The European Union
urged Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Monday to intervene personally to end a stand-off over jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko that is threatening to derail a EU-Ukraine trade deal.
With less than two weeks to go before the trade agreement is due to be signed at a summit in Lithuanian capital Vilnius, EU foreign ministers made clear Ukraine had not yet done enough to meet conditions the bloc has laid down.
The fundamental sticking point is over former prime minister Tymoshenko, a fierce opponent of Yanukovych who was jailed in 2011 for seven years for abuse of office. Western governments have described the trial as politically motivated.
EU governments see Tymoshenko's case as symbolic of “selective justice” in Ukraine and want her to be allowed to travel to Germany to be treated for a chronic back ailment. There had also been a push by some EU governments for her to receive a pardon, but Yanukovych is not comfortable with that.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he wanted Ukraine to look towards Europe and benefit from closer trade ties with the EU, but it also had to meet basic requirements.
“I urgently recommend Ukraine to act ... and not play for time. Time is running out,” he told reporters as he arrived for an EU meeting that was due to discuss Ukraine.
Berlin's offer to allow Tymoshenko to come to Germany for medical treatment remained on the table, he said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in the Bundestag lower house of parliament, held out the prospects of financial incentives if Ukraine meets EU demands.
“I will push in Vilnius for the EU to counteract this pressure with concrete opportunities and real solidarity,” Merkel said .
“This could be done by offering additional sales possibilities for products of our partner that cannot be exported to Russia, or through help in broadening its supplies of energy,” she said.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose country holds the EU presidency, said that for the agreement to be signed Ukraine must enact reforms on elections and the public prosecutor's office and resolve the Tymoshenko question.
“If this is not done, it will not be possible to sign the agreement,” she told reporters in Vilnius.
Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said Yanukovich had the power to make or break the agreement.
“We all know that President Yanukovych has it in his power to find a solution,” Spindelegger said, adding that he would try to persuade Yanukovych to reach a compromise when he meets him in Vienna on Thursday.
Signing a trade and cooperation deal with the 28-nation EU would mark an historic westwards shift for Ukraine, moving the former Soviet republic away from Russian influence.
Failure to sign would be a setback for the EU's policy of engagement with ex-Soviet states and for Yanukovych, who has made integration with Europe his main foreign policy goal.
A lack of agreement would please Moscow, which has used trade sanctions and the threat of disruption to energy supplies to dissuade Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and other former Soviet republics from moving closer to the EU. Russia has urged them to join a rival Russian-led customs union instead.
Yanukovych has signaled he would let Tymoshenko go to Germany, but only if she went there as a convicted person, falling short of the pardon some EU governments would like to see. His biggest fear is that she is pardoned and returns to Ukraine to challenge him in elections in 2015.
The Ukrainian parliament failed last Wednesday to agree on a draft law allowing Tymoshenko to go to Germany for treatment but may try again this week, when two EU envoys will return to Ukraine to try to broker a solution.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt accused Yanukovich of indecisiveness. “Everything is in the hands of President Yanukovich. We have a policy. I am not quite certain that he has a policy,” Bildt said.