Lithuania leader warns Ukraine's Yanukovich of 'isolation'

Dalia Grybauskaite, the Lithuanian president, met Yanukovich after seeing Tymoshenko for an hour in a hospital in the city of Kharkiv

Lithuania leader warns Ukraine's Yanukovich of 'isolation'

Lithuania's president warned Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on Friday that he was courting "isolation" by the European Union through his treatment of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Dalia Grybauskaite, the Lithuanian president, met Yanukovich after seeing Tymoshenko for an hour in a hospital in the city of Kharkiv to where she was moved from prison on Wednesday for treatment for back pain.

Emerging from her talks in the capital Kiev with Yanukovich, she said she had told him that if he did not guarantee lawful rights to his opponents, including Tymoshenko, the relationship with the EU would become "critical".

"One or another degree of isolation will be guaranteed," she told reporters.

Grybauskaite was the first foreign leader to see Tymoshenko since the opposition leader was jailed last October for seven years for alleged abuse of office after a trial denounced by the EU and the United States as politically motivated.

Tymoshenko's allegations last month that she was beaten by prison guards further fuelled the outcry in the West, prompting some European politicians to threaten to boycott next month's European soccer championship which Ukraine is co-hosting.

After meeting Tymoshenko, Grybauskaite said the firebrand politician herself was strong in spirit and mind and was concerned only for the European future of her country.

But she warned a "crisis of trust" was growing between Ukraine and its European partners which could block its hopes of a place in mainstream Europe.

"I want to stop as quickly as possible this small ball of mistrust from snowballing. We - neither Europe nor Ukraine, I hope - can allow this crisis to become an obstacle for Ukraine ... and an obstacle to its European future," she said.

Earlier this week, Yanukovich, whom Tymoshenko accuses of waging a vendetta against her, cancelled a summit of Central and East European leaders on the Black Sea after several key participants said they were staying away.

Grybauskaite told reporters in Kharkiv that the message she woiuld relay to Yanukovich was that a "serious crisis of trust" was growing up between Ukraine and Europe.

She specifically referred to a landmark agreement on political association between Ukraine and the EU which has been formally initialled, but whose signing and ratification has now been put on hold.

Ukrainian authorities deny Tymoshenko was ill-treated, saying they had been unable to verify her claims of physical mistreatment and were therefore unable to launch a criminal case into them.

"Pause" in relations

Putting on a brave face, Yanukovich said on Friday that both Ukraine and the EU could benefit from the "pause" in relations.

Meeting Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti, he said: "I would say that the European Union has proposed a pause. And the way I see it is that a pause is to the benefit of both Ukraine and the EU," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

The row over Tymoshenko, an old rival of Yanukovich who only narrowly beat her to the presidency in February 2010, has driven the former Soviet republic's relations with Western powers to new lows.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has led the EU in criticism of Ukraine over the Tymoshenko affair, said on Thursday that the Ukrainian people were suffering under a "dictatorship", likening it to Belarus, one of Europe's most isolated countries.

She is one of several politicians who have suggested they will stay away from the prestigious, month-long Euro-2012 tournament which Ukraine is co-hosting with Poland from June 8 to the final in Kiev on July 1.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has also said he has no plans to visit Ukraine and the other 26 commissioners are following suit.

EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss strategy for handling Ukraine when they meet in Brussels next Monday, an EU diplomat said.

Tymoshenko came off a hunger strike she had maintained for nearly three weeks to protest against her alleged beating when she was admitted to the Kharkiv hospital for treatment under the supervision of a German doctor.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 12 Mayıs 2012, 13:00

Muhammed Öylek