Yulia Tymoshenko was the Prime Minister of Ukraine in 2005 and from 2007 to 2010. In October 2011, she was sentenced to seven years prison by a Ukrainian court. Everybody important in international politics has formed an opinion on the case – and on the character of the ex-PM herself. These opinions, just like the images transmitted by different news sources can sometimes differ greatly from each other. Here are some examples of “the faces of Tymoshenko”.
It may be obvious that these images reflect the interests of the given actors. Therefore it is not surprising that our first chosen example, the US media, gives quite a balanced view of the case. It focuses on the events and does not build up a specific image around Tymoshenko. The reason for doing so might be that the United States has few interestes in the events in Ukraine.
The most important Western actor in Tymoshenko’s case is the EU. Its media (here represented by EurActiv.com) clearly shows what the ex-PM means to Europe. Ukraine is politically divided into two parts: the part which wants to belong to the EU and the part which prefers close relations with Russia. Tymoshenko is the representative of the pro-Europe side, which might be one of the reasons why the EU is backing her. Moreover, for the EU Ukraine is both politically and geographically strategic. Therefore it would be very helpful to have the pro-Europe side in charge. EU-Ukraine relations are strongly affected by the democratisation process in Ukraine. Tymoshenko’s imprisonment is a step back in this regard, which is a perfect excuse to hide the real interests behind, which some speculate might be interests in gas supply. To sum up, in the EU Tymoshenko is the European victim of an undemocratic process.
On the other side there is Russia, who for obvious reasons has a strong interest in Ukrainian affairs. We could see that Tymoshenko represented the pro-European side. However, if the charges against her are right, she signed a gas deal which went against Ukrainian national interests – and which was good for Russia. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin therefore condemned the trial. Still, leading Russian newspaper Pravda has published headlines such as “Western newspapers varnish Tymoshenko’s reputation” and “Tymoshenko defended by the West just because she is not pro-Russian”. It is worth mentioning that not only Tymoshenko’s character but also Western (mostly EU-) media is attacked. Russian media does not discuss the question of democratic values in detail.
After the viewpoints of the the USA, EU and Russia it is also worth examining how Ukraine’s neighbours perceived the events. They have closer relations with and more knowledge about the country. Poland has paid particular attention to the case because during its EU presidency (in the second half of 2011) its main goal was to bring Ukraine closer to the EU. The most successful moment of this process could have been the signing of the Association Agreement – but this ultimately did not take place. Now the lack of signatures is not seen as a failure of Poland – the negotiations have been finished, the signing is the only thing left, which means Poland has done its job.
The foremost reason standing in the way of signing the Association Agreement is said to be the democratic deficit in Ukraine, as evidenced by the Tymoshenko trial. According to Eastbook.eu, Poland would have overlooked this deficit in order to make its presidency a success. Even if this means helping Ukraine’s current pro-Russian government, and even if Poland finds democratic values very important, the real reason of delaying the signing is that the leading powers of the EU (mostly Germany and France) are afraid of harming their relations with Russia. In short, while Poland mostly agrees with the EU’s opinion on the Tymoshenko trial, it has a more sophisticated image of her character, showing the interests of the Polish foreign policy in a less concealed way.
There are a lot more “faces of Tymoshenko”. The ones above represent how images of her are influenced by political interests. Her depiction is a result of the logic of domestic Ukrainian politics: the bipolar division determines both the discourse and her supporters.