Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, under international fire for the imprisonment last month of his political rival Yulia Tymoshenko, arrived Wednesday for a two-day visit.

It is not clear if, or to what degree, the imprisonment of Tymoshenko – which has strained Ukraine’s relations with the European Union and threatens its possibility of joining the EU any time soon – will come up in Yanukovych’s meetings in Jerusalem.

“We don’t engage in bilateral visits and meetings with others to preach to them,” one diplomatic official said.

Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison on October 11 for abuse of authority regarding gas contracts drawn up with Russia in 2009.

Yanukovych met Wednesday a few hours after arriving with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has placed an emphasis on improving ties with Ukraine.

Lieberman was instrumental in ending earlier this year the need for visas between the two countries, something that has significantly increased the number of tourists going back and forth.

From January to October 2011, Ukraine ranked sixth in the number of tourists coming to Israel, following in descending order the US, Russia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.


Some 113,000 Ukrainian tourists visited during this period, a 57 percent increase from the year before, and an increase attributed to an end to the need for visas.

He is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres on Thursday, as well as with Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem.

This will be Yanukovych’s first visit to Israel as president, and follows Peres’ visit there in November.

Currently the two countries do about $500 million in trade a year, and the talks are expected to focus on ways to increase that volume, as well as how to enhance science, technology, cultural and economic cooperation.

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