Tymoshenko, ex-Ukraine prime minister, to go free after 30 months in prison

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Parliament voted to free ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison by decriminalizing the article in the criminal procedural code under which she was convicted. 

A constitutional majority of 310 lawmakers from a cross-section of different parties, including the Communists, voted for the measure. President Viktor Yanukovych is widely blamed for ordering the imprisonment of his political rival.

Taras Berezovets, director of political consutancy Berta Communications, said that the legislation requires the signature of Yanukovych before Tymoshenko can be released, and that he has up to 15 days to sign it.

He said that while passage of the measure to free Tymoshenko is good news — along with today’s deal signed by the president and opposition leaders aimed at solving the country’s political crisis — it is likely to not be seen as a win by anti-government protesters who have been on Independence Square for three months, but a compromise.

“What they (protesters) want is for Yanukovych to be detained and prosecuted,” he said.

The bill that parliament passed included other articles of the criminal procedural code that were decriminalized.

Batkivshchyna Party lawmaker Oleksandr Turchynov, a close ally of Tymoshenko and her former deputy prime minister, said the articles were not cancelled but “are being brought in line with European legislation” in accordance with recommendations from multiple international institutions.

Tymoshenko has been in prison since August 2011 and was convicted for abuse of office stemming from a gas deal she brokered two years earlier with Russia. Many leaders in the West and even in Russia questioned the veracity of her trial and labeled her conviction a sham.

Tymoshenko’s lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, said that within 10 days after the law comes into effect the prosecutor general must file a petition in court to release her. Then the court must free her since there are no legal reasons to keep her behind bars anymore. The entire procedure may take up to two weeks. Once free, Tymoshenko will be able to run for political office again because she will have no criminal record.

Vlasenko said Tymoshenko will need at least two months of post-prison rehabilitation for her back problems in order to regain normal mobility.

“I hope Yulia Volodymyrivna walks free and comments to you in person,” Vlasenko said.

However, Vlasenko raised the possible threat by Yanukovych and his “pet prosecutor” Viktor Pshonka of other criminal cases being opened against her. “It’s easier for him to accuse her of a million new crimes than allow her to go free,” the lawyer said.

Timothy Ash, head of research for emerging markets at Standard Bank in London, called today’s developments – reducing presidential powers and transferring them to the legislature; presidential elections by December and the release of Tymoshenko – as creating “staggering momentum now in Ukraine.”

Ash wrote that Tymoshenko “was imprisoned in 2011 on spurious charges, in a case which was seen as the selective application of justice and has continued to sour relations with the West…I expect her to want to return to front line politics in Ukraine, after a brief spell of medical treatment, likely in Germany. This will create some short term euphoria, but Russia’s reactions remains key and critical still. It seems evident that Western assistance will now be forthcoming for the new administration – they may even sign the association agreement and free trade agreement with the European Union.”

Ash also said that “events in Ukraine are proving to be a huge personal defeat for Putin – taking some of the shine off the Sochi Winter Olympics. I don’t think he will take this likely and we should ultimately expect some counter reaction. Remember 2005, after the Orange Revolution, when Russia in effect imposed an economic blockade to undermine the first Orange administration (of President Viktor Yushchenko and Tymoshenko). Something similar is likely from Russia this time around, as Ukraine now tries to break free again from Putin’s grip.”

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