KIEV, Ukraine — The European Union and Ukraine have finished negotiations on a landmark cooperation agreement, but whether the bloc signs the deal still hinges on the treatment of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the EU president said Monday.
The EU has strongly condemned the October sentencing of the former premier and opposition leader to seven years in prison, dismissing the verdict as politically motivated and calling for her release.
The agreement outlines deep political and economic cooperation between Ukraine and the 27-nation bloc it aspires to join.
"Today we can publicly announce that negotiations on the association agreement have been finalized," Herman van Rompuy said at the conclusion of a summit in Kiev. But he added that signing would depend on political circumstances and "our strong concern is primarily related to the politically motivated justice in Ukraine and the Tymoshenko case".
Tymoshenko's jailing has presented the EU with a dilemma. Some experts believe the bloc should not partner with a government that throws opposition leaders in jail. Others say snubbing Ukraine would push it back under Russia's influence as Kiev courts Moscow for cheaper natural gas.
Tymoshenko, who became an opposition leader after losing the premiership in 2010, was found guilty of overstepping her authority while negotiating a natural gas import contract with Russian in 2009.
She maintains her innocence and charges that President Viktor Yanukovych, her longtime foe, masterminded the legal assault against her in order to bar her from next year's elections.
Yanukovych has resisted the pressure to release her, saying prosecutors and courts have acted independently in Tymoshenko's trial. Moreover, Tymoshenko has been charged and investigated in scores of new criminal cases since her imprisonment.
A court has ordered her indefinite arrest as part of new probe, even if her current jail term is overturned.
A Kiev court is now hearing an appeal of her seven-year sentence, and the next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. Tymoshenko has been unable to attend the appeals hearings, claiming severe back and skin problems, and saying the authorities are denying her proper treatment.