Judge Rodion Kireyev said Tymoshenko had exceeded her powers when she signed a 2009 deal with Moscow that left Ukraine paying a high price for Russian gas.
The trial, launched in May, has been harshly criticised by the Ukrainian opposition and EU leaders. Tymoshenko, a leader of Ukraine’s western-leaning Orange Revolution six years ago, has reverted to being the country’s chief opposition politician and rival to President Viktor Yanukovych since leaving the office of prime minister last year. She has accused Yanukovych of orchestrating her arrest.
An emotional Tymoshenko, wearing her trademark plait and a cream-coloured dress, addressed reporters during a break in the reading of the verdict to accuse Yanukovych of building an “authoritarian regime”. The 50-year-old compared her trial to Stalin’s purges, when the Soviet dictator sought to eliminate his perceived enemies.
Before the judge began reading the verdict, Tymoshenko had told the court: “You know very well that the sentence is not being pronounced by Judge Kireyev, but by President Yanukovich.”
“Whatever the sentence pronounced, my struggle will continue,” she said, flanked by her husband and daughter. Tymoshenko’s supporters were gathered outside the courtroom in Kiev, where city officials have deployed around 1,000 police officers.
A sentence is expected later on Tuesday. Prosecutors have asked the judge to send her to prison for seven years.
Some Ukrainian analysts speculate the leadership in Kiev could attempt to save face by overturning any sentence. That would leave Tymoshenko out of prison but, under Ukrainian law, bar her from participating in political life in the country.
The EU has warned Ukraine that increasingly close ties between Kiev and the bloc would be “jeopardised” by a guilty verdict. Nearly a dozen of Tymoshenko’s associates have been arrested since Yanukovych came to power last year after a closely contested vote. He has denied carrying out a witch-hunt.