Yulia Tymoshenko: A History of Defeat

29 November 2011, 10:00

Yulia Tymoshenko who was realistically potentially the next president of Ukraine has become a prisoner. Today, neither she, nor her political bloc can do anything for her release or her continued activity in politics. A mere two years ago, the project had virtually looked like the greatest political success in Ukraine. It now appears that there was no foundation under the shiny wrapper that could withstand the test of political defeat, prevent destruction and guarantee revenge in the future. For both Ms. Tymoshenko, whose hopes for a happy ending in this slew of repression fade with every new case reopened by the SBU or the Prosecutor General, and other Ukrainian politicians trying to gain public support, it would be worthwhile to closely examine the mistakes that led Yulia Tymoshenko to the Lukianivska prison instead of the top office at Bankova St.  


This has become the cliché for Ms. Tymoshenko’s role in Ukraine’s political establishment. It reflects her ability to act decisively without half-hearted moves or undertones, a quality that many Ukrainian politicians lack. She was persistent enough in 2000 to break down barter scams on the energy market, confident enough in 2004 to become the “power of the Maidan”, and convincing enough in 2007 to secure an early election and return as Premier.

Yulia Tymoshenko’s career has always been a spectacle, whether on the crest of the wave in top offices, running ambitious projects and putting on huge shows for the voters, or persecuted and imprisoned. This soap opera is crystal clear and easily understood by voters. It’s the struggle between light and dark, good and evil, her against them. A simple story is always the best way to communicate with the widest audience possible, to gain sympathy and support.

In addition to the circuses, Tymoshenko was always concerned about the bread. Throughout her term as Premier, she always kept social benefits, salaries and pensions in mind. This ate up proceeds from privatization and international loans but none of her opponents would dare to publicly accuse her of the “inefficient use of funds”. This approach seemed efficient in Ukrainian politics, boosting her popularity over 2001-2010. Eventually, Ms. Tymoshenko took any opportunity to strengthen her position or created them where none were available (see Victories and Defeats).

The above-mentioned image of “the only man in Ukrainian politics” was adorned with elaborate image boosters. Ms. Tymoshenko’s team buzzed with legends of her as a workaholic. She would give interviews late at night and hold meetings that lasted several hours. Her other virtue was the ability to learn. She transformed from a provincial businesswoman who had given movingly naïve interviews back in the mid-1990s into a charismatic orator; from a Dnipropetrovsk-born Russian-speaker into an essentially Ukrainian-speaking politician.

Yulia Tymoshenko had it all to win any political race, from self-confidence to an enormous ability to work and good intuition. The skillful manipulation of these qualities made her an invincible opponent in political battles. Even her opponents recognize her as a brilliant tactician.  But this was not enough for true success. The form should have been underpinned by the essence and a well-thought logical plan of action, as a result of which, all Ukrainians would understand exactly how the shiny promises were to be fulfilled.  

Long-distance races and strategic victories require more from a politician: in-depth and systemic knowledge; a team that cares about national interests, not only their own; and honest and consistent communication with voters. 


Ms. Tymoshenko’s problems largely stem from her own virtues. Her self-confidence made her believe in her own infallibility – the image of a “goddess”, which was mocked by her opponents. This belief was also fostered by her compliant entourage, both on the level of everyday flattery and public displays, ranging from grotesque shows, shows of communication with the media in a sugar-sweet format, to disastrous slogans, such as “SHE – is Ukraine”!

However, this non-critical approach to her own decisions damaged Ms. Tymoshenko’s image and crushed their efficiency.  Given her origin and swift progress in big business and politics, Ms. Tymoshenko may not have had the time to acquire systemic knowledge regarding the strategy of social development, social processes or the specific features of post-soviet macroeconomics.  After all, it is impossible to know everything and believing otherwise has been part of the problem of the “non-critical attitude towards self”. However, in such a case, the selection of a team, capable of filling the gaps in the leader’s outlook, is that much more crucial.

This was where Ms. Tymoshenko’s habit to “simply solve things”, stemming from the early 1990s and the behavior of her team played a nasty trick on her. BYuT coopted everyone who seemed capable of resolving on-going issues: providing support in courts, ensuring media resources and financial support. In 2005, having seen in Tymoshenko a serious-looking politician likely to stay on top for the long haul, quite a few of her one-time opponents, including some very odious ones, decided to join her.

As the election drew closer, these people improved the “welfare” of political power and those who decided on the party lists. Mykhailo Brodsky “rolled” into BYuT in 2005, and in subsequent interviews, he disclosed several schemes for putting candidates on the lists, the price list and the role of Ms. Tymoshenko’s closest allies, particularly Oleksandr Turchynov, in the process.  

