Tymoshenko Takes Fight to U.S.

(Media Credit/Associated Press)

By Dan Peleschuk, Student Editor

Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko filed suit recently in a U.S. court against oligarch and Yanukovych backer Dmytro Firtash, co-owner of the RosUkrEnergo (RUE) gas trading company, claiming he defrauded the Ukrainian state of billions of dollars in natural gas reserves.

According to court documents obtained and published by the Kyiv Post, Tymoshenko accuses the current administration of collusion with Firtash’s scheme to exploit an international arbitration ruling to keep his company in the lucrative and opaque gas trade business. She also alleges that the Yanukovych administration has subjected her to “politically motivated” investigations meant to intimidate her and other opposition politicians from pushing for greater political rights and freedoms. 

The move is only the latest in a series of legal offensives between the Yanukovych administration and members of Tymoshenko’s former government. The former premier herself has come under attack by the Yanukovych camp for corruption: two American law firms hired by the president allegedly found several instances of financial malfeasance during the premier’s tenure. Moreover, Tymoshenko has come under increasing scrutiny by state prosecutors, chosen by Yanukovych, who have banned her from traveling outside Ukraine during the period of the investigation. 

What’s unique about this case, however, is that Tymoshenko is ostensibly suing “on behalf of the Ukrainian people” in a class action case, as RFE/RL describes. Indeed, the documents include as the plaintiffs Tymoshenko, former members of her government, and “all other similarly situated in Ukraine who have had their fundamental human and political rights violated by the defendants…” 

Could this be the golden-locked premier’s trademark populism at work? Or is it the latest spat in a deep-seeded vendetta?

On one hand, Tymoshenko has waged a seemingly personal battle with Firtash and RUE since as early as January 2006, when the intermediary was contracted to supply Russian and Central Asian gas to Ukraine, much to her – and many observers’ – protest. During her second tenure as prime minister from 2007-2009, she inked a new contract with her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, which effectively pushed RUE out of the picture and allowed Ukrainian state gas company, NaftoHaz, to secure about 11 bilion cubic meters of gas from RUE. Firtash responded by bringing a successful case to a Stockholm court which ordered in June 2010 for NaftoHaz to return the gas to RUE, along with an extra billion cubic meters. For Tymoshenko, this was no doubt a personal defeat.

On the other hand, Tymoshenko has consistently relied on such populist rhetoric to secure political capital. These days, moreover, it’s less about winning elections than about simply discrediting the current government. The Ukrainian opposition has been substantially weakened since Yanukovych’s entrance into office, either by its own lack of organization or by the current administration’s witch hunt against members of the former “Orange” government. Tymoshenko’s latest move may be another effort at hurling rocks in Yanukovych’s direction – practically the only tactic left at the opposition’s disposal in its current state.

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