A few weeks ago, rumors emerged in Kyiv that the decision on Tymoshenko’s case had been decided in advance by President Viktor Yanukovych himself, and that the court had only to rubber-stamp the maximum prison term for his arch-rival. Even though Yanukovych defeated her narrowly last year in the presidential election, Tymoshenko still is the leader of the opposition and his main challenger. Whether the rumors were based on accurate information leaked from the president’s office or merely a gloomy intuition of Tymoshenko’s supporters, optimists had some reason to expect that the Western criticism of the kangaroo process would not be completely ignored by the Ukrainian authorities. The president who boasts of his “pragmatism” would surely not put at risk the entire project of Ukraine’s European integration for the dubious purpose of personal vengeance.
The additional three-year ban on taking a public office imposed by the court on Yulia Tymoshenko, suggests that the main driving force behind Yanukovych’s decision was not only vengeance but also fear. Tymoshenko is believed to be not merely the strongest challenger for the incumbent regime but also its real nemesis who would not hesitate to pay them in kind, and would likely do so on much stronger legal grounds. Now, through the court ruling, she is effectively excluded from both the 2015 presidential election with Mr. Yanukovych and the 2020 competition with his likely handpicked successor.
The court decision, announced on 11 October, provoked a storm of protest in Western capitals, especially in the European Union. The EU leaders, indeed, placed high stakes on pending negotiations about the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) and Association Agreements with Ukraine and expected to finalize them by the end of the year. On many occasions, they warned Kyiv that they would hardly be able to maintain close relations with a country that applies selective justice against the leaders of the political opposition and criminalizes legitimate decisions of the previous government. That the warnings have been ignored has filled the Westerners with sheer indignation. Leaving diplomatic courtesy aside, they state clearly now that no Association agreement, with DCFTA as part of it can be signed until Ukraine proves its full commitment to European values.