On January 18 convicted Yulia Tymoshenko was served notice of suspicion, naming her as a suspect of conspiring with one or more persons to commit large-scale property embezzlement by abusing her official position, and of conspiring, in her capacity as the United Energy Systems of Ukraine corporation’s president, with the then First Deputy Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, to order and organize the 1996 murder of MP Yevhen Shcherban.
Experts see the Shcherban case as the most dangerous of all accusations leveled against Tymoshenko. It was confirmed, indeed, by the Prosecutor General’s Office’s announcement itself, which mentioned that the crime Tymoshenko is suspected of calls for the life imprisonment. Such a move on the authorities’ part can only indicate that the law-enforcement services possess some really damning evidence. Now, it will be very important for the prosecution to have the trial look impartial, and they will do everything to achieve such an impression. Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka had good reasons to brief the European representatives on the situation first.
Without even waiting for the weekend to expire, Pshonka organized a special meeting with foreign diplomats resident in Ukraine on Sunday, January 20 to brief them about the notice that had been served on Tymoshenko. The event was also attended by Health Minister Raisa Bohatyriova and Chairman of the State Penitentiary Service Oleksandr Lisitskov.
“We were surprised that the Ukrainian authorities called the meeting on Sunday,” The Day was told by a European diplomat. However, our source appreciated the government’s willingness to speak to foreign diplomats resident in Ukraine. “We have not heard anything new at the meeting, despite having hoped to hear something positive,” the source said. In his opinion, the diplomats were surprised to see a video of serving the Shcherban case papers on Tymoshenko during the meeting. “The prosecutor told us,” the diplomat added, “that there was a lot of data and witness testimonies collected in this case, which, according to him, will be investigated for two or three months, and then go to the court.”
The source mentioned Bohatyriova as reporting on Tymoshenko’s health and saying that the latter is watched over by female guards only, and the Ukrainian doctors who treat her are carrying out the recommendations of the German specialists. The minister added that Tymoshenko had been allowed 300 unhampered visits with diplomats and politicians, while surveillance cameras in Tymoshenko’s hospital ward were installed only where they should have been according to law.
The source also said that the diplomats’ questions were pointing at distrust now prevalent between the parties (Europe and the US on the one hand, and Ukraine on the other). “We expected to see our approach understood and the conditions for signing the association agreement fulfilled,” the diplomat stressed. He said the diplomats were asking questions: “How many of the mid-1990s murders are now being investigated?” “We ourselves are seeing that most of them are not, and it seems to us, quite reasonably, that this case is all about selective justice. We had hoped that the Ukrainian government would resolve the problem issues that beset the latest parliamentary elections, find ways to mitigate Yurii Lutsenko’s sentence, and carry out the necessary reforms of the judicial system,” the source said. However, he still believed that Europe and the Ukrainian authorities needed to continue communicating with each other, while such communication was lacking in 2012. “We need to explain our position, we have our own approach and values and expect that Ukraine will demonstrate that it has them in common with us,” the diplomat said.
What was the opposition’s reaction? Parliamentary opposition parties, most notably the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms (UDAR), have immediately started talking about an extraordinary session of Verkhovna Rada. It transpired on January 21 that the opposition will, firstly, press for a temporary investigative commission, tasked with investigating legality of Tymoshenko’s and Lutsenko’s arrests, to be created at the extraordinary session to be held on January 29, which is hardly a prompt response, and secondly, push for no-confidence votes on the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Head of State Security Service, and a binding no-confidence vote on the Prosecutor General. The leader of the Fatherland faction Arsenii Yatseniuk sent the letter, required for an extraordinary session to be had, to the parliament’s speaker Volodymyr Rybak on January 21.
Meanwhile, opposition politicians are making further statements. Tymoshenko’s attorney Serhii Vlasenko said he was already under a criminal investigation for alleged failure to comply with a court decision in a civil dispute, and declared confidently that he would be arrested in three weeks. Tymoshenko’s husband Oleksandr stated that his wife had had nothing to do with Shcherban’s murder, and suggested that the allegations, which he called yet another lie on the part of the authorities, could prevent the Ukraine-EU summit from happening. The former prime minister’s daughter Yevhenia Tymoshenko urged the authorities to refrain from killing her mother: “You are fully responsible for the illegal detention of my innocent mom and torturing her. I am not asking you to be fair, humane or compassionate. I ask all of you only one thing, do not kill my mom!”
Of course, the selective justice in Ukraine is a legitimate topic. It was repeatedly noted by foreign politicians and international organizations. However, we have repeatedly pointed out that not only the current government, but the previous one, too, was responsible for the present situation, as it had not reformed the law-enforcement and judicial systems of Ukraine. Tymoshenko became a hostage of the system now.
“Pshonka’s statement is a continuation of the information and political war that intensified in mid-January,” the political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said. “To draw an analogy with boxing, there are various modes in the battle, one is slow positional play, while another is intense fighting, when blows are exchanged freely, defenses are neglected, and opponents are forcefully attacking each other. We see something similar in the current Tymoshenko’s case treatment by the government and the opposition. There is nothing new in Pshonka’s statement. The timing of the statement that was made late on Friday, January 18, is significant. The press conferences are generally not held on Friday nights. This unusual timing means that the authorities felt the need to respond promptly to the conflict situation in Kharkiv [Fesenko means here the well-publicized story of the three women MPs that were removed by force from the hospital’s floor where Tymoshenko is kept on January 18. – Authors]. They then released a video that had to confirm that Tymoshenko was in no danger. The opposition seeks to retaliate by calling for an extraordinary session of Verkhovna Rada and demands Pshonka to be fired. It is clear that no personnel changes or political decisions will pass, as they do not have votes for it.”