The compiling of party lists for parliament and local councils, as well as the executive structure of BYuT using such a scheme was slowly killing it. Firstly, odious activists added their own negative image burden to the party and ruined its reputation as a “new” spotless force. Secondly, their ways of dealing with things they were put in charge of, often caused more problems than they solved. One bright example was Andriy Portnov and his group who started quite a few conflicts that were hard to justify in the eyes of the voters. Thirdly, they had no ideological or organizational reasons to stay with BYuT so fled the party easily. Virtually nothing could stop them as they did not believe in common values while BYuT did not have the leverages to influence such people that the Party of Regions had. After all, the crowd of opportunists had a negative impact on those who joined BYuT not for their own personal benefit, but driven by principles or the desire to change things in the country. As a result, the latter have not had a real chance to communicate their ideas to the leaders and affect their decisions. They were squeezed out of responsible offices and the process of drawing up party lists. All this is a huge disincentive for people whose nature of making their way to the top is not through intrigue, flattery and holding cap-in-hand. Those who relied on their knowledge and skills have had fewer chances compared to the “useful” strangers and professional bootlickers. As a result, BYuT, like virtually all other political forces in Ukraine, ended up being packed with wrongly selected people, while the talented were cast off. This hampered proactive communication with social groups that could have acted as their natural allies on the local level, such as small and medium businesses, professionals and real community leaders representing the ideas of their communities, as opposed to the numerous “professional babblers” in the bloc. The party found itself cut off from effective local networks that could have helped it to stay in touch with society after it lost power.

The onset of consequences was swift. Rather than standing firm with Ms. Tymoshenko, to whom they had pledged loyalty just days ago and protecting her Government, having all instruments in hand under the 2004 Constitution that was still in effect, in the spring of 2010, the newcomers rushed to the winning camp. The remaining bootlickers were unable to offer anything helpful at that time. Not only did they not have an action plan, they did not have any fresh ideas whatsoever. This partly explains the confusion of BYuT and Ms. Tymoshenko and her leap from “demonstrative patriotism” to calls for social protest, which at that point, were too late and obscure. She had missed the right moment for real resistance. From the time when court proceedings were initiated back in June and until the verdict surfaced in October, BYuT had a good opportunity to organize protests, with which it could have intimidated the current government. Now, it has neither a credible explanation for the public, nor the capacity to arrange such protests.

Ms. Tymoshenko’s team is at fault in not having a structure behind the shiny façade. Ms. Tymoshenko herself is at fault for having people surrounding her that repulsed those who could really have been useful for her party and the country, which ultimately led to its collapse. Now, possibly for the first time in 15 years in politics, her fate lies beyond her control.


Since their first days in politics in the mid-1990’s, Ms. Tymoshenko and her party have been progressing, turning threats and failures to their benefit. Meanwhile, they have been accumulating internal problems, which were the cause of the defeat in 2010 with which BYuT was unable to cope  


December 1996–1999. Yulia Tymoshenko is a People’s Deputy and in an interview,  confesses to “being infected with politics”.

December 1999 – January 2001. Vice Premier for the Fuel and Power Complex in Viktor Yushchenko’s Cabinet. The Government implements reforms on the energy market and makes considerable efforts to break barter schemes. It also channels proceeds from selling fuels to the budget. At this time, Ms. Tymoshenko gains dangerous political enemies


9 July 1999. Former activists of Hromada (Community) who left the party together with Pavlo Lazarenko, more specifically Yulia Tymoshenko and Oleksandr Turchynov, establish Batkivshchyna (Homeland). In 2000, Batkivshchyna joins the pro-Kuchma majority in the Verkhovna Rada. The struggle against their opponents in the energy sector, particularly Ihor Bakai ends in a conflict with Kuchma’s circle

5 January 2001. The Prosecutor General initiates two criminal cases against Yulia Tymoshenko, her family members and friends who run the Single Energy Systems of Ukraine (YeESU)

19 January 2001. President Kuchma dismisses Ms. Tymoshenko

13 February 2001. Ms. Tymoshenko is arrested. In March 2001, the Pechersk District Court finds the charges groundless and cancels the arrest order. This boosts her rating from 2-3% to 6%. On 9 April 2003, the Kyiv Court of Appeal rules that the criminal case against Ms. Tymoshenko and her husband was initiated illegally and that all proceedings shall be terminated. On 18 November 2005, the case was also terminated by the Supreme Court

