Senate Pushes for Release of Ukrainian Leader Jailed Over Natural-Gas Contract

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A protestor holds up an image of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
National Journal
Alex Brown
Nov. 19, 2013, 9:57 a.m.

Former Ukrain­i­an Prime Min­is­ter Yulia Ty­moshen­ko is two years in­to a sev­en-year pris­on sen­tence, but U.S. lead­ers are rais­ing ques­tions about the cir­cum­stances be­hind her im­pris­on­ment and call­ing for her re­lease to seek treat­ment for her ail­ing back.

The Sen­ate un­an­im­ously passed a res­ol­u­tion Monday call­ing on Ukrain­i­an of­fi­cials to re­lease Ty­moshen­ko, who was jailed in 2011 after ac­cus­a­tions she ab­used her power to award a nat­ur­al-gas con­tract to a Rus­si­an com­pany. “I am dis­mayed by the seem­ing in­ab­il­ity to find a reas­on­able com­prom­ise that would al­low Ms. Ty­moshen­ko to be re­leased to seek med­ic­al treat­ment abroad,” said Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who led the push for the res­ol­u­tion.

Durbin’s quote came in a re­lease that noted that nu­mer­ous “polit­ic­al and hu­man-rights groups have called the charges polit­ic­ally mo­tiv­ated and se­lect­ively pro­sec­uted and called for Ty­moshen­ko’s re­lease.”

So how did a nat­ur­al-gas con­tract land a na­tion­al lead­er in jail? In 2009, Ty­moshen­ko inked a nat­ur­al-gas sup­ply deal with Rus­sia that some felt was un­fa­vor­able to Ukraine. The former gas ex­ec­ut­ive — known as the “gas prin­cess” — came to for­tune as an ex­ec­ut­ive for a com­pany that im­por­ted Rus­si­an nat­ur­al gas to Ukraine. She was ous­ted in the 2010 elec­tions and jailed the fol­low­ing year as the coun­try’s new lead­ers ac­cused her of ab­us­ing her power to push through the deal.

Ty­moshen­ko has denied the charges, ques­tioned the in­teg­rity of the 2010 elec­tion, and al­leged she has been mis­treated while in jail. European Uni­on of­fi­cials have sug­ges­ted her con­tin­ued im­pris­on­ment could hold up trade agree­ments, and now U.S. lead­ers are say­ing the same. “Pres­id­ent Ya­nukovych should seize a his­tor­ic op­por­tun­ity for the Ukraine by free­ing former Prime Min­is­ter Yulia Ty­moshen­ko from jail, and agree­ing to a cru­cial trade and polit­ic­al agree­ment with the European Uni­on,” said Sen. Robert Men­en­dez, D-N.J.

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