KIEV, February 25. /ITAR-TASS/. The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said Tuesday the return of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko to politics would help stabilize the situation in Ukraine, which has been in political turmoil after its president fled following violent protests, and parliament took over.
Speaking to Tymoshenko, who had been released from prison on Saturday, during a meeting on Tuesday, Ashton said she was looking forward to continuing dialogue with the Ukrainian ex-premier and added that Tymoshenko’s activity was important for the country’s future as it would help preserve Ukraine’s unity.
The Batkivshchyna party, led by Timoshenko, said the sides had discussed the situation in Ukraine and exchanged opinions on ways out of the current deadlock.
“The discussion was about the first steps that should be made both on the part of Ukraine and the European Union to stabilize the situation and restore Ukraine’s course for the EU,” the party said.
The issue of the EU’s financial and economic aid to Ukraine to help the country overcome the large-scale economic crisis was a separate topic on the agenda. The decision on such assistance is likely to be made soon.
Tymoshenko and Ashton also touched upon the formation of a new government and emphasized that the new cabinet should contain both representatives of protesters from the Independence Square (Maidan) in downtown Kiev and technocrat experts. The combination is expected to contribute to a concerted effort.
Ukraine has been hit by anti-government protests, which often turned violent, since November 2013. A new wave of riots started February 18 and eventually caused President Viktor Yanukovych to flee his residence outside Kiev. The Verkhovna Rada, the country’s unicameral parliament, took over, appointing its new speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, as interim president.
The Rada set early presidential elections for May 25. Yanukovych called the developments “a coup.” His exact whereabouts are unknown, but interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Monday that 63-year-old Yanukovych had been in pro-Russian Crimea (south Ukraine) on Sunday accompanied by only a few security guards.
Avakov said Yanukovych and other officials were on a wanted list for involvement in “mass murder” during protests.
According to the latest data from the Ukrainian Health Ministry, 82 people have been killed and 726 turned to the Ukrainian capital’s medical institutions for help, with 491 of them hospitalized, since the start of the latest violence on February 18.
Tymoshenko, jailed under Yanukovych's rule, was released from prison on Saturday in line with the parliament's decision. She came to Kiev and spoke to protesters who gathered on Maidan, the symbol of Ukraine’s protests.
She reportedly said she would run for president in the early elections set by parliament, but later Ukrainian media quoted Tymoshenko’s lawyer Serhiy Vlasenko as saying the ex-premier had not voiced plans to run for president.
Meanwhile, about 5,000 gathered on Sunday on Maidan in Kiev’s center to protest the former premier’s return to politics.
A Ukrainian court had sentenced Tymoshenko in 2011 to seven years in prison for abuse of power over a 2009 gas deal with Russia that the Ukrainian authorities said was unprofitable for the country.
Ashton in Kiev
The EU foreign policy chief went to Kiev on Monday, February 24. She laid flowers in memory of those killed in Kiev clashes and then held talks with interim president Turchynov and met with Petro Poroshenko, whose candidacy is considered for the post of prime minister.
She also met with the head of the Party of Regions’ parliamentary faction Oleksandr Yefremov as well as with the leaders of the Udar and Svoboda parties, former professional boxer Vitali Klitschko and Oleh Tyahnybok respectively, and Batkivshchyna faction leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, as well as other officials.
The Party of Regions was the ruling one in Ukraine until recent riots that brought chaos to the country’s political landscape.
Ashton told journalists on Tuesday that Ukraine should have good relations with Russia and that the EU was interested in Ukraine’s territorial integrity and unity.
Anti-government protests have been underway in Ukraine since the country’s authorities refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union at a Vilnius summit in November 2013, choosing closer ties with Russia instead.
Following Kiev’s refusal to sign the deal with the EU, Moscow slashed the natural gas price for Ukraine to $268 from some $400 per 1,000 cubic meters and decided to provide its neighbor with a $15 billion loan. The financial aid package payment has now been suspended until a new government is formed in Ukraine.