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You're reading: Yanukovych playing a dangerous game

By convicting and imprisoning former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, President Viktor Yanukovych has succeeded in doing what few politicians ever achieve. He has united Europe, the U.S. and even Russia in condemnation of a Soviet-style show trial, which saw the heroine of the Orange Revolution convicted for taking a courageous political decision to end a damaging gas dispute in the winter of 2009 – a dispute which saw gas supplies cut to European households and Ukraine’s gas pipeline network come close to collapse.

This politically motivated gamble to get rid of his main political opponent ahead of parliamentary elections next year and presidential elections in 2015 backfired spectacularly. In upsetting the international community, the president also united a previously fractured opposition, cast himself as a dictator and revived the fortunes of his main political rival. Keeping Tymoshenko in prison is simply not an option. Inside her cell her voice will merely get louder. Unwittingly he is forging a strong symbol for freedom and democracy – an eastern European Aung San Suu Kyi.

Of course, the case is underpinned by geopolitics. At stake is the very direction of this nation of 46 million people. Russia wants Ukraine to join its customs union with former Soviet republics, Belarus and Kazakhstan. This would mean abandoning negotiations with the EU on an association agreement encompassing a wide-ranging free trade accord. The talks are due to be concluded in December.

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