EU envoy says Tymoshenko release key 'objective' awaiting bloc deal
(BRUSSELS) - The release of jailed former premier Yulia Tymoshenko is a key objective of European Union policy as it reviews ties with Ukraine and the possible signing of an association and trade accord, top officials said after an in-depth trip to Kiev.
The agreement -- an important step on the way to possible future EU membership for Ukraine -- is due to be signed in November but first Brussels wants to address a whole series of rights issues with Kiev, chief among them the jailing of Tymoshenko.
Former European Parliament head Pat Cox said a recent "dense and intense... (visit) has yielded positive results," listing 14 meetings with Ukraine Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, eight with President Viktor Yanukovych, seven with Tymoshenko and another 17 with opposition figures.
Asked about the possible release of Tymoshenko, Cox said: "It is a strong aim of this commission to make meaningful progress on the issue.
"We do not arrive with conditions... but we do arrive with objectives and our mandate is very clear," he added.
The European Commission will first deliver a recommendation to EU national governments next month for a collective decision on whether to sign the association accord with the ex-Soviet state at a November gathering of the EU and its ex-Communist neighbours in Lithuania.
Earlier this month, Yanukovych pardoned a close ally of Tymoshenko, sparking speculation that her release could come soon, but the president has bluntly ruled out that possibility.
Cox's co-partner on the Ukraine mission, former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewki, said the pair were "satisfied" after difficult months.
"The goal is quite clear," Kwasniewki said of the association agreement.
Tymoshenko, who lost a heated presidential election to Yanukovych in 2010, was jailed for seven years in 2011 on charges of overstepping her authority while prime minister by agreeing a gas deal with Russia.
A new fraud and tax evasion trial against Tymoshenko has dragged on for nearly a year in Kharkiv, where she is jailed, with hearings repeatedly postponed due to her absence for medical reasons.
The opposition leader has denounced the trial as a political vendetta on the part of President Yanukovych.
Tymoshenko's next hearing is scheduled for April 23.
Yanukovych said this week that a pardon for Tymoshenko would be "impossible" while court proceedings are ongoing.