Maneuvering Before Landing

9 September 2011, 13:27

Something that happened on September 5 signals that the government’s bid to deliver a guilty verdict in the Yulia Tymoshenko case is heading into the homestretch. Once achieved, this court ruling will be used in domestic politics and in efforts to negotiate a discount on Russian gas. To achieve this, it must be presented as a non-political case despite what most Ukrainians and external observers believe it to be. The event in question is a court ruling in the case of Ihor Didenko, ex-First Deputy Chairman of the Board at Naftogaz and one of the participants in the case of 11 billion cubic meters of gas which were taken away from RosUkrEnergo and “nationalized.” He was handed a conditional sentence and released from detention immediately while still in the courtroom.

Didenko was earlier arrested on suspicion of committing actions which caused Ukraine millions of hryvnias in damages, according to a ruling by the Stockholm Arbitration court. However, he was given a fairly “lenient” punishment which has already been given a widely accepted explanation: the key to freedom was changing his testimony.

Just like his former direct higher-up Oleh Dubyna, Didenko eventually pointed his finger at Tymoshenko as the culprit in the 2009 gas deal. “I deeply regret that I was forced to follow the individual directions of the then prime minister in the process of making my decisions,” Didenko said. What he means is that Tymoshenko “misled” him by presenting her personal instructions to sign the 2009 contracts as Cabinet of Ministers directives. This testimony can and will be used against her. The orchestrators of the case may also use Anatoliy Makarenko, ex-Chief of the State Customs Service, and Taras Shepitko, ex-Deputy Head of the Energy Customs Office for their purposes. Both were recently released from a pre-trial detention unit.

It is quite possible that Andriy Portnov, who is currently an advisor to President Viktor Yanukovych, played a part in completing the Didenko case. He is yet another participant in the 2009 gas deal but has been unjustly forgotten. He was a member of Tymoshenko’s team at the time and provided legal support for the Ukraine-Russia gas contracts in 2009, as well as in the case of the nationalized gas. Moreover, he boasted of his role in public. It is absurd that we may see participants in the same process which allegedly caused Ukraine at least USD 250 million in damages face such drastically different prospects: one spending time in prison and the other enjoying a position in the Presidential Administration.

Moreover, Yanukovych’s team is sending a personal message to Tymoshenko with the verdict in the Didenko case: you can strike a deal with us, and instead of 7 to 12 years in prison and confiscation of property we can offer you just a “slight scare” and a three-year conditional sentence. You “only” need to abandon your political ambitions and forget about active street protests. It appears that the masterminds behind this scenario hope that this will helpreduce the negative attitude stirred by the Tymoshenko case in the West. In particular, this is the reason why the country leadership is in no hurry to deliver a “draconic verdict” – they do not need a Ukrainian Khodorkovsky. First, this will mean an unattractive international image which Yanukovych finds much harder to bear than does Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Second, a “martyr” behind bars is a constant cause of instability for the government. Instead, the government needs to keep Tymoshenko outside the opposition movement as a declassed “former politician.” To this end, it is trying to coerce the ex-premier into “constructive” behavior, which will help justify the entire case before the West and employ its results as an argument in the ongoing argument with Russia over gas prices.

In addition to showing how things can be settled “amicably,” the powers that be may resort to crude pressure. Several sources have reported that the government will next target Tymoshenko’s closest aides, particularly Oleksandr Turchynov and Andriy Kozhemiakin. One of possible charges is the alleged destruction of cases in the SBU when the former headed it and the latter was considered close to him. Using charges of this kind, the government will try to either “pull away” Tymoshenko’s closest aides from her and force them to cooperate with the government or damage the image of the ex-premier and her political force in order to prove that the case in question is not politically motivated.

This is Articte sidebar