KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Facing increasing pressure from the West, Ukraine's president on Thursday suggested a new plan for the release of his main rival, the jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, but the proposal won few cheers from her allies.
Speaking to reporters while on a tour to the eastern Donetsk region, Viktor Yanukovych said he would support a parliament bill allowing Tymoshenko to be released from prison and sent to Germany for treatment of her back problem.
"Naturally, if parliament adopts this law, I will sign it," Yanukovych said, according to his website.
The comments by Yanukovych were the strongest indication in recent weeks of his willingness to release Tymoshenko before a landmark Ukraine-EU summit in November, but they appeared to fall short of what Tymoshenko and the European Union are pushing for.
The West condemns Tymoshenko's jailing on abuse of power charges as politically motivated and has been pressuring Yanukovych to release her. The EU has refused to sign an integration agreement with Kiev if Tymoshenko remains in jail. Two EU envoys have recommended that Tymoshenko be pardoned on humanitarian grounds and be sent to Germany for treatment.
There was no comment from Tymoshenko representatives as of Thursday evening, suggesting that a response was still being discussed.
But Yanukovych appeared to be referring to a bill proposed by a member of his Party of Regions, which stops short of pardoning Tymoshenko. Under that bill, Tymoshenko could be returned to prison in Ukraine after her treatment in a Berlin clinic is over and would not be able to run in the 2015 presidential election.
Tymoshenko's allies have said any attempt to send her to Germany in handcuffs without a pardon would be unacceptable.
Serhiy Sobolev, a parliament member from Tymoshenko's party, said Yanukovych's statement was an attempt to absolve himself of responsibility. Sobolev insisted that all attempts to resolve this case by passing new laws have already been made and that it was up to Yanukovych to pardon her.
"We have already exhausted all legislative possibilities and basically all that Yanukovych can do today is to sign a law pardoning her or sign an amnesty decree," Sobolev was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.
In comments unrelated to Yanukovych's proposal, Tymoshenko's daughter Eugenia reiterated the two EU envoys' position on securing her mother's release. "It is clear and evident to everybody that she should be pardoned and released," Tymoshenko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Tymoshenko, a charismatic opposition leader, is serving a seven-year sentence after being convicted of overstepping her powers while negotiating a gas deal with Russia in 2009. She accuses Yanukovych of throwing her in jail to bar her from politics.
Tymoshenko led the Orange Revolution, which annulled Yanukovych's fraud-tainted election victory in 2004. The two ran against each other in Ukraine's 2010 presidential election and Tymoshenko lost by a small margin.