Ukraine has slammed a threatened European Union boycott of its Euro 2012 football matches, saying it is a “destructive” attempt to politicise sport.
In a statement released by the foreign ministry on Thursday, Ukraine said the threat, prompted by its treatment of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, would hurt mutual understanding and ties if it is carried out.
The European Union confirmed that all its commissioners would skip next month’s football events in the country to protest the treatment of Tymoshenko.
“We view as destructive attempts to politicise sporting events, which since ancient times have played a paramount role in improving understanding and agreement between nations,” the statement said.
“An attack on this big dream undermines the chances of… all the former Socialist Bloc members to prove that their economic, human and scientific potential can turn them from the debtors of Europe to its engine of growth.”
Europe’s football governing body has refused to move the games out of Ukraine while Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president-elect, rallied to his neighbour’s defence by saying he disagreed with EU states’ attempts to mix politics with sport.
In a bid to defuse the crisis, Putin pledged to offer Tymoshenko treatment in his country if the authorities allowed her to leave Ukraine.
There was no immediate reaction to the offer from Ukraine, with observers saying Tymoshenko herself, who led the 2004 Orange Revolution, may not accept the proposal.
Ukrainian officials said the boycott call ignored the interests not just of Ukrainians but those of all Eastern Europeans.
Tymoshenko, 51, has been on a hunger strike since April 20 to protest her alleged beating by three wardens in a prison where she is serving a controversial seven-year term.
Supporters of the charismatic but divisive politician later posted pictures of bruises on her stomach, saying they confirmed her claims of torture.
The same images were reproduced by newspapers and were followed by European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso’s decision to skip the games Ukraine will be co-hosting with Poland from June 8.
Poland, meanwhile, criticised Tymoshenko’s imprisonment, with Donald Tusk, the prime minister, saying Ukraine’s reputation will “suffer dramatically” if no humanitarian solution is found.
European leaders have also threatened boycott of a Yalta conference to be held this month. At least seven EU heads of state have said they will shun the summit to be hosted by Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president.