U.S. Senate, Obama State Dept. Backing Wrong Horse in Ukraine

In September, the U.S. Senate adopted a resolution threatening sanctions against Ukraine for the conviction and imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a leader of Ukraine’s opposition party. Secretary Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Department of State backed the U.S. Senate, calling for Tymoshenko’s immediate release. But just this month, even the jailed PM’s closest ally, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko, has thrown her under the bus quicker than Obama threw Clinton under the bus over Benghazi. Secretary Clinton is making a major mistake trying to exert pressure on Ukraine’s elections next week.

While in the months leading up to Tymoshenko’s late April conviction and since, Ukraine has been roundly condemned for an act of “authoritarianism” with Tymoshenko’s conviction, few seem to be paying attention to why she was convicted.

Clinton and other Washington do-gooders have characterized this conviction as oppression of the out-of-power party in Ukraine. Tymoshenko came to power as a member of the pro-democracy Orange Revolution ushered in by former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko. In fact, Yulia Tymoshenko was a political partner to Yushchenko during this important democratic transition in Ukraine. But now that she is in jail, current Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has been blamed for trying to quash the opposing party.

But was that really the motivation for the woman’s conviction? A new wrinkle in this situation casts doubt on allegations of political skullduggery that tends to make the U.S. State Department and the Senate’s proclamation seem quite hasty.

Tymoshenko was arrested initially for abusing her authority as Prime Minister. She unilaterally entered into an agreement with Russia that left Ukrainians paying above-market rates for the natural gas that keeps them warm during the winter. She was actually convicted of contempt of court, and jailed by the same court that independently verified Ukraine’s 2010 election that she lost.

Now the convicted PM’s original political ally, former President Yuschenko, has strongly criticized the jailed Tymoshenko.

During meetings with EU officials, Yushchenko, the Orange Revolution hero and friend to former President George W. Bush, said that Tymoshenko’s bad, Russia-favoring deal was “criminal by nature.”

“Ukraine lost 62 billion Euros over the ten years of the agreement,” said Yushchenko. “I never approved of the agreement, as I understood its corrupt nature.”

Yushchenko criticized Tymoshenko for being a dupe of Russia. “Russia had to have a pliant pro-Russian leader,” he said of the jailed PM. He also regrets his decision to make her his PM, saying it was his “biggest mistake.”

With Ukrainian parliamentary elections just over a week a way, this could be political posturing by Yuschenko, to help Yanukovych. The optics of being in bed with this controversial figure — who may or may not be in bed with her own lawyer — have dubious political value. But in any case, the breathless support for Tymoshenko from Capitol Hill and Foggy Bottom in Washington is short-sighted and naive.

One clue to that is that our fiercest competitor in the region, Putin’s Russia, is one of the loudest voices calling for Tymoshenko‘s release.

Of course, this administration can’t figure out who’s to blame for the tragedy in Benghazi … why should we expect them to know what is really going on in Ukraine?

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