US Denounces Ukraine’s Sentencing of Tymoshenko as ‘Politically Motivated’

Posted October 11th, 2011 at 1:50 pm (UTC-5)
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The United States says it is “deeply disappointed” in the conviction and sentencing of Ukraine's former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko on charges of abuse of office, calling the case “politically motivated.”

In a statement Tuesday, the White House said Ms. Tymoshenko's trial has raised concerns about Kyiv's commitment to democracy and rule of law, and called for her release.

Earlier, Russia criticized Ukraine for sentencing the former prime minister to seven years in prison for abusing power in relation to a gas deal she brokered between the two neighbors in 2009.

Ukrainian Judge Rodion Kireyev on Tuesday said Ms. Tymoshenko, now an opposition leader, exceeded her authority in signing the gas deal, which the current government blames for a budget loss of almost $200 million.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said it sees a clear “anti-Russian subtext” to the sentencing of Ms. Tymoshenko in the Kyiv court. It reiterated Moscow's position that the 2009 gas agreements she signed were in “strict accordance” with the laws of Russia and Ukraine.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who oversaw the signing of the 2009 deal, told reporters he does not completely understand the verdict. He said it is “dangerous and counterproductive” to question the agreements.

Ms. Tymoshenko's lawyers say they will appeal the verdict. She has repeatedly denied the charges and described her trial as “a political lynching,” aimed at allowing Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to rid himself of a political rival.

A spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the Tymoshenko trial did not respect international standards and could have profound implications for Ukraine's ties with the 27-nation bloc.

President Yanukovych said Tuesday Ms. Tymoshenko's case will proceed to a court of appeal. He also suggested the appeal court may consider her case under a different set of laws. Critics have called on the Ukrainian government to decriminalize the abuse-of-power offense for which the former prime minister was convicted.

Thousands of Ms. Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party supporters protested the sentencing outside the main courthouse in Kyiv. Police arrested several of them for trying to block a road.

Ms. Tymoshenko was expected to be the main opposition candidate in a parliamentary election next year, but she is not eligible to run if the conviction is upheld.

She is one of about 400 officials under investigation for crimes allegedly committed while in office. Critics have noted that the only cases to come to trial involve political opposition figures.

Ms. Tymoshenko rose to fame in 2004 as a leader of Ukraine's “Orange Revolution” street protests, which forced the Supreme Court to toss out the results of a disputed election won by Mr. Yanukovych.