EU officials close to securing deal to free Ukrainian opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko

Ms Tymoshenko, who won widespread support for her role in her country's 'Orange Revolution', is serving a seven-year sentence for abusing her power in a gas deal with Russia

Germany has sent a strong signal that European officials are close to securing a deal with Ukraine to free opposition politician and cause celebre Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ms Tymoshenko, who won widespread support for her role in Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution' against a corrupt election in 2004, is serving a seven-year sentence for abusing her power in a gas deal with Russia - charges her supporters say are politically motivated.

“We have been speaking about the necessity of progress in the case of Yulia Tymoshenko and I believe that we will witness actions that will satisfy us,” German President Joachim Gauck told reporters after meeting Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich at a conference in Poland.

EU envoys have formally asked Mr Yanukovich to pardon Ms Tymoshenko ahead of a summit in Vilnius at the end of November, where Ukraine is expected to take a historic step towards the West by signing an Association Agreement with the EU.

The agreement promises freer trade between the EU and Ukraine, but comes with many conditions for Kiev, including significant reforms on democracy, human rights, the rule of law and tackling corruption.

Ms Tymoshenko is seen as a symbol of the “selective justice” in Ukraine, and a lack of movement on her case could jeopardise the signing of the agreement at the summit, which is regarded by many as a make-or-break opportunity for Ukraine to move towards the EU and away from the orbit of Russia, its former ruler, which still retains substantial influence. The deal is seen as a first step on the road to possible EU membership.

A German Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters that Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle would discuss her case during a visit to Ukraine on Thursday and Friday. It has been suggested that Ms Tymoshenko, who is currently receiving treatment for back trouble in a prison hospital in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, could travel to Germany for medical attention if she is released.

In order for the deal to pass, there are concerns that the EU may water down its demands for Mr Yanukovich to pardon Ms Tymoshenko.

“She [Ms Tymoshenko] has to be released and Europe must stay firm on this,” said opposition MP Volodymyr Polochaninov.

When asked about the possibility of Ms Tymoshenko's release, Ukraine's Vice Prime Minister Vilkul Olexandr told The Independent he was “confident some resolution will be found”.

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