* Summit was to lay ground for new strategic relationship
* But EU leaders criticise "politically-motivated justice"
* Yanukovich voices commitment to Euro-integration
By Richard Balmforth and Pavel Polityuk
KIEV, Dec 19 A summit intended to bring
Ukraine into Europe's mainstream foundered on Monday after the
EU said it would not sign a landmark political and trade deal
until Kiev resolves the case of jailed opposition leader Yulia
Negotiations were finished on the agreement, which would
create a free-trade zone and establish deeper ties, but European
Council President Herman Van Rompuy said signing and ratifying
it "will depend on political circumstances".
"Our strong concern is primarily related to the risks of
politically motivated justice in Ukraine. The Tymoshenko trial
is the most striking example," he told President Viktor
Yanukovich who sat across a table from him in Kiev.
The summit, four years in preparation, had been intended to
mark the start of a new strategic relationship between the EU
and the ex-Soviet republic, which has made European integration
a priority while managing strong ties with Russia.
But during two hours of face-to-face talks with Yanukovich,
Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso
appeared to have made little headway in persuading him to relent
and bring about the release of Tymoshenko's and other opponents.
Despite the setback, Yanukovich said Ukraine still saw its
future in the European Union at some point. "The Association
Agreement will be a key moment for the Euro-integrationist
course of our state," he told the EU leaders in televised
With 45 million people, Ukraine is the most populous
ex-Soviet state apart from Russia itself, and building a closer
relationship is an important strategic goal for Brussels. The
stalling of the pact is a setback for some Ukrainian businesses,
which covet access to western Europe's markets and investment.
Ukraine is also the main transit route for Russian natural
gas into the EU, which relies on Moscow's energy resources.
Yanukovich said strengthening Europe's energy security
remained an important part of Ukraine's cooperation with the EU
and it would continue to modernise its gas transport system with
the support of the EU and its financial institutions.
But efforts to bring Kiev closer to the European mainstream
have been stalled since the sentencing of Tymoshenko in October.
An implacable foe of Yanukovich, she was sentenced to seven
years in jail for abuse of office while she was prime minister.
She called her trial a "lynching" by her adversary.
The EU says her trial raises questions over the democratic
credentials of Yanukovich's leadership and his commitment to the
bloc's fundamental values. Shortly before the two sides met on
Monday, an EU statement said Barroso and Van Rompuy would take
Yanukovich to task over her case.
"The need for comprehensive judicial reform and for steps
against politically motivated or selective justice in Ukraine
will be underlined by the EU leaders," the statement said.
"The Ukrainian authorities need to demonstrate they abide by
the values that are at the heart of this association: democracy,
rule of law, respect for human rights and independence of
judiciary," the statement quoted Barroso as saying.
Tymoshenko was last seen publicly last week, looking pale
and gaunt, on a video clip filmed of her in a prison bed by the
authorities, apparently against her will.
The 51-year-old politician herself had made a plea from her
cell for the association agreement to be signed - irrespective
of her plight - for the good of Ukraine.
Any deal would still need to be ratified by parliaments of
all the 27 EU states and the European Parliament before it could
be implemented, a process that at best could take many months.
The bloc is itself split over Ukraine, with countries such
as Poland, Ukraine's immediate neighbour and the outgoing EU
president, keen to seize the opportunity to prise Ukraine away
from Russia's grip, while other EU members refuse to give ground
on the principle of democratic values.
Van Rompuy also took the part of the Ukrainian opposition in
accusing Yanukovich of encroaching on press freedoms since
coming to office in February 2010: "Media freedom and freedom of
assembly are also key for full fledged democracy. Shortcomings
have to be corrected," he said.
Though Yanukovich put a brave face on the outcome, a failed
summit leaves him and his government with a weakened hand in
dealings with Moscow, from whom it is seeking a more
advantageous gas pricing deal than one negotiated by Tymoshenko
Moscow, for its part, is seeking to entice Ukraine away from
the EU and could now step up pressure on Kiev to consider
joining a customs union in exchange for cheaper gas.
Underscoring the closeness of the relationship with Moscow,
the presidential administration said Yanukovich would visit
Moscow on Tuesday for an informal meeting of leaders of former
Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Tymoshenko was a leading light in the Orange Revolution
protests of 2004-5 which denied Yanukovich his first bid for the
presidency. She went on to lose narrowly to Yanukovich in a
presidential election in 2010.
Some political commentators in Kiev say her prosecution was
personally driven by Yanukovich who has not forgotten her role
in the Orange Revolution, nor forgiven her for her biting
personal attacks during the 2010 election campaign.
Other insiders say Yanukovich was strongly influenced by
powerful figures in the gas business who see Tymoshenko as a
threat to their interests if she came to power again.
(Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)