A court in Kiev has sentenced former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to 13 years in prison for “high treason” for calling for Russian intervention to quash the pro-European protests that toppled his government in 2014. The verdict, which follows a trial in absentia, is largely symbolic given that Yanukovych is living in exile in Russia and unlikely to serve the sentence.
“With his deliberate illegal actions, Yanukovich committed a crime against the foundations of the national sovereignty of Ukraine, namely state treason”, Vladyslav Devyatko, the judge in the Kyiv district court, said.
The judge added that Yanukovych’s time in office had paved the way for Russia to annex Crimea and fed the fighting in eastern Ukraine between factions loyal to Kyiv and Moscow.
Yanukovych, 68, was also found guilty of “complicity in waging an aggressive war against Ukraine,” Devyatko said.
However, he was acquitted of a third charge: taking deliberate actions that violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Viktor Yanukovych’s lawyer immediately announced his intention to appeal the conviction, saying “there is no doubt that the court worked under pressure from the current government.
Elected president of Ukraine in February 2010, Yanukovych fled in February 2014 to Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia, after several weeks of a protests that erupted after he scrapped plans for a landmark agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Moscow. More than 100 people were killed and 2,500 injured in clashes with security forces during the so-called Euromaidan uprising, which took its name from the central Sqaure in Kiev where the demonstrators gathered.
The charge of High Treason was based on document sent to Vladimir Putin on 1st March 2014 in which Viktor Yanukovych, days after his dismissal, called for “the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation (…) with the aim of restoring constitutional order and stability as well as defending the Ukrainian population”.
For many, the Yanukovych years remain mostly associated with economic predation. It is estimated that up to 40 billion euros were lost to state coffers due to corruption during his premiership.