The Washington Times - April 8, 2013, 03:51PM

The White House Monday praised Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to pardon two jailed allies of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, but also said Kiev needs to do more to establish a true democracy in the country as it seeks to create closer relations with the European Union.

The U.S. and other western countries believe Mrs. Tymoshenko and her allies were framed and that the convictions are politically motivated. The pardons comes as Mr. Yanukovych is trying to secure a $15 million bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund.

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“This is an important step toward addressing concerns about democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine, however much more remains to be done,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. “We urge Ukrainian authorities to end all politically motivated prosecutions, undertake comprehensive judicial reform and to ensure such selective justice does not recur … “

“The United States strongly supports the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for a democratic, prosperous, and European future, which can only be realized through continued democratic reform and adherence to the rule of law,” Ms. Hayden continued. “We remain dedicated to strengthening our bilateral relationship on the basis of our shared transatlantic values.”

The EU’s enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele, on his Twitter feed said the pardons were “a first but important step.”

Mr. Yanukovych signed a decree to pardon former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko, 48, who is serving a four-year sentence on charges of embezzlement and abusing his office. Mr. Lusenko is in poor health and his supporters, as well as human rights groups, sought his release. He also pardoned the former environment minister, Heorhiy Filipchuck, who also was imprisoned for abusing his office.

The pardons did not extend to Mrs. Tymoshenko, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2011 of abusing her office.

Even though she too is suffering from heath problems, Mr. Yanukovych says he can’t unilaterally pardon Mrs. Tymoshenko until her legal options are exhausted. She is appealing her conviction before the European Court for Human Rights, and also is under investigation for murder in the 1996 killing of a businessman, among other allegations.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.