Ukraine’s Ex-President Is Convicted of Treason, as He Watches From Russia

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KIEV, Ukraine — Former President Viktor F. Yanukovych committed treason by inviting Russia to invade Ukraine and reverse a pro-Western revolution that ousted him from power, a court in Kiev ruled on Thursday, sentencing Mr. Yanukovych to 13 years in prison.

The former president is a widely reviled figure in Ukraine for his over-the-top corruption — he lived in a palace with a private zoo — and because the police shot dozens of antigovernment demonstrators during an uprising in 2014. He has also been widely characterized in Ukraine and the West as pro-Russia — and even as a puppet of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin.

The court’s ruling was the first to formally determine that Mr. Yanukovych was serving Russian interests while president of Ukraine.

Before his work on the 2016 Trump campaign, Paul J. Manafort was a political consultant for Mr. Yanukovych; he has been convicted of multiple criminal charges stemming from the investigation into Russian manipulation of the United States election.

Mr. Yanukovych fled to Russia after being ousted in February 2014 and was tried in absentia. The treason case focused narrowly on one episode of his downfall: a last-ditch effort to hold onto power after he had already fled the capital by appealing to Mr. Putin to intervene militarily on his behalf.

Prosecutors pointed to a letter Mr. Yanukovych sent to Mr. Putin as an indication of treason. Though Russian forces did invade Ukraine within days of Mr. Yanukovych’s fall, the Kremlin never in fact accepted his plea for help as a legal pretext for doing so.

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Vitaly I. Churkin, read Mr. Yanukovych’s appeal at a Security Council meeting in March 2014. The Russian Senate also authorized military action abroad.

But rather than rely on Mr. Yanukovych’s invitation, Russia intervened using a ruse: Soldiers wearing uniforms without identifying insignia turned up on the Crimean Peninsula and in two provinces in eastern Ukraine. Russian officials said they were local militia or members of a motorcycle gang.

Mr. Putin later conceded those in Crimea included Russian soldiers with the military intelligence agency known as the G.R.U.

More than 10,000 people have died in the ensuing war, according to the United Nations, the worst bloodshed in Europe since the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.

In his letter, Mr. Yanukovych asserted that Western countries were backing an illegal coup and that Russia should intervene to restore his authority.

“An illegal seizure of power has led Ukraine to the cusp of civil war,” Mr. Yanukovych wrote, according to Vladislav Devyatko, the judge who read the verdict aloud on Thursday. “Chaos and anarchy rule the country. The lives and rights of people are threatened, particularly in the southeast and in Crimea.”

The letter went on to say that “I appeal to the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, with a request to use the armed forces of Russia to restore legal authority, peace, order and stability.”

A panel of three judges found Mr. Yanukovych guilty and imposed the prison sentence on Thursday, but he is unlikely to spend a day behind bars, as he now lives in Russia.

Mr. Yanukovych’s lawyers told the court that their client could not testify by video conference because he had injured his knee and back while playing tennis outside Moscow. They called the process political and rigged.

Mr. Yanukovych is also under investigation in Ukraine over corruption allegations and the deaths of more than 100 demonstrators killed in Independence Square in Kiev during the final three days of the uprising in February 2014.

Mr. Yanukovych and his political party, the Party of Regions, were the primary clients of Mr. Manafort’s political consulting business for a decade before Mr. Manafort became chairman of the Trump campaign.

Mr. Manafort continued working for wealthy Ukrainians affiliated with the Party of Regions after Mr. Yanukovych’s downfall and last visited Kiev in 2015.

Last August, Mr. Manafort was convicted in Virginia of fraud and money laundering related to his work in Ukraine, in a case brought by the special prosecutor investigating Russian interference in the American election and possible collusion by members of the Trump team. Prosecutors have accused Mr. Manafort of lying about his interactions during the campaign with his former office manager in Kiev, a Russian citizen they say worked for Russian intelligence.

The American prosecutors asserted that Mr. Manafort had lied about passing polling data from the Trump campaign to the Russian, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, according to a court filing. Mr. Manafort’s lawyers argued in a filing this week that prosecutors misinterpreted an honest memory lapse for lying.

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