Counterrevolution in Kiev

Hope Fades for Ukraine

On Tuesday, Alexander J. Motyl wrote from Kiev with the following update to his and Rajan Menon's forthcoming essay from the November/December 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs:

As the presiding judge at former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s trial for abuse of office mumbled through the verdict -- seven years’ imprisonment, three years’ banishment from political office, and a hefty fine -- Tymoshenko turned to the courtroom and television cameras and declared that she would continue the struggle and enjoined Ukrainians to do the same.

Outside, several thousand Tymoshenko supporters jeered the verdict, while a few hundred detractors from the pro-regime Party of Regions cheered. The rhetoric employed by the former prime minister’s supporters was uncompromising: They called the government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fascist and labeled him and his allies “thugs.” The judge of the trial, meanwhile, was compared to Stalin’s notorious secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria.

Tymoshenko's detractors, in contrast, milled about in the fenced-off area they occupied and waved black-and-white flags without much enthusiasm. Equally striking was the demographic composition of the two sides: Tymoshenko's was male and female, young and old, and representative of all of Ukraine's geographic regions. The Party of Regions’ camp, however, consisted largely of young males apparently recruited from Kiev.

Although fully expected, the verdict still came as a shock, inasmuch as there were signs that the Yanukovych government appeared to have finally realized in the last few weeks that the European Union is genuinely serious about rule of law and that Kiev's hopes of signing a far-reaching association agreement with the EU could be jeopardized by a guilty verdict.

The working assumption among pundits and commentators in Kiev is that the Yanukovych government will now seek some face-saving mechanism to extricate itself from the dead end into which it has maneuvered itself. An amnesty will not work, as Tymoshenko refuses to accept any measure premised on her guilt. Another possibility, hinted at by Yanukovych himself, is that the Ukrainian parliament would quickly pass legislation decriminalizing Tymoshenko's "crime" in some ex post facto fashion. Still another might involve a higher court overturning Tuesday’s verdict.

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