Ukraine at risk of break-up, says Tymoshenko

LONDON, May 19 (Reuters) - Ukraine’s overtures towards Russia are fuelling instability and could lead to a break-up of the country, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko told the Times newspaper in an interview published on Wednesday.

“For the first time in 19 years of independence, the question is the preservation of the country itself, its political sovereignty,” she told the Times.

“People have begun to collect signatures in favour of unity between Crimea and Russia. An activation of anti-Ukrainian movements is taking place in Crimea.”

Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich, who beat Tymoshenko in a bitterly-fought election in February, has tilted policy towards Russia since succeeding the pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko.

He has aroused the wrath of political opponents by agreeing to extend the Russian navy’s stay in Ukraine’s Crimea until 2042 in return for cheaper gas.

His pro-Russian moves have re-invigorated the political opposition around Tymoshenko, co-architect of the pro-Western “Orange Revolution” of 2004.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, visiting Ukraine on Tuesday, said the doors to a Russia-led security bloc were open. The two sides agreed to renew long-term cooperation after five years of frosty ties. [ID:nLDE64H0XP]

Tymoshenko told the Times she was surprised at the pace of proposals for joint ventures in areas such as energy and shipbuilding, between Russia and Ukraine.

Last week Ukraine’s prosecutor’s office re-opened a 2004 criminal case against Tymoshenko based on accusations she had tried to bribe Supreme Court judges. Tymoshenko said the government was trying to crack down on opposition movements. [ID:nLDE64B1AV]

“The Orange Revolution’s values are being reversed very quickly. I would like governments of other democratic countries to notice this,” she said.

“Today in Ukraine we have a rolling back of democracy, a destruction of the rule of law and the beginning of repression against the opposition.” (Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Janet Lawrence)