US Vice President Biden yesterday joined the chorus of spokesmen of Western governments when he expressed concern, personally to Yanukovych, about the importance of "avoiding any selective prosecutions of opposition officials".
Although no names have been mentioned, all of these comments must primarily have in mind leaders of two of Ukraine's biggest opposition parties, former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, who has for many weeks been questioned by the prosecutor general's investigators, and former minister of Internal Affairs Yuriy Lutsenko, who has been imprisoned for over two months.
The current authorities recently staged a coordinated PR campaign in the US and Europe in an attempt to allay these concerns, revealing that they take all of this seriously because it damages their reputation.
The pro-Yanukovych 'Segodnya' newspaper speculates about what fate awaits the pair in an article entitled: "Tymoshenko could receive three years, and then be amnestied, adding, ex-PM to be tried next year, and her former minister by Summer."
In some countries this kind of speculation by serious observers would be regarded as highly prejudicial for cases that are 'sub judice', but it exposes the dilemma faced by the current authorities and the pathetic mess the country's law enforcement agencies find themselves in.
Apparently the case against Tymoshenko comprises 180 volumes of evidence of between 250 and 300 pages each. If she familiarises herself with 20-30 pages per day i.e. at a rate of about two volumes a month, as required by Ukrainian law, it would take over seven years to read all 180 volumes ....Lutsenko has 47 volumes to read...but he started last December...
[If a fair trial is to take place shouldn't the judges, prosecutors, defence councils all be forced to endure this nonsense too?]
Anyhow, a source told 'Segodnya' that the prosecutor general's office themselves admit 80% of the stuff is 'makulatura' [waste paper for recycling...(only 80%?)] allowing them to predict the dates for any possible trials to be timed as in the article's headline..[Lutsenko has been detained and arrested for failing to familiarise himself with 'makulatura'!?...LEvko]
Under a sub-heading "Two years for Yuriy, three for Yulia", the newspaper reveals their source in the P-G's office claims, that if found guilty, these are the sort of sentences they could expect. However, according to 'Segodnya' "this is where it gets interesting". All of the experts they questioned say that the pair will not 'serve time', "the reaction from the West would be too harsh" and their sentences will be suspended.
However, according to Ukraininan law, as convicted felons they would not be able to stand for political office in the Autumn 2012 parliamentary elections. This would again cause an uproar, and would provide a reason for some of Ukraine's neighbours to consider the elections illigitimate. The current authorities therefore face a dilemma - if they drop the cases against the pair, or if the cases collapse in court, it would mean that the authorities had been set on repression, but were scared off by Western pressure...quite a humiliation and a moral defeat for Yanukovych, according to one well-known observer, Vadym Karasyov.
[Quite why it would be a humiliation for the government if the case would be thrown out or the pair were found not guilty by truly independent judges is not made clear..]
Karasov surmises that Tymoshenko will be found guilty of the charges against her, will receive a suspended sentence, but will then receive an amnesty, perhaps on Independence Day 2012. "By showing clemency and letting her stand for election, the authorities could claim a moral victory," and resolve their dilemma.
The article declares in Tymoshenko's case, "Experts believe they [the charges] are completely provable, however they are flawed from a political point of view. Any previous prime minister could be prosecuted for the same reasons. They often allowed diversion of funds in order to plug holes in the budget, meeting the shortfall from other sources."
As for Lutsenko, "our sources in the police, say these sorts of things also happened under former ministers to increase the income of people close to them." [Lutsenko is charged with overpaying his driver and promoting him to a rank about his station.]
The Russian 'Nezavisimaya Gazeta' claims that the usual " source" has told them former president Yushchenko may soon be appointed prime minister. Introducing "a liberal, a marketeer, and a democrat" would be would be beneficial in terms of negotiations with the EU and the U.S. It would immediately neutralise the Tymoshenko factor in Ukrainian politics and would remove all suspicion of authoritarianism of the new government in the West". Would it really?
p.s. Latest opinion polls have Yanukovych at about 25%, and Tymoshenko at about 15%.
If recent trends in their respective popularity continue, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility these two heavyweights could be 'neck and neck' by next year - could a trial of Tymoshenko be considered anything but political in such circumstances?
p.p.s. 'Segodnya' posts a video of a rather sheepish and uncomfortable-looking Yanukovych making his latest slip of the tongue, confusing the Brazilian cosmodrome in Alkantara, with a fictional place called "Balkantavra"....the video is preceded by.... a beer advertisement. Could this not be regarded as disrespectful...making commercial capital out of the president's poor memory and inability to familiarise himself with his brief?