WARSAW -- European Union leaders have condemned Belarus over its crackdown on the political opposition and expressed their concerns to Ukraine over the trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
The statements came at the end of the Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw, which brought together heads of government or senior officials from most EU member states and six Eastern European neighbors -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy repeated that the EU stood ready to assist Belarus both economically and politically but that the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka first had to reverse its policies toward the opposition.
"In the case of Belarus, the European Union remains attached to the vision of a democratic Belarus, a Belarus with its proper place in the European cooperation," he said. "But we cannot re-engage fully with Belarus without clear progress toward democratization and respect for human rights. And this means, not least, the immediate release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners and the engagement in a genuine political dialogue with the opposition."
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (right) and EU President Herman Van Rompuy in Warsaw
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk also underlined the need for changes in Belarus before the EU could help.
"For the first time, we have a situation in which the European Union, standing united, conditions aid for Belarus on real changes," Tusk said. "These are not radical changes. These are changes that for every European are the minimum without which there is nothing to talk about."
The EU issued a statement in which it expressed "deep concern at the deteriorating human rights, democracy, and rule of law situation in Belarus" and stressed its concern about "reports that prisoners are denied access to their families and lawyers."
The statement was first supposed to be part of the general declaration agreed at the summit
, but the Eastern partner countries demanded that it was released separately and without their support.
The summit got off to a bad start when Belarus announced it was boycotting the meeting, accusing organizers of taking "unprecedented discriminatory steps" against Belarus for not inviting Lukashenka to the talks.
Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau
Before the summit, Minsk had announced at the last moment that it would be represented by its ambassador to Warsaw and not by Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau, one of the few people close to Lukashenka who isn't under the European Union's visa ban.
Both EU and Polish diplomats did, however, indicate that the ambassador would not enjoy access to all parts of the summit.
Another issue dominating the meeting was the imprisonment and abuse-of-power trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and how it could affect Kyiv's chances of concluding negotiations on an association agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU by the end of the year.
Several counties -- most notably France -- had indicated that they might not ratify the Ukrainian deal unless the Tymoshenko trial was put on ice. Van Rompuy said he had conveyed his concerns to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych during the meeting.
"We expressed our concerns about the fate of the former [Ukrainian] prime minister," Van Rompuy said, "and we expressed our rejection of a possible selective use of criminal judicial measures against members of the previous administration."
His view was echoed by EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who said, "We remain seriously concerned by the problems coming from the situation of the former [Ukrainian] prime minister, and we want, in fact, this matter to be settled."
Nevertheless, Van Rompuy said the bloc still expects to finalize the agreements with Ukraine by the end of the year.
During the summit, it was also agreed that the start of negotiations on a DCFTA with Georgia and Moldova would start this year and that similar talks could start "as soon as possible" with Armenia.
There were also concrete steps made to initiate a visa-free regime with Ukraine and Moldova, although no timetables were mentioned.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (second from left) meets with members of the Belarusian opposition at the Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw.