Russia antagonist Tymoshenko will run for Ukraine presidency

KIEV, Ukraine -- Yulia V. Tymoshenko, the former prime minister of Ukraine who led her nation's "Orange Revolution," declared her intention to run for the presidency, pledging Thursday to lead her nation out of economic and political turmoil and "return" Crimea to Ukraine sovereignty after its annexation by Russia.

"I think I can create a powerful defense system for the country, create a modern and efficient army and make all necessary steps … to rearm our army with the most modern weapons," Tymoshenko told supporters Thursday. "I am convinced I can protect Ukraine from aggression and have all hopes to return the occupied Crimea."


A charismatic but sometimes polarizing politician, Tymoshenko, 53, served more than 2½ years in jail on corruption charges that were criticized as politically motivated. She had run for the presidency in 2010, against eventual winner Viktor Yanukovich, who fled amid protest in February, at the start of the international tug of war over Crimea.

Tymoshenko had recently been undergoing treatment in Germany for spinal problems aggravated during her imprisonment on charges of abuse of power, related to signing a natural-gas deal with Russia in 2009.

Tymoshenko has important allies from her Batkyvshchina party in leading positions in the interim government formed after Yanukovich fled. Among them are the acting president, Parliament Chairman Olexandr Turchinov, and acting prime minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk. Party members also lead the national bank, Interior Ministry, and National Security Council.

"These people will be instrumental in organizing the election on May 25," said Vadim Karasyov, director of the Institute of Global Strategies, a Kiev-based think tank. "We can say today with much confidence that Tymoshenko will certainly make it into the second round, which will be unavoidable given the current volatile political situation."

Polls suggest billionaire Petro Poroshenko, 48, former head of the foreign and economics ministries, will garner the most votes, while Tymoshenko remains in a tight race with former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko for second spot in a presumed runoff.

Poroshenko was a sponsor of February's public revolt that left dozens dead, and sent Yanukovich into hiding.

Now a critic of Russia, Tymoshenko once enjoyed close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, notably penning the natural-gas deal with him. 

"Now, after the Russian invasion, this episode may work strongly against her," Karasyov said.

Amid Russian occupation of military and governmental institutions, voters in Crimea overwhelmingly chose independence and union with Russia in a March 16 plebiscite that was condemned by the West. The Russian parliament finalized an annexation treaty last week.

Tymoshenko told supporters that her time in prison was an invaluable experience for the upcoming electoral race.

"A majority of those who represent the people in [parliament], in the government and in [the presidential office] in reality do not understand what I have experienced in prison," she said. "It is impossible to read in books, it is impossible to learn from mass media and it is impossible to understand in full. ... None of the Ukraine politicians who are planning to run for the presidency understand the depth of lawlessness, and hence don't strive to correct it as much as I do."

Tymoshenko pledged to curb the influence of oligarchs in Ukraine and fight corruption — the very charge that sent her to prison.

Any winner of the presidential election will have to address dire economic reality. Ukraine is teetering on the brink of default, Yatsenyuk told parliament Thursday.

The International Monetary Fund extended a hand Thursday, promising $14 billion to 18 billion in aid, “with the precise amount to be determined once all bilateral and multilateral support is accounted for,” a statement on the agency's website said.

Special correspondent Butenko reported from Kiev and staff writer Loiko reported from Moscow.