The Tymoshenko Case: Don’t confuse the People and the Government

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of PLC.

While Yulia Tymoshenko's imprisonment is politically motivated and a sign of a failing justice system, the West should not punish the Ukrainian people for the actions President Viktor Yanukovich, argues Viktor Tkachuck.  

Viktor Tkachuk is the director-general of the Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy 'People First'. He has over 20 years of experience working in governmental bodies at the highest levels including the administrations of three presidents since Ukraine's independence.

"Urging the Ukrainian president to ensure the rule of law in Ukraine, the West focused its attention on Tymoshenko's case one-dimensionally. Consequently, Ukraine's presidential administration got the wrong idea that the process against the opposition politician is the only obstacle on the Ukraine's way to the signing of an Association Agreement with the EU.

In response to the West's appeal to release Tymoshenko and allow her to run in parliamentary elections, the Ukrainian government has started a second criminal case against the former prime minister. By this gesture the presidential administration tries to convince the world community of the idea that Tymoshenko is a criminal who does not deserve political support.

However, the West itself knows Tymoshenko's true worth. This is, in particular, convincingly evidenced by Matthew Kaminski's article 'The Rise and Fall of Yulia Tymoshenko' in The Wall Street Journal. Yanukovich, obviously, has appeared unwilling to understand that, firstly, it is all about principle.

By the specific resonant example of Tymoshenko's case, Europe and the USA only gave him a chance to demonstrate his readiness to improve a general situation with regard to the observance of human rights and democratic standards in Ukraine.

Yanukovich's thirst for personal and political revenge and his aspirations to provide himself the most comfortable conditions for his time in office can put the brakes on the process of Ukraine approaching Europe for an uncertain period.

Ordinary people have a different position. Despite the fact that the majority of Ukrainians (46%) considered Tymoshenko to be rather guilty of the alleged crimes (against 34% thinking the opposite), her imprisonment was supported only by 24% of Ukrainians. The majority of those polled considered that the criminal case against the former prime minister should be stopped (42%) or that the sentence should be mitigated (11%).

Some people simply humanly sympathised with her, others were ashamed of their country which once again had disgraced itself in the eyes of the world, and others clearly realised how fatal can be the consequences of Tymoshenko's case for the dialogue between Ukraine and Europe.
Let us add that 54% of those polled were sure that the case against the former prime minister was a politically-motivated prosecution of opponents by the government.

No objections can be made to the statement of the High Representative Catherine Ashton who says that in Ukraine justice is being applied selectively in politically motivated prosecutions of the leaders of the opposition and members of the former government.

Thus, Europe should choose such a formula of relations with Ukraine which would foresee "cutting Ukrainian officials down to size" without betraying the European aspirations of ordinary citizens. EU leaders have refused to communicate with Yanukovich.

We hope they will be consistent in their adherence to principles and be able to differentiate cynicism of the government from aspirations of the people and thus sign an association agreement."