Court in Ukraine Declines Request to Arrest Former President

KYIV, Ukraine — A court in Ukraine ruled on Wednesday that a former president and opposition politician, Petro O. Poroshenko, could await trial while released on his own recognizance, in a positive sign for domestic political stability in the country.

Prosecutors in President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government had asked the court to arrest Mr. Poroshenko pending trial on charges of treason and supporting terrorism. Western diplomats view the case as influenced by domestic political considerations, but it has proceeded despite their pleas that Ukraine’s leaders set aside internal feuds, at least while Russia masses troops at the border.

Arresting Mr. Poroshenko on Wednesday would also have put a damper on Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s visit to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Mr. Blinken was in Kyiv to show support from the Biden administration for Ukraine.

Mr. Poroshenko has a longstanding relationship with President Biden. The two coordinated closely during Russia’s military intervention into Ukraine in 2014, when Mr. Poroshenko was president of Ukraine and Mr. Biden oversaw Ukraine policy as vice president in the Obama administration.

Supporters of Mr. Poroshenko in Kyiv on Wednesday. Western diplomats view the case against him as influenced by domestic political considerations.Credit…Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Prosecutors had requested Mr. Poroshenko be placed either under pretrial arrest or post bail of 1 billion Ukrainian hryvnia, about $35 million. After two days of hearings, the court in Kyiv allowed Mr. Poroshenko to await trial without posting bail. The court prohibited him from traveling outside Ukraine and required that he obtain permission from the police to leave the vicinity of Kyiv.

Mr. Poroshenko led Ukraine from 2014 to 2019, when he was soundly defeated by his rival, Mr. Zelensky. Since then, Mr. Zelensky’s government has questioned Mr. Poroshenko as a witness in a raft of criminal cases. Mr. Poroshenko has a base of support in Ukraine’s nationalist politics, particularly in the country’s western regions, where support is highest for close ties with the European Union and NATO.

The feud between the men, Ukraine’s two most popular politicians, according to opinion polls, continued through the fall and winter, even as Russian forces massed near the border and posed an existential risk to their country.

President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv this month. Prosecutors for his government had asked the court to arrest Mr. Poroshenko pending trial on charges of treason and supporting terrorism. Credit…Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA, via Shutterstock

Though it did not escalate with an arrest on Wednesday, the bout of infighting in Ukrainian politics is far from over. Mr. Poroshenko has said that he is under investigation in more than 120 separate criminal and civil cases.

The charges of treason and supporting terrorism, the issue in court on Wednesday, stem from his policy as president of allowing the purchase of coal from mines in areas in eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists for use in factories in government-controlled territory. Mr. Poroshenko has said that the arrangement was necessary to avoid economic collapse in Ukraine. If convicted, he faces 15 years in prison.

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