Ukraine’s leaders have been warned by Lithuania’s president that the crisis over Yulia Tymoshenko could block the country’s hopes of a future in mainstream Europe.
Dalia Grybauskaite is the first foreign leader to visit the opposition figure since she was jailed last year.
She spent an hour with her in hospital. Tymoshenko was moved there from prison this week.
Afterwards the Lithuanian leader said the rift began over the Yalta summit, postponed by Ukraine after a threatened boycott by several central and eastern European leaders.
“(This) might become a serious crisis of trust between Ukraine and Europe and I’d like to prevent this mistrust from snowballing as quickly as possible,” she said.
The Ukrainian authorities deny Tymoshenko was ill-treated in jail, saying there is no case for criminal proceedings. Her claims that she was beaten by prison guards sparked an outcry.
“We hope that with the escalation of the supporters’ protest, I think that it is possible now that Yanukovich can use his constitutional powers and solve this political crisis,” Tymoshenko’s daughter Yevgenia told euronews.
However, the Ukrainian president shows no signs of shifting his position on Tymoshenko or Europe.
Viktor Yanukovich – who also met the Lithuanian president on Friday – dismissed the warnings about increasing diplomatic isolation.
An agreement on political association between Ukraine and the EU is on hold over the crisis.
“The European Union proposed a pause,” he said, “and I think such a pause would be beneficial both for Ukraine and the EU.”
The row over Tymoshenko will not go away – and next month’s Euro football tournament which Ukraine is co-hosting looks set to keep the spotlight firmly on her case.
EU foreign ministers are due to discuss strategy over Ukraine on Monday.