EU says Tymoshenko trial could block Ukraine deal
Sopot, Poland - European Union members could block an agreement on closer ties with Ukraine if Kiev continues with a "show trial" against the country's former leader, senior EU diplomats said on Saturday.
Kiev is in talks with Brussels on strengthening bilateral ties that could eventually lead to trade concessions, but the bloc is concerned about the detention of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the main political rival of President Viktor Yanukovich.
"I think there is increasing anxiety around Europe about what is happening in Ukraine, " British Foreign Minister William Hague said.
"It is very important that the authorities in the Ukraine understand that there is concern among European countries about that will be increasingly strongly voiced, " he told Reuters.
Tymoshenko, 50, was a leader of the 2004 "Orange Revolution, " which sunk Yanukovich's first presidential bid.
The United States has also condemned Tymoshenko's arrest on charges of forcing a state energy firm into an unfavourable gas deal with Russia in 2009.
EU foreign ministers meeting in the Polish coastal resort of Sopot warned that an agreement on closer cooperation with Ukraine could be blocked unless the Tymoshenko case was solved.
"The majority view (in the EU) is that the agreement can be finalised only if the Tymoshenko case is solved, " French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said. "It means having a free and fair trial and abandoning the unjustified charges against her."
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Ukraine should be aware of the fact that even if the agreement were concluded, it would need to be ratified.
"And if they continue with show trials of that sort, and it's not only Yulia Tymoshenko's case, I think the chances for an agreement being ratified are fairly slim, " he told Reuters.
The Kiev-Brussels talks are aimed at eventually freeing up trade between the 27-nation bloc and Ukraine, which exports grain to the EU, while importing machinery, among other things. Ukraine is also an important transit route for Russian gas.
The EU's current presidency, Poland, has long sought to promote the European aspirations of its eastern non-EU neighbours and has made finalising the talks with Ukraine a goal of its six-month term at the EU helm, which ends in December.
"We are determined to finalise the talks by the end of December, " a Polish diplomatic source told Reuters.
In August, thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets in Kiev to protest against the Tymoshenko trial.
Yanukovich has denied that the charges are politically motivated and says his government is simply fighting corruption.
By Gabriela Baczynska and David Brunnstrom
(Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak and Julien Toyer, writing by