Germany said Thursday there were signs Ukraine was making serious efforts to resolve the issue of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose continued incarceration risks impeding the signing of a key agreement with the EU.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said after talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev that an offer to treat Tymoshenko for medical problems in Germany remained on the table.
"We want Ukraine to go the right way towards Europe," Westerwelle said after the talks. "There are still problems to overcome and these include of course the Tymoshenko case."
"But we recognise that there is a serious effort (on the part of Ukraine) to be able to overcome these problems," he said.
"The offer to give Mrs Tymoshenko medical treatment in Germany remains in place," he said, refusing to give further details.
There has even been speculation that Tymoshenko -- currently receiving hospital treatment outside her prison in the city of Kharkiv -- could have flown to Germany with Westerwelle on his return.
However the top German diplomat's comments gave no indication of an immediate breakthrough.
The transfer of Tymoshenko abroad could be a way to solve the row over the jailing of the opposition leader, which risks holding up the signing of an Association Agreement between Kiev and the EU.
Ukraine is hoping to sign the agreement -- seen as the first step towards full EU membership -- at a summit at the end of November in Vilnius. But the deal may not take place unless Tymoshenko is released first.
Tymoshenko was sentenced in October 2011 to seven years in jail on abuse of power charges that the EU fears were politically motivated.
Last week, the special envoys of the European Parliament monitoring mission to Ukraine, Aleksander Kwasniewski and Pat Cox, formally asked Yanukovych to allow Tymoshenko to be taken for treatment outside Ukraine.
Yanukovych did not make comments to the press after the meeting but his Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara said the president had told Westerwelle that he wanted to find a solution to the Tymoshenko case.
Such a solution would be based on the "fundamental human rights and in line with Ukrainian law," he told reporters.
"We need to create the legal basis so a solution for Tymoshenko becomes a reality. It is also a political problem as millions of people in this country believe that Tymoshenko committed a crime," Kozhara added.
The prospect that Ukraine could sign a deal setting it on a course towards EU membership has raised hackles in Russia, which has warned Ukraine it risks being penalised in trade if it inks the Association Agreement.