Today could turn out to be a pivotal day in Ukrainian politics.
Since the start of the Tymoshenko trial in June the presiding judge has done his utmost to force proceedings at break-neck speed. Day after day court sessions have frequently started at 9 a.m. and continued almost without a break into the early evening. Tymoshenko's team have been constantly denied the right to call dozens of expert witnesses, despite their frequent appeals to do so. Requests for additional time to prepare the case for the defence have been almost invariably denied, as have requests to present detailed evidence such as Naftogas external auditors' reports.
In a word, it has been blinding obvious that the prosecution, judges and their political puppet-masters hads all intended the trial to come to an end and a guilty verdict to be pronounced just as quickly as half-decently possible.
But, to the astonishment of virtually all commentators, when court was re-convened today, the presiding judge announced a two-week adjournment until September 27: "to guarantee the rights of the defence and provide extra time." Significantly, the prosecuting council who had previously protested the granting of any slack to the defence, offered no challenge to the judge's decision.
In other words a complete about-face..
At a meeting of big-shot 'Regionnaires' recently, the whispers were that most of the talking was about finalising the details of the denouement of Tymoshenko's career. Most media observers considered a guilty verdict and a hefty sentence to be imminent, and the trial to be wrapped up by the end of this week. There had been lots of speculation over how heavy the sentence would be, and whether president Yanukovych would amnesty his deadliest political foe in order to attenuate the unprecendented pressure from abroad. Either way Tymoshenko's political career looked all but doomed.
My impression is that Yanukovych has been told in no uncertain terms by Western leaders: If Tymoshenko's political career is terminated, i.e. if a guilty verdict is announced at the end of the trial, we are not messing about...we are closing the door on any further business...Yanukovych has now been forced to make a stark choice.
At the moment Tymoshenko is not guilty of anything and can be released by a snap of the fingers of sourcerer's apprentice of a judge. But a not guilty verdict would be just too much to bear for the current authorities, so the Tymoshenko trial could be suspended for an indefinite period,,..allegations remaining hanging over her. The pressure from abroad, however, would immediately subside.
A guilty verdict in the Tymoshenko trial immediately after the Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw, which is to take place September 29-30, reduces the chances of ratification of any EU-Ukraine agreements initialled in Warsaw because the two-week adjournment announced today in the Pechersk court would be regarded as a cynical ploy intended to temporarily deceive EU leaders.
Yanukovych will be at the United Nations General Assembly next week, so the delay helps avoid embarrassment in New York too.
p.s. But there again, who knows what goes on in the heads of the people who got themselves into this mess in the first place? Tymoshenko's political career was in decline, the opposition were demoralised and fractured, European perspectives were looking rosy, and after the Kharkiv agreement, things were set fair with Russia....how did it all go wrong?
It woz the 'mother's union' that fixed it.