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11 Aug, 2009 16:02

“No new Russian ambassador to be sent to Ukraine” - Medvedev

Russia-Ukraine relations are at an extremely low point now, and in the current situation, Moscow has taken the decision to refrain from sending an ambassador to Kiev, said President Medvedev in his new video address.

"A few days ago, I sent a letter to the President of Ukraine. It was not an ordinary document, I should say, as it contained a number of complex and unflattering characteristics of the actions by the top political leadership of Ukraine. In my address today, I would like to explain the reasons behind my step.

There has been public concern in both Ukraine and Russia of late over the state of our bilateral relations. Ukrainian politicians themselves have admitted that relations are at an extremely low point today, and it is hard not to agree. The strain in relations between our countries has indeed hit unprecedented levels.

I have on many occasions stated that Russia seeks to be a predictable, strong and comfortable partner for its neighbors, all the more so for a country with which we share common historical and cultural roots. We are more than just neighbors; our ties are those of brothers.

Nikolay Gogol, the great writer and son of both Ukrainian and Russian peoples, said, “There are no bonds more sacred than the bonds of brotherhood.” As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Gogol’s birth, we remember these words once again. These celebrations are yet another vivid illustration of our peoples’ spiritual closeness.

Set against this background, the difficult – to say the least – relations our countries have been experiencing make an even stronger contrast. Let’s take a look at what is actually happening.

The leadership in Kiev took an openly anti-Russian stand following the military attack launched by the Saakashvili regime against South Ossetia. Ukrainian weapons were used to kill civilians and Russian peacekeepers. Russia continues to experience problems caused by a policy aimed at obstructing the operations of its Black Sea Fleet, and this on a daily basis and in violation of the basic agreements between our countries. Sadly, the campaign continues to oust the Russian language from the Ukrainian media, its education, culture and science. The Ukrainian leadership’s outwardly smooth-flowing rhetoric fits ill with the overt distortion of complex and difficult episodes in our common history, the tragic events of the great famine in the Soviet Union, and an interpretation of the Great Patriotic War as some kind of confrontation between two totalitarian systems.

Our economic relations are in a somewhat better situation and are developing, but we have not yet succeeded in tapping their full potential. Again, the problem is that Russian companies frequently face open resistance from the Ukrainian authorities. Bypassing Russia, Ukraine’s political leaders do deals with the European Union on supplying gas – gas from Russia – and have signed a document that completely contradicts the Russian-Ukrainian agreements reached in January this year.

But no matter what complexes or illusions motivate the actions of individual Ukrainian officials, we will always value our fraternal ties with the Ukrainian people and will strive to strengthen our humanitarian cooperation. It is with this aim in mind that we plan to open branches of the Russian Science and Culture Centre in several Ukrainian cities and will do all we can to support Ukrainians living in our country in their efforts to develop their national culture.

Patriarch Kirill’s recent pastoral visit to Ukraine was also an event of great significance. I had a meeting with the Patriarch following the visit, and he shared his impressions and said many cordial words. We both are of one and the same opinion that the two fraternal peoples may not be separated as they share common historical and spiritual heritage.

I am confident that our relations with Ukraine’s people will overcome any problems. They cannot be destroyed by politicians’ selfish interests, fickle changes in the global situation, or individual leaders’ mistakes, and all the more so, cannot be undone by empty words and pseudo-historical research.

I am certain that a new era will begin. Nevertheless, in the current situation, I have made a decision to refrain from sending the Russian ambassador to Ukraine. The new ambassador will commence his duties at a later stage, and naming the exact date for this will depend on positive dynamics in our bilateral relations.

There can be no doubt that the multifaceted ties between Russia and Ukraine will resume on a fundamentally different level – that of strategic partnership – and this moment will not be long in coming. I hope that the new leadership of Ukraine will be ready for the breakthrough. We will in turn make our best efforts for this to happen."

“No rupture of diplomatic ties”

Mikhail Zurabov, the former Russian Healthcare Minister who was proposed as Moscow’s new ambassador to Kiev in mid-June, has been waiting for the approval of his candidature by official Kiev for more than a month.

Last Thursday, Ukraine’s President Yushchenko signed the official agreement Zurabov, to come to the country. However, the would-be ambassador has yet to go through a ceremony of delivering credentials before taking the position.

The tense relations between the countries prompted speculations that Yushchenko was likely to stall this process as well.

The incident is the latest in a series of diplomatic rows between Russia and Ukraine. The latest was the expulsion from Ukraine of a Russian diplomat responsible for communication with the Russian Black Sea fleet based in Ukrainian territory. Russia responded with a tit-for-tat expulsion.

Meanwhile, following Dmitry Medvedev’s address, presidential aide Sergey Prikhodko told the media that it neither indicates the severance or freezing of diplomatic relations between Russia and Ukraine, nor is it going to have a negative impact on Moscow's relations with Kiev in the gas sphere.

“President Medvedev has expressed deep concern over the state of Russian-Ukrainian relations, primarily political ones, which have resulted from the well-directed actions of Ukraine’s political leadership,” Prikhodko commented.

The Russian Foreign Ministry, for its part, has said Moscow has no intention to take any steps against Ukrainian nationals.

Need for compromises

Some Russian politicians have no illusions about the future of Russia-Ukraine relations.

“It's high time to figure out a new strategy towards our close neighbor. We are used to thinking that “brother nations” means brotherly leadership. But looking at Ukraine's actions – they are very unfriendly and this should stop,” according to Semyon Bagdasarov, member of the State Duma’s Committee for the International Affairs

According to a recent opinion poll in Ukraine, its population is tired of leaders who constantly are in conflict with Russia.

“More than 80% of our respondents – both in the East and the West of the country – say that Russia-Ukraine relations need improving,” said Evgeny Kopatko, head of the Ukraine-based Research and Branding Group. “There are a lot of people in Ukraine whose attitude towards Russia is very positive. And those people are just not happy – they want a change for the better,”

Amidst the political turmoil, some analysts predict another winter of discontent over gas supplies.

“I'm afraid we are going to have a serious crisis with Ukraine this winter on the transit problem,” believes political analyst Dmitry Babich. “Regarding the election, I think Yushchenko will lose – his ratings are very low. In Ukraine, if you want to be president you should find compromises. And finding compromises with Russia is especially important. So if you take a one sided position – pro Russian or anti-Russian – you are out of the political game and I'm afraid that's what's going to happen to Yushchenko.”

Ukranians are scheduled to go to the polls in January and Russia hopes a change of leadership could help improve bilateral ties.