Kiev threatens to kick out ‘undiplomatic’ ambassador
The official protest was voiced by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vladimir Ogryzko on Tuesday.
The Russian Kommersant daily paper said the reason for the move was an interview with the top diplomat published in Ukraine’s Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper on February 11. This was later confirmed by the foreign minister himself.
In the interview, which is informal in style, Chernomyrdin made several blunt statements most unflattering to the Ukrainian leaders.
“Look, this Ukrainian leadership is impossible to deal with. Different people will come and we’ll see,” he said, adding the ‘new people’ will be ‘sober’ and ‘normal’.
Chernomyrdin’s description of the row between President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Timoshenko was very vivid: “They bark at each other. Openly, on TV! Here you go – she’s signed what Ukraine needed [the gas contract with Russia – RT], and he’s now picking holes.”
Chernomyrdin was also highly critical of US involvement in Ukraine:
“Americans are everywhere. American ears are sticking from everywhere.” He claimed that US military specialists “work openly” in the Ukrainian Defence Ministry and “have rewritten everything into NATO business a long time ago.”
Vladimir Ogryzko later explained his move with the outrage of an offended citizen:
“How would you, being a citizen of Ukraine, react after reading a statement in Komsomolskaya Pravda that our leadership is brainless?” He added for a diplomat it is “inexcusable to talk that way.”
According to the minister, “if Grishchenko, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Russia, took the liberty of making a statement like that, he’d be in Kiev in 20 minutes.”
RT failed to find the word ‘brain’ in any form in Chernomyrdin’s interview.
The Russian Foreign Ministry commented on the developing scandal. Moscow said it heard the news “with deep regret.”
“The determination which Ukrainian Foreign Ministry officials show in harming Russian-Ukrainian relations, despite the public opinion in their own country, is surprising,” an official statement said. Russian diplomats confirmed that building a fruitful partnership with Kiev is a priority for Moscow.
“Do they want a war?”
A source in the Russian Foreign Ministry told Kommersant that the interview was in no way interfering with Ukraine’s internal affairs:
“He accurately if somewhat bluntly described the political situation in Ukraine,” said the source. He added Kiev was intentionally raising the tension between the two countries.
The Deputy Head of the Russian State Duma committee on relations with compatriots Konstantin Zatulin agrees:
“Usually, if the things go to declaring an ambassador persona non grata, it means declaration of war.”
Zatulin has personal experience of the wrath of Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry. He was barred from entering the country back in 1996 and later in 2006. Moscow’s Mayor Yury Luzhkov and prominent politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky are also not welcomed there.
Joining them soon may be State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov. He said Kiev’s words caused a rift between Russian and Ukrainian people, lead to a dead end and added: “Even if my words prompt the Ukrainian authorities to declare me persona non grata, I won’t take them back.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s opposition Party of Regions called on Vladimir Ogryzko to resign over his ‘undermining friendly relations with Russia’ by threatening to expel Chernomyrdin. The deputy chief of the party’s faction in parliament, Aleksandr Efremov, described the minister’s position as ‘vividly russophobic’ and said a commission on national security wouldl discuss the issue and the possible dismissal of the Ukraine's top diplomat.
And the Ukrainian Government was quick to distance themselves from the foreign minister. First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Turchinov said Ogryzko’s words had not been approved by the Cabinet.
Viktor Chernomyrdin is notorious in Russia for his somewhat poetic and ambiguous language. He is famous for his quote: “wanted to do it better, but it turned out as usual,” among many others.