• Top EU officials at a frosty summit with Yanukovych (c) in Kiev last December (Photo: president.gov.ua)

EU and Ukraine trade blame over ambassador's remarks

29.02.12 @ 19:44

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Ukraine has given a political thumping to the EU ambassador in Kiev in what is amounting to a bad week for relations with ex-Soviet neighbours.

Its foreign ministry on Tuesday (28 February) summoned him to give explanations after he criticised President Viktor Yanukovych at a business conference. It also published a statement saying he does not know how to do his job.

"The public statements of the EU ambassador to Ukraine Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira ... do not correspond to the traditions of international relations in diplomacy," it said. "The issue is not just the tone of ambassador Teixeira's remarks, but the fact that a person sent to Ukraine as a diplomat ... is trying to get involved in the political process."

For its part, the EU's External Action Service said on Wednesday: "The comment from the foreign ministry is an unfounded attack on the personal integrity and professionalism of the ambassador and we categorically reject it."

Texeira's crime was to tell businessmen that Yanukovych broke election promises on improving the investment climate - a sore point amid widespread reports of high-level corruption.

The Portuguese-origin diplomat frequently annoys the administration with outspoken criticism.

The latest war-of-words comes the same week as Belarus expelled two EU ambassadors, prompting all 27 EU envoys to quit the country in protest.

EUobserver understands that Ukraine has no intention of booting out Teixeira, whose mandate ends shortly in any case. It is also concerned that the timing of events might attract unwanted comparisons with the Belarus regime.

In a more serious development, Ukraine also this week sentenced to four years in jail its former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko on charges of embezzlement and abuse of office.

Lutsenko is a political ally of former prime minitser Yulia Tymoshenko, currently serving a seven year sentence on similar charges. He is also seriously ill with cirrhosis of the liver.

"The country is turning into Monty Python's flying circus. This case is purely political - he really didn't do anything. They just hate him. He was the brains of the opposition, a great schemer and a great political organiser," an EU diplomatic source told this website.

For his part, Hryhoriy Nemyria, an MP and Tymoshenko's former deputy PM, said that with Lutsenko and Tymoshenko behind bars, Yanukovych has removed his two main opponents in parliamentary elections in October.

The EU has for the past four years been working on a landmark political association and free trade treaty with Ukraine.

Following the Lutsenko verdict, it said it is still ready to initial the text in March. But it will not sign unless the elections are free and fair - an impossibility if Lutsenko and Tymoshenko stay in jail.

Meanwhile, Kiev in recent days elevated a controversial figure - Valeriy Khoroshkovsky - to the post of deputy prime minister responsible for EU relations.

Khoroshkovsky was in Brussels last Friday for a meeting with analysts and select foreign ministers organised by the European Policy Centre think tank. He reportedly said he wants a "reset" in EU-Ukraine ties. But he will first need a reset in terms of his personal credibility in EU institutions.

The former spy-chief is known in Brussels for orchestrating the Tymoshenko prosecution. Some EU diplomats suspect he takes orders from the Kremlin and he has long term business links with Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch with self-confessed ties to the Russian mafia.

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