BRUSSELS -- EU foreign ministers have called on Kyiv to take action over jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko as they gathered in Brussels to discuss Ukraine ahead of an EU summit in Vilnius later this month.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel meanwhile said it remained unclear whether Ukraine was "willing" to meet the criteria needed for a key free-trade deal with the European Union.
Speaking to the German parliament, Merkel added that if Kyiv met the criteria needed to sign the agreement, the EU could help Kyiv ward off economic pressure from Russia, who wants Ukraine to join its own Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.
"We know that reforms cannot completely be carried out in a day," Merkel said on November 18. "We also want to support Ukraine in its reforms with offers of cooperation, with financial means from the European Neighborhood Policy. But the conditions for this must be achieved by Ukraine itself and not just sometime, but rather now."
The EU has conditioned the signing of an Association Agreement with Kyiv on democratic reforms and permission for Tymoshenko, whose conviction for abuse of office is seen by Brussels as "selective justice," to travel abroad for medical treatment.
The Ukrainian parliament is due to debate a bill on November 19 that would allow Tymoshenko, who suffers from back pain, to travel to Germany.
The debate in the Verkhovna Rada was scheduled last week after legislators failed to discuss the bill.
EU envoys will continue their discussions with their Ukrainian counterparts this week.
"The ambition is to move forward to the [EU Eastern Partnership] Vilnius summit in a very successful way," High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said at a news briefing about Ukraine after the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels. "I imagine that conversation that President Yanukovych would wish to have is to discuss with [EU Enlargement] Commissioner [Stefan] Fuele how we achieve that and vice versa. And I really hope that it is a very good an successful conversation."
Ahead of the meeting in Brussels on November 18, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle issued an urgent appeal to Ukraine to act.
"We want Ukraine to orientate itself toward the EU, but the conditions have to be right, he said. "That is, above all, the rule of law and for that the Tymoshenko case surely has a particular significance. I urgently call on Ukraine to act and to unify in a practicable way toward the rule of law, and not play for time. The clock is ticking, time is running out, and everyone in Ukraine should be aware of this."
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, whose country holds the rotating EU Presidency, indicated that Yanukovych has to show decisiveness and said that the "moment of truth" has arrived for Ukraine.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said that "everything is in the hands" of Yanukovych.
Ukraine's signing of an Association Agreement has been held up by the 2011 jailing of Tymoshenko on abuse-of-power charges largely seen as political revenge by Yanukovych.
Yanukovych narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in a presidential runoff in February 2010.
Yanukovych has been criticized by the opposition after it emerged that he traveled to Moscow for secret talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 9.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP