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Ex-Ukrainian leader to run for president

Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was the chief nemesis of ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych and spent most of his presidency incarcerated.

Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was the chief nemesis of ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych and spent most of his presidency incarcerated.

KIEV — Yulia Tymoshenko, who for a decade has made Ukrainian politics an impassioned melodrama, said Thursday she would run for president in the May 25 election.

The former prime minister, who was freed from prison a month ago and released from the hospital a week ago, is facing what may be her last opportunity to reclaim the affection of Ukrainians that she squandered after the Orange Revolution of 2004 thrust her into a position of power.

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On a day when Ukraine reached an agreement with the International Monetary Fund that will bring the country as much as $18 billion in loans, plus an additional $9 billion in associated assistance from the West — as well as a day when the UN General Assembly voted, 100 to 11, in favor of a nonbinding resolution declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea illegitimate — Tymoshenko asked for another chance.

A new poll suggests that it’s a slim one.

She has always been a bundle of contradictions. But that hasn’t necessarily been a handicap in Ukraine.

She was the chief nemesis of ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych, who ensured that she spent most of his presidency incarcerated. Yet she has tended to get along well with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Yanukovych’s sponsor. She made her fortune in the natural gas business. She met her downfall over a natural gas deal with Russia, which Yanukovych said was too generous to Moscow.

Putin said last year that Tymoshenko should be released from prison, where she had been sent for ‘‘abuse of office.’’

On Thursday, she said, ‘‘I consider Vladimir Putin to be Ukraine’s enemy number one.’’

That, of course, comes after Russia’s takeover of Crimea and Putin’s threats against the rest of Ukraine.

Tymoshenko, who is from the eastern, Russian-speaking city of Dnepropetrovsk, portrays herself as a Ukrainian heroine, with her unmistakable blond braid wrapped around her head.

If she is to make headway in the eight weeks before the election, she has to overcome two rivals: Petro Poroshenko, the ‘‘chocolate king’’ of Ukraine, and Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing champion turned politician.

According to one national poll, conducted March 14-19 by the Center for Social and Marketing Research, Poroshenko is on top, with support from nearly 25 percent of registered voters, followed by Klitschko with nearly 9 percent. Tymoshenko was running third, backed by slightly more than 8 percent of voters.

Among several other candidates, Oleh Tiahnybok, leader of the right-wing All-Ukrainian Union ‘‘Svoboda’’ party, considered by Russia to be a dangerous extremist, was favored by fewer than 2 percent of voters, according to the poll.

Tymoshenko’s announcement was a reminder to Ukraine that steadying the nation is not what she’s about. Her bickering with her Orange Revolution partner, Viktor Yushchenko, helped to undermine progress after 2004.

She declined to pursue the sorts of legal reforms that might have enabled her to stay out of prison when a vindictive Yanukovych came after her after his election victory in 2010.

She has been in the limelight for half of Ukraine’s existence as a sovereign nation — years during which it fell far behind its Western European neighbors economically and failed to cement an identity as a unified nation.

But she’s tough and determined, and her supporters, though limited in numbers, adore her.

The IMF deal, extended over two years, is part of a far-reaching effort to keep Ukraine from plunging into default and to steady the country as it attempts to build democratic institutions.

The money from the IMF comes with stringent conditions. Ukraine is facing a period of sharp cutbacks in social spending. The interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said Thursday the government expects the gross domestic product to decline 3 percent with the new package of loans and reforms. He said it would decline 10 percent without it.

At a news conference in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, President Obama called the IMF agreement ‘‘a major step forward.’’

‘‘This is a concrete signal of how the world has united around Ukraine,’’ Obama said, adding that the agreement would help spur democratic and economic reforms in the country.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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