Viktor Chernomyrdin (Ви́ктор Степа́нович Черномы́рдин), the Russian ambassador to Ukraine known for his slips of the tongue and pithy witticisms, has been threatened with expulsion after giving a published interview with derogatory remarks about Ukraine’s leaders. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko “fight like dogs and bad-mouth each other,” Chernomyrdin told Komsomolskaya Pravda.
Further adding that “it’s not possible to negotiate with these Ukrainian leaders. If other people come along, we’ll see,” one might suspect that Ukraine was more upset over the last half of the statement versus the obvious truth in the former. Given’s the Putin Administration’s active attempt to influence previous Ukrainian elections, it came as no great surprise when the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry in Kyiv summoned and publicly reprimanded the ambassador for the interview. Chernomyrdin committed a “gross breach of the norms of diplomatic ethics,” and his behavior was “incompatible with the status of the head of a diplomatic mission,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vladimir Ogryzko said in a statement.
(Photo above: Ukraine Foreign Ministry, Kyiv)
Chernomyrdin was warned that his actions could prompt Ukraine to declare him persona non grata with expulsion. “How would you react as a citizen of Ukraine if you read a statement in Komsomolskaya Pravda that our leadership hasn’t got any brains? As a citizen, this outraged me,” Ogryzko told reporters. Russia however has indicated that any threat to expel Chernomyrdin would be viewed in Moscow as an “unfriendly step.”
Becoming the first Chairman of Gazprom in 1989, Chernomyrdin later served as Prime Minister of Russia under President Boris Yeltsin from 1992 to 1998. Chernomyrdin was Acting President of the Russian Federation for a day when Boris Yeltsin was in surgery for a heart operation. He has been Russia’s ambassador to Ukraine since 2001, appointed by then-President Vladimir Putin.
It was Chernomyrdin in the summer of 1995 who directed the negotiations with the Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev during the hostage crisis at a hospital in Budyonnovsk.
This was not the first time that Mr. Chernomyrdin had stepped on Ukrainian toes, and it was less than a month ago when he described Ukraine’s leadership as “brainless” in an interview with Russian TV channel Vesti on January 19, in regards to the gas conflict between Kyiv and Moscow. Those comments led the Ukrainian government to complain that Moscow was pushing a campaign to “blatantly pressurize” Ukraine and over its independent domestic and foreign policy.
The ministry also claims Chernomyrdin made a series of inappropriate remarks regarding Ukraine’s President Viktor Yuschenko in his interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper on February 9.
“It is with feelings of profound regret that Moscow received the information about this latest unfriendly step taken by the Ukrainian authorities towards Russia’s ambassador in Kyiv, Viktor Chernomyrdin,” the foreign ministry said in statement, further saying that threats by the Ukrainian foreign ministry to expel the ambassador was a threat meant to damage Ukrainian-Russian relations.
Relations between Russia and Ukraine are already strained after disputes over gas transit in January that led Moscow to cut supplies and cut deliveries to European countries for several weeks.