The European Union's foreign ministers have urged Ukraine to take action on jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko before they move ahead with a landmark free trade deal to be signed at a summit next week.
On Monday, several EU member states called on Ukraine to release Tymoshenko, even if just for medical treatment in Germany.
"My urgent appeal to Ukraine is to act now, to agree to a viable path to the rule of law, and not play for time," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at talks with 27 of his EU counterparts in Brussels. "Time is running out."
The EU and Ukraine are set to sign a major free trade agreement at a summit next week in Lithuania, an act seen as the first step towards Kyiv's possible entry into the bloc. The EU, however, has laid out a series of demands that must first be met, including addressing Tymoshenko and broader concerns about selective justice.
'Work to be done'
Tymoshenko is currently serving a seven-year jail sentence for abuse of power relating to oil deals when she was prime minister between 2007-10. The EU has said the charges against her are politically motivated and have accused Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych of going after his opponents.
Tymoshenko's case is "an indication of where Ukraine is at on the issue of rule of law," said Irish foreign minister Eamon Gilmore. "There is some work to be done yet."
"Everything is in the hands of President Yanukovych," said Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. "We have a policy, I'm not certain he's got a policy."
Concern over the success of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement grew Friday when a bill failed that would have granted prisoners like Tymoshenko permission to leave the country for medical treatment.
"You don't play with Europe. The conditions are clear," said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn. "Ukraine is not doing well economically – moving closer to the EU would be in Ukraine's interests."
'Still time' for deal
The Ukrainian parliament meets on Tuesday, and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said that means "there is still time" for a deal.
The EU is also looking to sign initial association agreements with Moldova and Georgia at the Eastern Partnership summit later this month. The deals would put in place the framework for a gradual economic integration with the bloc, including the easing of travel restrictions and closer political ties in return for meeting a series of demands.
Russia has put heavy pressure on Ukraine and other eastern countries to avoid moving closer to the EU and instead join its own Customs Union.
dr/hc (dpa, AFP, epd)