European parliament envoys arrived in Kiev Monday to try to secure a deal for jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko to leave the country, as EU ministers urged Ukraine to step up reforms ahead of a historic accord.
Aleksander Kwasniewski and Pat Cox are on an emergency two-day visit to Ukraine after President Viktor Yanukovych said last week he was willing to let Tymoshenko go abroad for medical treatment, but would not pardon her.
Finding an acceptable solution to the fate of the jailed former premier is seen as a prerequisite to a ground-breaking deal due to be signed next month which would set Ukraine on the path to EU membership.
However, the two envoys indicated ahead of their arrival that Yanukovych's proposal to allow her to travel abroad, most likely to Germany, did not go far enough.
"Time to secure a viable settlement is running out," they said in a statement, adding any solution "must respect the dignity and secure the agreement of each of the key personalities involved on both sides."
Yanukovych is believed to be looking for ways to prevent Tymoshenko, jailed in 2011 for seven years on abuse of power charges, from staging a political comeback and taking part in presidential polls in 2015.
Tymoshenko, who has dismissed the charges against her as an attempt by her rival to remove her from politics, suffers from back pain and is being treated in hospital under prison guard.
Under legislation submitted to the Ukrainian parliament, Tymoshenko would be able to go abroad but would then have to return home to continue serving her sentence.
She has said she is ready to go abroad, but will push for legal rehabilitation.
Her imprisonment has been seen as the major obstacle to a broad political and free-trade deal with Brussels that has been slated for signing at a summit in Vilnius in late November.
EU foreign ministers said at a meeting in Luxembourg Monday that Kiev had not fulfilled all the conditions set for the deal.
"This is not just about one person," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
"Important progress has been made. But we do want to see further progress on selective justice and electoral reform and judicial reform."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also urged Ukraine to implement reforms in line with EU demands.
"We are ready to sign," he said. "But for this the last works have to be done, the last reforms need to be done, especially if it's about democracy and rule of law and the end of selective justice."
During their visit, Poland's former president Kwasniewski and former European Parliament president Cox are expected to meet both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko.
At a briefing with reporters on Monday, Yanukovych pointedly sidestepped a question about a possible pardon for Tymoshenko.
Speaking after talks with Czech president Milos Zeman, he merely reiterated that lawmakers were now considering a bill that would allow convicts to be treated abroad.
A leader of Tymoshenko's Batkivschyna party, Arsenii Yatsenyuk, said that the opposition could only accept an amnesty or a pardon for Tymoshenko.
"This should be a compromise between the Ukrainian government, our European partners and a compromise to which Yulia Tymoshenko would agree," he said in a statement.
"The Ukrainian authorities firmly realised that the issue of Yulia Tymoshenko should be solved. She should be released.
"But the bad news is, the Ukrainian authorities still do not know how to do it."
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski are expected in Ukraine on Tuesday.
On Monday, Bildt said agreeing to send Tymoshenko abroad would only be the start.
"That opens up the question of what happens thereafter. Will you then demand that she's extradited and goes back to prison in Ukraine?" he asked.