| 17.1°C Dublin

I was set up - ex Ukraine PM jailed for seven years

A seven-year prison sentence handed down to former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been denounced by the EU and the US as "politically motivated".

The popular opposition leader, who once symbolised Western hopes for a democratic Ukraine, was convicted of abuse of office.

She denounced the court even before the judge finished speaking. She compared it to the 1930s purges and show trials of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and promised Ukrainians: "I will always be with you."

Tymoshenko's conviction bodes ill for Ukraine's aspirations to shake off Russian influence, integrate more closely into the West, and eventually join the 27-nation European bloc.

The verdict capped a chaotic trial that started in late June and saw scuffles between Tymoshenko's supporters and opponents in the courthouse. She called Judge Rodion Kireyev a "monster" and refused to rise when addressing him.

The court found Tymoshenko guilty of abuse of office in the signing of a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009, saying she lacked an official authorisation for the deal and had agreed to a price that was too high for Ukraine's economy.

Tymoshenko (50) has maintained her innocence, saying that as prime minister she did not need any special permission to order the signing of the deal. She says her actions helped end a bitter pricing dispute between Moscow and Kiev, which had led to energy supply shortages across Europe.

The government of President Viktor Yanukovych -- a longtime foe of Tymoshenko -- had insisted that the contract she signed should be renegotiated in favour of a lower price.

The White House condemned the verdict as a "politically motivated prosecution" and urged Ukrainian authorities to ensure the release of Tymoshenko and other opposition members.


"The charges against Mrs. Tymoshenko and the conduct of her trial, as well as the prosecution of other opposition leaders and members of the preceding government, have raised serious concerns about the government of Ukraine's commitment to democracy and rule of law," the White House statement said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton warned that a failure to ensure a fair appeals process for Tymoshenko would have "profound implications" for Ukraine-EU relations.

Apparently responding to those concerns, Yanukovych suggested the verdict was not final since Tymoshenko would lodge an appeal. He also hinted at changes to the legal system.