Already, the opposition faces numerous challenges; it has not yet recovered from its losses in the presidential and local elections, it lacks unity on important issues, and it is beset by infighting over who should assume its leadership. A conviction of Tymoshenko and others could change Ukraine’s political landscape for good. Ultimately, though, what is most important is that this situation reveals the fragility of Ukraine’s democracy and the weakness of rule of law in the country.
Some external observers have compared the situation in Ukraine with that of Belarus, or even Russia, where opposition figures are imprisoned or otherwise excluded from the political process in ways the West finds unacceptable. These comparisons, however, are questionable. Ukraine has been following its own path over the past twenty years. To understand how the situation in Ukraine may evolve, it is worth examining recent developments and their potential impact on the country’s development and foreign affairs.
For Tymoshenko, losing the presidential elections last year marked the beginning of the end of her political career. Unwilling to accept the results, she proved ineffective in opposition. She and her allies failed to stop an overhaul of the country’s constitution or the opposition’s loss of rights in parliament. They also proved incapable of contesting the government’s actions in several policy areas, notably failing to prevent the extension of Russia’s lease on its Black Sea fleet base in Crimea. In short, Tymoshenko was heading for early political retirement.