31 March 2002. BYuT gains 7.26% in the 2002 election, i.e. 22 seats in parliament. BYuT and Nasha Ukrayina (Our Ukraine) led by Mr. Yushchenko agree to not compete against each other in the election and the opposition wins it via party lists. Later, though, it fails to nominate common candidates or set up an efficient system to prevent violations in majority constituencies. This nullifies their victory  


September 2002. Ms. Tymoshenko tours Ukrainian cities in the “Rise up Ukraine!” campaign, showing her talent of capturing the audience with vivid speeches.  Due to the lack of resources and coordination among its organizers including BYuT, the Communist Party of Ukraine and the Socialist Party of Ukraine, the campaign is not a great success

July 2004. Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko announce their coalition called The Power of the People, aimed at strengthening Mr. Yushchenko as the most popular presidential candidate among opposition leaders. Ms. Tymoshenko is promised the premier’s seat if he wins the election

22 November 2004. The Orange Revolution unfolds. Proactive Ms. Tymoshenko becomes one of the Maidan leaders due to her vivid speeches and decisive moves. Her popularity rises from 6-8% to 18-20% turning her into a top politician


4 January 2005. Ms. Tymoshenko is appointed Acting Premier. Her Cabinet’s performance is questionable, as GDP growth slows down and the country faces a slew of what she considers to be artificially-created crises, including petrol, sugar, meat and bread crises while it is in power. The premiership reveals her political strengths, such as a striking capacity for work, a talent for finding allies, political intuition and an understanding of how important sovereignty is, as well as weaknesses, including inconsistency, no vision of the long-term consequences of her moves, her adventurous nature and belief in her own infallibility  

8 September 2005. The political crisis caused by a conflict of interest between her and Mr. Yushchenko and their teams brings forth the most far-reaching consequences for Ms. Tymoshenko. Instead of seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict, Mr. Yushchenko uses his presidential powers to dismiss both Ms. Tymoshenko and the people involved in corruption scandals from his own team. In fact, he reveals the conflict within the Orange forces. Ms. Tymoshenko immediately goes public and communicates her interpretation, thus gaining extra dividends from the scandal, as supporters of Viktor Yushchenko and Our Ukraine switch to her side

March 2006. Criticizing Mr. Yushchenko’s “conciliatory” attitude towards the Party of Regions, BYuT gains 22.29% of votes running second, behind the Party of Regions, with 132 seats in the 2006 parliamentary election. The unfolding political crisis steals public attention away from the fact that BYuT’s lists swell with one-time Kuchma supporters. They join the party in exchange for providing some resources and being helpful in communicating with the neighbors, arranging media campaigns and putting on shows, and so on. As a result, the key elements of the party’s activities end up in hands of opportunists who betray it whenever possible. By contrast, the leaders often keep the party’s permanent activists away from such areas, thus compromising its organizational and mobilization potential and undermining the motivation of average and middle-level party members  

August 2006. The Verkhovna Rada fails to appoint the Cabinet of Ministers, giving legitimate reasons for dissolving parliament. President Yushchenko agrees to a Cabinet with Viktor Yanukovych as Premier as long as Our Ukraine members continue to hold positions in several ministries. In time, most of them were dismissed by the Verkhovna Rada. BYuT finds itself in the opposition, but with a reputation of being Mr. Yanukovych’s most consistent opponent

12 January 2007. BYuT votes together with the Party of Regions passing a law on the Cabinet of Ministers with more than two thirds of the vote, that reduces the influence of the President over the executive branch to a minimum. This is one episode of closer cooperation between BYuT and PR, strongly promoted by the pro-Medvedchuk wing that insists on dividing interests with the Party of Regions. This and further cooperation turns out unilateral: PR votes against the law on the opposition and continues to swell with crossovers. These maneuvers undermine public trust in BYuT

dashed hopes

March 2007. PR begins to set up a constitutional majority in parliament, luring over opposition MPs. Fearing a change of the Constitution, President Yushchenko dissolves parliament. This is the scenario actively pursued by Ms. Tymoshenko  

BYuT conducts an intensive election campaign, based on populist promises to return the debts of the Soviet Savings Bank, create a professional army by 2008 and many others. This mobilized the electorate

30 September 2007. BYuT wins a record breaking 30.71% and 156 seats in the early parliamentary election. BYuT and Our Ukraine do not compete against each other publicly and end up with most seats in parliament and a coalition. After the election, BYuT stops long-term projects aimed at consolidating the independently thinking part of the electorate around the party and the work on the country development strategy. It has nothing to offer the voters when reality proves that shiny ideas are impossible to fulfill. This adds to public disenchantment

