Kyiv Post | 26Jan2010 | Reuters
Russia blasts Ukraine leader for
'odious' award to nationalist
MOSCOW, Jan 26, 2010 (Reuters) - Russia lashed out at Ukraine's outgoing
president on Jan. 26, 2010 for bestowing national hero status on a wartime
leader who is vilified in Moscow.
The criticism of Victor Yushchenko's decree pronouncing late
nationalist leader Stepan Bandera a Hero of Ukraine underscored
Russia's distaste for the pro-Western president, who pushed his nation
toward NATO and sought to shed Moscow's influence.
It also evoked deep-seated tensions between the neighbours that may
outlast Yushchenko's departure after a Feb. 7, 2010 runoff between Prime
Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych.
Both are seen as more friendly to Russia than Yushchenko, pushed to
power in the 2004 Orange Revolution but out of the running for a second
term after winning less than 6 percent in the Jan. 17, 2010 presidential
But prickly issues ranging from natural gas contracts to national
identity could still cause problems in the complex relationship between
Moscow and Kyiv. Yushchenko's decree Friday was "an event of such an
odious nature that it could not fail to produce an unambiguously
negative reaction," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Bandera led Ukrainian nationalist forces that fought against Nazi
invaders and Soviet troops in World War Two. He continued to resist
Soviet rule well into the 1950s, and was assassinated by a KGB agent in
Bandera is regarded as a hero by many in western Ukraine, where
wariness toward Moscow is strong and where Yushchenko drew much of his
support, but he is viewed with suspicion in the Russian-speaking east.
He is widely hated in Russia, where the Soviet victory in the war is an
unparalleled source of pride.
The row over Yushchenko's decree came a day after Russia's new
ambassador to Ukraine took up a post that had been empty for months.
The Kremlin named former Health Minister Mikhail Zurabov as its new
envoy last summer but had refrained from sending him to Kyiv until this
week in a pointed statement of its refusal to deal with Yushchenko.
The winner of the presidential runoff is to be inaugurated within 30
days of the official publication of the results.
The Kremlin has made it clear it expects relations to improve no matter
Moscow has refrained from backing either candidate after Vladimir
Putin, then president and now prime minister, openly supported
Yanukovich in the campaign that prompted the Orange Revolution street
Yanukovych's power base is the Russian-speaking east, and his Party of
Regions has ties to Putin's United Russia party, but he is also
connected with Ukrainian tycoons who are wary of too much Russian
influence over the country's economy.
Tymoshenko was a heroine of the Orange Revolution and has support in
She has worked closely with Putin, hammering out deals to avert a
repeat of a cutoff of Russian gas supplies to transit nation Ukraine
that drastically reduced supplies to European countries in January 2009.
There are already signs that the gas trade could test the strength of
ties with Russia under a new president.
Ukranian businessman Sergei Tigipko, whose support could tip the scales
in favour of either candidate, said on Monday that an agreement with
Russia outlining the volumes and process of Ukraine's gas imports
should be reviewed.
Such a move would anger Russia and could trigger another round of
argument between the two nations, potentially putting at risk the
security of European gas supplies.