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The overzealous prosecution of Ukraine's Yulia Tymoshenko Add to ...

The prosecution and conviction of Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine amount to the criminalization of what may or may not have been mistaken policy by a former prime minister. If a head of government could be imprisoned for an erroneous decision – let alone with a sentence of seven years – no one would ever seek the political leadership of a nation.

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Ms. Tymoshenko became rich as a result of the often messy and hasty privatizations that followed the end of the Soviet Union. In the Orange revolution of 2004, she and Viktor Yushchenko, the former head of the Ukrainian central bank, became heroes of liberal democracy. But they did not work harmoniously together when she was prime minister and Mr. Yushchenko was president. Eventually, she appeared to be the more moderate of the two in her dealings with Russia, on which Ukraine relies for natural gas – in other words, for heating during the winter. She may have been trying to woo Vladimir Putin away from Viktor Yanukovich, the current President, who figured as the villain in the Orange Revolution, a pro-Muscovite politician favoured by many Russophones in Ukraine. In any case, if she lacked authority to enter into the gas agreement she made with Russia, the simple solution would be to withdraw from the contact and renegotiate.

Quite possibly, Mr. Yanukovich’s real aim is a compromise that would relieve Ms. Tymoshenko of a jail term, but leave her disqualified to seek public office for years to come. He is floating the idea of a retroactive repeal of the law on economic crimes, under which she has been convicted. But now there are new charges against Ms. Tymoshenko about her business dealings in the 1990s.

Mr. Yanukovich seems to want respect in the West, as well as in Russia, and of course in Ukraine itself. He and his government should stop toying with Ms. Tymoshenko.

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