Kiev - Lithuania's president warned the Ukrainian leadership on Friday that a “crisis of trust” was growing between Ukraine and its European partners over jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko which could block its hopes of a future in mainstream Europe. Dalia Grybauskaite, the Lithuanian president, spoke to reporters 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.
Grybauskaite was the first foreign leader to see the former prime minister since Tymoshenko was jailed last October for seven years for alleged abuse of office after a trial denounced in the West as politically motivated.
Her plight, and her allegations that she was beaten by prison guards, has triggered an outcry in the West, prompting some politicians in the European Union to threaten to boycott next month's European soccer championship which Ukraine is co-hosting.
Grybauskaite said the firebrand politician was strong in spirit and mind and was concerned only for the European future of her country, warning a crisis between Kiev and Europe risked growing.
“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, Ukrainian President Viktor 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, who was due to see Yanukovich in Kiev later on Friday, told reporters: “I will say (to Yanukovich) that unfortunately everything that has suddenly happened - the boycott of the Yalta summit - could turn into a serious crisis of trust 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.
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 and Yanukovich is now threatened with isolation on the international stage.
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. - Reuters