STRASBOURG, France -- European Parliament President Martin Schulz says he expects Ukraine to play its "game" with the EU until the very last minute.
Schulz told RFE/RL in an interview in Strasbourg on November 20 that he was "not losing hope" that Kyiv will sign a landmark Association Agreement with the bloc after resolving the dispute over jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko before the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on November 28-29.
But he also said no one knows what strategy Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is following or what decisions he will make.
"Difficult question. I have no intention to express any expectations, disappointments, or surprises whatever before the summit and for sure not when concerning President Yanukovych. He is a president as other presidents," Schultz said.
"I think Yanukovych is in a difficult situation. He is drawn between Russia on the one hand and the European Union on the other hand. And he has to take into account that high impact of both sides in his country. I prefer, therefore, to wait until the last minute before I make a comment on it."
The Ukrainian parliament on November 19 again delayed debate on a bill that would allow convicts like Tymoshenko to go abroad for medical treatment, along with other bills needed to meet the EU's demands for judicial and democratic reforms. A possible vote is now expected on November 21.
Schulz said the European Parliament's envoys to Ukraine -- former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former European Parliament President Pat Cox -- have had successes despite the Ukrainian parliament's inability thus far to pass the Tymoshenko legislation.
Schulz said one major result for the Kwasniewski-Cox mission was securing the release from prison of former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko. He called Lutsenko's release a "major step forward in the country."
Schulz also said the European Parliament can more easily solve problems than a state government "because we are not so [tightly bound] to diplomatic and intergovernmental interdependencies."
The European Parliament president said he was not surprised by the sanctions and other moves by Moscow in an apparent attempt to discourage former Soviet republics such as Moldova and Ukraine from moving closer to the European Union.
"I think I have no illusion about the Russian government. What is Russia doing? The Russian government tries to enlarge its influences. This is, by the way, not surprising. This is normal. All the countries [try] to enlarge and the European Union as well," Schultz said.
"The European Union is looking to enlarge the space of economic and political cooperation and to draw Ukraine to a community of democracies. This is our goal. This is the reason why we want the Association Agreement," he continued.
"I think that the misunderstanding in Moscow was always that the Association Agreement between such countries like Ukraine and the European Union is against Russia. They have always the feeling that whatever we do is against them. I think this is wrong. It is in favor of cooperation between the European Union and Ukraine and not against Russia."
Meanwhile, in Prague on November 20, former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said he was skeptical about Ukraine's chances of signing an Association Agreement in Vilnius.
"I have a bad feeling, given the latest developments, that it won't happen. And this makes me greatly concerned about Ukraine," Schwarzenberg said.
"I do feel the signature will not take place, which would be a waste of efforts and huge work that both sides -- Brussels and Kyiv -- have made. And God knows when we get another chance."
In an interview with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Schwarzenberg also warned that if Kyiv "failed to turn" the EU's way, it would quickly see a loss in its independence. He added that not having Ukraine in the EU would be "a loss" for Europe but said it "would survive."
Based on reporting by RFE/RL Rikard Jozwiak in Strasbourg and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service correspondent Oksana Pelenska