Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office has arrested Yulia Tymoshenko, the former deputy premier for energy turned prominent oppositionist. On January 5, Tymoshenko was charged with, but not arrested for, both forgery and gas smuggling in 1995-1997. She agreed in writing that she would not leave Kyiv (see the Monitor, January 17). Her arrest came on February 13, on the basis, according to Deputy Prosecutor General Mykola Obikhod, of additional charges brought against her, specifically, of giving a US$79 million bribe to former premier and current Californian prisoner, Pavlo Lazarenko. Obikhod excluded any political motives behind her arrest. Tymoshenko will await trial in Lukyanivka, one of Kyiv’s gloomiest jails.
There are indications, however, that Tymoshenko’s imprisonment is in fact politically motivated. When President Leonid Kuchma appointed Tymoshenko to the government a year ago, he was well aware that her business, United Energy Systems of Ukraine, had been patronized by Lazarenko, and that she was suspected of criminal activity. He admitted this in an interview with RFERL this past Sunday (February 11). Kuchma and his entourage probably believed that someone with such a dubious past would be cautious and obedient in the key government position. But Tymoshenko launched reforms to open up the most corrupt and lucrative Ukrainian industry–energy. She stepped on the toes of well-connected businessmen in politics and dared to voice disagreement with the president’s economic and political policies. Kuchma dismissed Tymoshenko a month ago (see the Monitor, January 23), despite protests from liberal-minded Premier Viktor Yushchenko, who regarded his deputy for energy as a professional and a reformer. On February 9, Tymoshenko became one of the leaders of the anti-Kuchma National Salvation Forum (see the Monitor, February 12). Scarcely a coincidence that she was arrested only four days later.
In this round, Yushchenko sided openly with Kuchma. On the day of Tymoshenko’s arrest, Yushchenko, Kuchma and Speaker Ivan Plyushch all signed an appeal to the nation, in which the organizers of last week’s anti-Kuchma protests were compared with German Nazi ideologists. This was a double blow on the anti-Kuchma oppositionists. Most of them viewed Tymoshenko as a motivated potential leader of their movement, and the pro-Western Yushchenko as the best future replacement for Kuchma, who is discredited by the continuing audiotape scandal, implicating him in crimes and neglect of democratic principles. Speaking on February 14, Yushchenko for the first time admitted that he does not sympathize with the opposition. As cautiously and ostentatiously apolitically as ever, Yushchenko said that the political protests may damage Ukraine’s economic stability, which is his primary consideration. Given Tymoshenko’s arrest and Yushchenko’s demarche, the multicolored antipresidential opposition is left without a charismatic leader to unite its antagonistic wings–the pro-Western nationalists and the Communist-leaning leftists (RFERL, February 11; UT-1, February 13; New Channel TV, February 13-14).
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