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Yulia Timoshenko: a dangerous woman in danger

Sergey Strokan is a journalist, essayist and a poet.

Published time: August 09, 2011 09:14

Ukrainian opposition leader Julia Timoshenko, who has been charged with abuse of authority by signing a gas price deal with Russia while she was prime minister, was put behind bars just days before Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich’s scheduled visit to Russia this Thursday, where he will meet with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in Sochi.

While the two events are seemingly disconnected, the very nature of the accusations against Ms. Timoshenko, known in Ukraine as the “Gas Princess”, casts an unwanted shadow over Russian-Ukrainian relations, which has seen its ups and downs in recent years, passing through the “dark age” of President Yuschenko and the Ukrainian Orange revolution to the present time of President Yanukovich, who is calling relations with Russia one of his top priorities.

It is not surprising then, that while commenting on Yulia Timoshenko’s detention, Russia’ s Foreign Ministry reminded its Ukrainian partners in a recent statement that “all the bilateral agreements of 2009 were signed in full compliance with the national legislation of the two states as well as with international law”. Moreover, Russia’s well-informed “Kommersant” daily quoted a Kremlin source as saying that Yulia Timoshenko’s arrest “would hardly have a positive outcome for President Yanukovich”.

However, “Kommersant”’ssource in the Ukrainian government was quick to explain Russia’s Foreign Ministry statement, which is viewed by many in Kiev as somehow unexpectedly backing Yulia Timoshenko, asMoscow’s reluctance to pave the way for a reconsideration of thegas deal of 2009, which present Ukrainian authorities stubbornly call “unfair”.

But what do they mean in Kiev when they say “unfair”? Ukrainian officials claim Ms. Timoshenko caused the country to lose nearly $200 million when she signed a gas deal with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin after a gas dispute with Russia in early 2009. Meanwhile, amid unprecedentedinternational uproar over the arrest of a charismatic Ukrainian political figure, with hertrademark peasant-stylebraid who is constantly included among the most influential women in the world, the Ukrainian opposition insists Yulia Timoshenko has become the victim of a political vendetta on the part of her long-time arch-foe,President Yanukovich, who wants to put her in jail in order to sideline her from big politics well before parliamentary and presidential elections are set to take place.

No doubt, President Yanukovich remembers that Timoshenko narrowly lost to him in last year’s presidential elections. He knows her to be a ferocious enemy with a well deserved reputation as a political fury, a firebrand, the type that never takes “no” for an answer. So, the Ukrainian opposition may have a point – Yanukovich, or his allies and supporters at least, do have a reason to keep the lady from participating in politics.

Well, the whole scenario surrounding recent events in Kiev gives one an overwhelming sense of déjà vue; déjà vue on multiple levels. In fact, it is a universal scenario: a dethroned leader is accused over something which nobody opposed while said leader was in office. And the list of charges is standard:the abuse of power, embezzlement of state funds, corruption. The former leader denies everything, declaring the accusations to be false and politically motivated. Then Western leaders and human rights watchers express their concern, though this hardly changes anything…

The way I see it, the current political situation in Ukraine looks like the Brownian movement we all remember from our physics textbooks. Much depends on chance and momentary political expediency. Depending on the interests of regional political and business elites, the strangest political alliances are formed and broken up as bizarre decisions are taken in what often looks as a chaotic game with no rules. This has been the case on more than one occasion over the last five years, and regrettably this is how things look now.

However, there is an overriding factor in all of this. What is alarming to me is that the trump card in the Ukrainian political game is Russia. The key words here are “gas” and “Russia” and what they produce is “déjà vue” of course. In fact, this game started way back in the time of President Kuchma, when Yulia Timoshenko’s star was already rising. Ms Timoshenko has been known in Ukraine as the Gas Princess since the late 1990s. She was the owner of a company that traded in Russian gas. By that time there were already nasty rumors circulating in Kiev about stolen gas and dodged taxes, and she was also put in jail for a short period, only to be released as she helped lead the Orange revolution with Victor Yuschenko. Ironically, the leader of a popular movement in defense of the downtrodden and dispossessed became the richest woman in the whole of the 50-million Ukrainian nation.

In the meantime, as it turns out year after year, a politician in Ukraine primarily has to take a stand vis-à-vis Russia; this will be his declaration of intent on which a politician is to be judged by the electorate. And Ukrainian leaders are used to making dramatic turnarounds in their stance on relations with Russia depending on which electoral group’s support is a priority at the moment.

Symbolically, this was the case for all the major political players over the past years. For instance, Yulia Timoshenko, who as one leader of the leaders of the Orange revolution viewed Moscow as a threat and was largely seen as anti-Russian,ended up signing a gas deal with Moscow. And Yanukovich, who initially was considered pro-Russian due to his sugary promises of building an eternal friendship with Moscow, is now accusing Timoshenko of betraying the national interest on behalf of Russia!

President Yanukovich, who only last year needed the voices of a Russia-friendly electorate as he was running for office, is now in the capacity of president demanding “friendly prices” for gas. Moreover, sources say he is privately negotiating an expansion of cooperation with NATO, which he lambasted during his presidential campaign! Maybe, it is hardly an appropriate moment to recall this episode on the eve of the Sochi visit, but less than two months back he gave the green light to the notorious Sea-Breeze maneuver in the Black Sea, which irritated Moscow and by no means contributed to improved bilateral relations.

|So what is to be gained from all of the dramatic twists and turnarounds of Ukrainian leaders driven by their domestic political agendas is Russian-Ukrainian relations? It is in the interests of both countries that this game comes to an end. We can only hope that the meeting in Sochi will signify a step in a more sensible direction.

­Sergey Strokan, specially for RT

­The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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