Today, here in Alexandria, Virginia, we’ve been following on Ukrainian television former President Poroshenko’s arrival in Kyiv, and his subsequent court appearance in connection with charges of High Treason brought against him. Here is what took place today:
- Upon his arrival, the officer at passport control took Poroshenko’s passport, allegedly to make sure that the passport Poroshenko presented was really his. Poroshenko’s passport was later returned to him.
- At the airport, a lawyer approached Poroshenko, introducing himself as a public defender sent by the government of Ukraine to represent Poroshenko in the treason case. Since he has retained his own counsel, Poroshenko declined the public defender’s offer of representation.
- Rather than being taken out of the airport and directly into custody, prior to his court appearance in Central Kyiv, Poroshenko was allowed to give a speech to approximately 15,000 supporters who came to the airport to welcome him.
- At the court, the judge did not have the benefit of a live mike, making his statements impossible for the participants to hear what he was saying.
- Eventually, the judge retired to his chambers to consider whether to place Poroshenko under arrest.
- After time had passed, the judged advised the court that he wasn’t feeling well and he needed time to recover.
- There were around 20,000 people, mostly Poroshenko supporters, outside the courthouse, along with many buses with tinted windows, normally used to take demonstrators to jail.
- At around 10:30 pm Kyiv Time, that judge announced that there would be a continuance, until 10:00 am this coming Wednesday, January 19.
Some background and observations:
- When Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General and a Zelenskiy appointee, was away from the office for a day, one of her deputies filed the charges of treason against Poroshenko. Was Venediktova's absence deliberate, as a way of avoiding taking responsibility for filing the charges herself, and on whose instructions did her subordinate file the charges?
- Instead of going directly to jail, which was expected, Poroshenko has at least one day, tomorrow (Wednesday), to rally his supporters, give interviews, and generally galvanise opposition to the effort to put him behind bars.
- Last week, in an interview with Andriy Yermak, President Zelenskiy’s Chief of Staff, Ambassador John Herbst asked Yermak about Poroshenko’s pending prosecution. Yermak assured Herbst that the prosecution will be handled under the principle of the “Rule of Law.”
- President Zelenskiy appears to be using the same tactic as his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, namely instituting a criminal prosecution against his major political rival. In the case of Yanukovych, his rival was former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
- Today, a delegation of seven US Senators arrived in Kyiv and met with President Zelenskiy, including Democrat Senators Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, along with Republican Senators Rob Portman of Ohio, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Roger Wicker of Mississippi. Portman, Murphy and Klobuchar have been to Ukraine before, as part of delegations that were led by the late John McCain, a committed supporter of the country. Roger Wicker is the Ranking Member of the Senate Delegation to the Helsinki Commission, and Blumenthal Murphy are both Commissioners. It would not be surprising if the judge’s delay in today’s proceedings against Poroshenko was due to the presence in Kyiv of this Delegation.
In the meantime, there are 100,000 soldiers stationed near Russia’s border with Ukraine.
At the time of opposition firebrand Yulia Tymoshenko’s prosecution, an observer pointed out that prosecutors in countries that made up the former Soviet Union, including both Ukraine and the Russian Federation, have forgotten how to conduct a proper “Show Trial.” Unlike the courtroom where the proceedings against war veteran Nadiya Savchenko, Poroshenko and Tymoshenko took place, a proper show trial is held in an ornate courtroom, where the accused is placed in a cage after having already made a confession, the judge and prosecutor make impassioned statements about the heinous crimes perpetrated by the accused, a sentence passed out followed by the prescribed punishment.
Instead, Tymoshenko was allowed to make a mockery or the proceedings in her trial, where the judge wore thick glasses and he appeared to be bothered by a nervous tick in one of his eyes (he now resides in Russia). Savchenko, a former Ukrainian helicopter pilot who, in June 2014, was captured in Donbas by occupiers and turned over to Russia was, in her trial in Russia, allowed to do the same thing.
Today, Poroshenko managed to make a mockery of the proceedings against him, without even being arrested or being put on trial.
Robert Homans is an international financial sector consultant based in Washington DC and tweets at @rhomansjr