Russian ambassador’s long road to Kiev

Ukrainian authorities are stalling the diplomatic procedure required for a new Russian ambassador to be officially accepted, according to Russian business daily Kommersant.

 Mikhail Zurabov, the former Russian Healthcare Minister who was proposed as Moscow’s new ambassador to Kiev, has been waiting for Ukrainian approval for more than a month now. Kiev has been dragging its feet on the procedure, neither openly rejecting his candidature nor accepting it. The delay has gone into the realm of diplomatic rudeness, the newspaper says, and may provoke a new scandal in a long string of diplomatic stand-offs between Russia and Ukraine.

Diplomatic practice holds it that the proposal of a new ambassador should be considered in 36 days, although it is usually only takes up to two weeks. Zurabov’s candidacy as Moscow’s new envoy to their neighbor was announced in mid-June. On Thursday, President Yushchenko has signed the official agreement for Zurabov to visit Kiev as would-be ambassador, but he will have to go through a ceremony of delivering credentials before he can take the position.

“It seems there is an intention to delay the date of the Russian ambassador’s delivery of credentials to the president,” the newspaper quotes a Ukrainian diplomat from the Russian sector of the Foreign Affairs Ministry as saying. “Some people joke here that he would be passed on to the next president.”

The belatedness regarding Zurabov’s candidacy strikingly contrasts the way his predecessor Viktor Chernomyrdin was appointed in 2001. He was accepted as the new ambassador after just one telephone conversation between Russian and Ukrainian presidents and delivered his credentials right on the day of his arrival in Kiev.

According to a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry, the situation looks “like petty revenge”. Russia and Ukraine have been engaged in a string of diplomatic scandals recently. The latest was the expulsion from Ukraine of a Russian diplomat responsible for communication with the Russian Black Sea fleet based in Ukrainian territory, which led to a tit-for-tat response by Russia.

Kommersant speculates that Russia may put on hold sending Zurabov to Ukraine until a new president is elected there. The presidential election is scheduled for January 17, 2010.