designed to keep Lutsenko out of the parliamentary elections due next year.
With just over a year to go ahead of elections, the ruling party is struggling with approval ratings. A study published in June by the Institute Gorchenin, a Kiev-based research group, said President Viktor Yanukovych’ Party of Regions (PR) would only fetch 11% of the vote if the elections were to take place this year.
If President Viktor Yanukovych is intent on extinguishing the political opposition, a guilty verdict for Yulia Tymoshenko would present him with a great symbolic victory.
It would also sound the death knell of the Orange Revolution. Today, the movement is all but extinct, largely because its leaders – Tymoshenko and her one-time ally, former president Viktor Yushchenko, – were not able to deliver on their promises.
Yushchenko's presidency “deeply disappointed Ukrainians”, said Professor Goujon. “Numerous political crises marked his tenure, he failed to curb corruption, and all his promises of reform proved empty.”
The 2008 economic crisis hit Ukraine hard and sank Yushchenko’s dwindling popularity. The former president picked up a mere 6% of votes cast in the first round of last year's presidential election.
The failure of the Orange Revolution has not only affected the movement's fallen leaders. "The wave of freedom that swept through the country in 2004 has run out of force," said Goujon, for whom journalists are also feeling the sting of government attacks.
But the Paris-based academic is hopeful the media will not be silenced. "Ukrainians are now used to some freedom of expression, so it will be very difficult to go back," she said. "This is one of the few achievements of the Orange Revolution that still stand."