Ukrainian authorities have formally re-arrested opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko on a new criminal charge, her lawyer said on Friday, even as the European Union prepared to send an envoy to Kyiv to try to save a summit later this month.
The 27-nation bloc is leading Western efforts to secure the release of Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, who was jailed in October for seven years for abuse-of-office, in a case which the EU says was politically motivated.
But President Viktor Yanukovich, whose government hopes to set course on a new strategic relationship with the bloc at the Dec. 19 summit, has refused all overtures from the EU and the United States to relent and free her.
In Brussels, a spokeswoman said EU commissioner Stefan Fuele, the bloc's point man on Ukraine, would visit Kiev on Dec. 12. "The visit will take place in the context of the preparations for the EU-Ukraine Summit," she said.
Ukrainian media expected Fuele to meet Yanukovich and newspapers billed the visit as a last chance to save the summit at which agreements on political association and the creation of a free trade zone are due be initialled.
Tymoshenko's lawyer, Sergiy Vlasenko, said the legal move to 're-arrest" her on a second charge showed that the authorities intended to keep her behind bars indefinitely.
"According to this order, Yulia Tymoshenko is to be detained for ever, for life," he told journalists.
At the very least, re-arresting her means she will stay in jail on the new charge even if her conviction for abuse of office is overturned next week on appeal.
Vlasenko said the new arrest order was formally made in her cell in a Kiev police detention centre late on Thursday after a court hearing at her bedside.
Her family and supporters say the 51-year-old, who has been in police detention since mid-August, is suffering from back problems.
The second charge against Tymoshenko relates to alleged tax evasion and theft of government funds between 1996 and 2000 when she led the gas intermediary, Unified Energy Systems.
The abuse-of-office charge, for which she was sentenced in October, relates to brokering a gas deal with Russia in 2009 when she was prime minister.
A leading light in the "Orange Revolution" protests in 2004 which overturned the old political order in the ex-Soviet republic, Tymoshenko says she is the victim of a vendetta by Yanukovich who narrowly beat her for the presidency in February 2010.
EU diplomats say that if the agreements are not initialled at the summit a joint statement simply acknowledging that talks have been formally concluded may be issued -- but this will represent a diplomatic failure.