A supporter holds a portrait of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko… (Sergey Dolzhenko, EPA )
Reporting from Moscow -- The abuse-of-power trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko slid into chaos Wednesday when the Western-leaning politician was tossed from a Kiev courtroom after calling the judge a "monster" and her prosecution a "farce."
The former princess of the so-called Orange Revolution, which in late 2004 and early 2005 loosened Ukraine's ties to Russia, is also under investigation, government officials said, on possible charges of high treason and the alleged attempted embezzlement of $405 million while she and her colleagues were in power. Tymoshenko was ousted by the Ukrainian parliament last year after President Viktor Yanukovich, a bitter rival long viewed as close to Russia, took office.
Ironically, the current case, in which Tymoshenko, 50, faces up to ten years in prison, involves the 2009 purchase of Russian natural gas, allegedly at prices favorable to Moscow.
Opponents say she had no right to unilaterally sign a deal with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and claim it was an unfair agreement that eventually cost Ukraine about $1.5 billion. Tymoshenko has said the pact was needed to end a prolonged pricing stalemate with Russia that had left Ukraine and several European Union countries without fuel when Moscow cut off supplies. The proceedings against her, she says, are nothing more than an act of political vengeance by opponents, who would like to see her imprisoned or marginalized in forthcoming elections.
Tymoshenko loudly made her feelings known Wednesday when she refused to stand up in court before Judge Rodion Kireyev, and termed the proceedings "a farce trial," Interfax news agency reported.
The judge banned live television coverage of witness testimony, leading Tymoshenko to protest: "They need to do it in silence without witnesses ? pass a verdict within 2.5 minutes and preferably execute [me] at once."
Later in the day, the judge summoned a police convoy to eject party colleagues of Tymoshenko and several journalists in attendance. "You are a monster," she then told the judge. "You set the police on the unarmed people."
The judge then called the police again to escort her out of the courtroom for a day.
The current treason probe is being conducted by a commission whose preliminary findings were recently approved by Ukraine's parliament, which authorized further investigation to determine whether Tymoshenko should be prosecuted, according to legislator Inna Bogoslovskaya, who heads the commission.
"By Ukraine's laws, Tymoshenko had absolutely no right to single-handedly sign the gas deal with Russia," Bogoslovskaya said.
Yet Tymoshenko did so even though an energy company she founded in 1991 -- United Energy Systems of Ukraine -- at the time owed a lingering debt of more than $400 million to Russia, Bogoslovskaya said.
"That document with her signature is for her now like Al Capone's tax declaration was for the notorious gangster," said the legislator, indicating that she is pursuing claims that the former prime minister acted in the interests of a foreign state for her own personal well-being.
Despite the seriousness of such charges, many political experts believe Tymoshenko will eventually receive no more than a suspended sentence because Yanukovich's government can't politically afford to put her in prison.
"Of course Tymoshenko's trial to a certain degree is politically colored," Volodymyr Fesenko, director of the Penta Center for Applied Political Studies, a Kiev-based think tank, said in a telephone interview. "Placing Tymoshenko under arrest and sentencing her to a prison term may seriously complicate Ukraine's relations with the West."