Ukraine has played down the fact that the German president has declined to attend a summit there. But Western concern over the fate of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko continues to strain relations with Kiev.
Ukraine says "too big a deal" has been made of German President Joachim Gauck's cancellation of a visit to a summit of central European presidents in Yalta next month.
The cancellation has been generally attributed to Germany's concern over the treatment of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who is on hunger strike in a Ukrainian prison after being sentenced for abuse of office.
Foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Voloshin said in Kiev that the invitations had been sent long ago.
"The German president, who had been invited as a guest of honor, immediately announced that he would not be able to attend the summit for a number of reasons," Voloshin said. "This was long before any scandals started about Tymoshenko."
He said the summit would still be held "at the highest level" even without Gauck, with numerous countries saying they would take part.
The Ukrainian edition of the daily "Kommerzant" on Friday quoted an unamed diplomat in Kiev as saying: "The Germans said from the outset that they did not want to take part in this forum, that it was not their format. We do not see this cancellation as dramatic. The problem is, however, that Berlin has placed it in this context (with Tymoshenko)."
Deep German concern
A spokesman for Gauck had told the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that the cancellation had been made "in close consultation with the German government."
The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed "deep concern" over the health of Tymoshenko.
It remains uncertain, however, whether Gauck's move will influence Merkel's decision whether to attend football matches during the Euro 2012, which Ukraine and Poland are to co-host from June 8 to July 1 this year.
Government spokesman Steffen Seiber has said there are no official plans to travel, but that Tymoshenko's case would be included "in deliberations."
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said on Wednesday that he did not think a boycott of the championship was appropriate, as sport stood for "connecting peoples and fair competition among youth."
He told the paper Rheinische Post, however, that he would ask to speak to Tymoshenko if she was still in prison when he attended a Germany-Netherlands match in Kharkiv - the city where she is being held - on June 13.
The 51-year-old Tymoshenko, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence on charges of abusing her powers in a Russian energy deal, is said by her daughter to be in a deteriorating condition since beginning a hunger strike a week ago in protest at alleged prison abuse.
Yevhenia Tymoshenko told the Associated Press news agency that her mother was in "intense pain" after resisting being taken to a hospital for treatment of a spinal condition. She also said she feared that prison officials might try to force-feed her.
Yulia Tymoshenko has claimed that prison guards physically abused her while transporting her to the hospital. Photos have circulated of Tymoshenko lying in bed with red splotches on her abdomen and lower arm.
In the German capital, Berlin, the head of the renowned Charite hospital called for Tymoshenko to be allowed to travel abroad for treatment, saying the hospital where she is being taken does not have the expertise to carry out the complex operation that is necessary.
Karl Einhäupl told reporters that he appealed "to the Ukrainian president to be guided by humanitarian values and let her travel abroad to Europe to receive treatment." Einhäupl and his team inspected the Kharkiv facility earlier this month and examined Tymoshenko in prison.
He and an orthopaedic surgeon diagnozed a slipped disc as the source of her pain. He said Tymoshenko would not allow prison doctors to treat her, fearing they would deliberately harm her.
The West has condemned Tymoshenko's prison sentence as politically motivated and has threatened to freeze cooperation with Ukraine. She is also facing tax fraud charges.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has vowed to investigate and punish the perpetrators. No claim of responsibility has been made.
Dnipropetrovsk is coincidentally the home city of Yulia Tymoshenko.
tj/ipj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)