18 December 2007. 226 MPs vote to have Ms. Tymoshenko appointed as Premier for a second time. The coalition has a previously approved plan for priority reforms. The initial plan is to vote on crucial laws first, then the appointment of the premier. However, Ms. Tymoshenko strives to have the plan changed. As a result, most laws were not voted on. As a result, the coalition loses the opportunity to draft specific documents together, leaving the country without the promised reforms

September 2008. BYuT and PR pass a series of laws, restricting the President’s influence on the executive branch. The Our Ukraine and People’s Self-Defense bloc leave the coalition thus establishing the grounds for the dissolution of parliament, unless a new coalition is set up

8 October 2008. Mr. Yushchenko announces the dissolution of parliament, but the Verkhovna Rada refuses to enter the necessary changes to fund the election into the budget and administrative courts cancel the Presidential Decree. Some media blame this “attempt to hold on to power at any cost” on Ms. Tymoshenko’s allies, who enjoy their current status and are reluctant to lose the privileges it provides. If an early election occurred at that point ending up with a Government led by Mr. Yanukovych, Ms. Tymoshenko would have had a far better chance of becoming president as an opposition leader, since 2009 was the peak of the financial crisis

19 January 2009. After Ms. Tymoshenko meets with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, Naftogaz and Gazprom cut a ten-year deal to supply Ukraine with Russian gas. The contracts are prepared behind closed doors and leaked to the Ukrainian mass media by Russian sources. This weakens the Ukrainian Government in negotiations, since it faces the consolidated position of the Russians but has no support in its own country. Doors open to criticize the contracts and the Premier who arranged them. The confusing process of drafting the contracts sets the grounds for the charges that ultimately put Ms. Tymoshenko behind bars

weak opposition and arrest

7 February 2010. Viktor Yanukovych gains a narrow victory in the second round of the presidential election with 48.95% against Ms. Tymoshenko’s 45.47%

14 February 2010. The Central Election Committee announces that Mr. Yanukovych is the official winner of the presidential election. Some Western leaders greet him before the official results are declared  

22 February 2010. Ms. Tymoshenko describes the election as dirty and refuses to agree to the outcome and Viktor Yanukovych as President. Earlier, she was forced to recall an appeal filed to the High Administrative Court, since the latter refuses to consider the most significant claims regarding the boosted register of voters and home voting for more than 1mn Ukrainians. Andriy Portnov, who is in charge of legal support for Ms. Tymoshenko’s campaign, literally sabotages the claim against the results and subsequently joins the Presidential Administration. Meanwhile, one-time Kuchma supporters who had strived to join BYuT since 2005, quit their efforts and leave the party or switch to PR.

3 March 2010. 243 MPs pass a motion of no confidence in Yulia Tymoshenko’s Cabinet despite the fact that it enjoyed the formal support of the parliamentary majority of BYuT, Our Ukraine and the Lytvyn Bloc. In actual fact, the Lytvyn Bloc and part of BYuT switch to the PR. Ms. Tymoshenko’s party ends up with virtually no leverage to prevent or halt the process

21 April 2010. The presidents of Ukraine and Russia cut a deal in Kharkiv to extend the stay of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol until 2042 in exchange for a USD 100 discount per 1,000 cu m of gas

27 April 2010. The Kharkiv deals are ratified. The opposition, including BYuT, declares its intention to prevent this. However, BYuT is unable to organize mass protests. As a result, less than 30,000 protesters turn up in front of the Verkhovna Rada on 27 April, according to the opposition’s own estimates. BYuT MPs virtually refuse to prevent ratification at a crucial point in the Verkhovna Rada. This defeat reveals serious staff and organizational troubles within BYuT, undermining public trust in this political power as a capable opposition  

5 August 2011.  The Pechersk Court decides to arrest Yulia Tymoshenko on gas deal-related charges. The prosecution uses the interpretation of ambiguous legislation and the secretive and swift process of cutting the deals against Ms. Tymoshenko  

August-September 2011. BYuT-Batkivshchyna announces protests with no deadline and sets up a tent city on the Khreshchatyk, consisting of almost 20 tents, but there are no widespread protests

11 October 2011. Despite tough negative reaction in the world and implicit promises to work out a compromise from President Yanukovych, Ms. Tymoshenko is found guilty of the abuse of power and is sentenced to 7 years in jail 

This is Articte sidebar