Print options

June 16, 2014

Russia, Ukraine, Former Natural Gas Trading Partners, Now Trade Insults

by James Brooke

Russia and Ukraine, once brotherly nations, are fighting over natural gas deliveries and military aid.
 
Russia has stopped buying potatoes from Ukraine and selling gas to Ukraine. In return, Ukraine wants to seal its border with Russia, accusing the Kremlin of sending tanks and cannons to help Ukraine’s separatists.
 
Just when relations could not get worse, Ukraine’s acting foreign minister called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "dickhead.”
 
In a video clip that has gone viral on the Internet, Ukraine’s top diplomat, Andriy Deshchytsia, can be seen trying to calm several hundred young demonstrators. They had just splattered the Russian embassy in Kyiv with eggs and green paint and had turned over three cars belonging to Russian diplomats.

Bitter recriminations

After the diplomat utters the insult, the crowd pauses. Then, they start to sing the phrase, a refrain made popular recently by sport fans who had united to  defend Ukraine’s unity.
  ​​
In Moscow, the reaction Monday was as chilly as the out of season Arctic weather now cloaking the Russian capital. Politician after politician demanded the resignation of the Ukrainian who had insulted Russia’s ruler. For almost 15 years, Putin has stood at the summit of Russia’s “vertikal vlasti” -- or “vertical of power”
 
In his Facebook blog, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev denounced what he called “the paranoid behavior of the acting foreign minister near the Russian Embassy in Kyiv.”
 
At a press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was equally chilly. He said, "As to the person called Deschytsia, like I said, I have nothing to talk to him about anymore."
 
Gas supplies

On the other side of the border, some Ukrainians backed the use of undiplomatic language.
 
Dmytro Tymchuk, head of the Center for Political and Military Studies in Kyiv, said, "We have a free country. I don’t see anything wrong here.”

For some, the name calling incident was a welcome diversion from the more worrying fact that Russia stopped selling gas to Ukraine on Monday.

Ukraine owes Russia almost $5 billion for overdue gas bills -- and refuses to pay.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a cabinet meeting on Monday, “Ukrainians will not pull $5 billion out of their pockets a year so that Russia can use this money to buy arms, tanks, and planes and bomb Ukrainian territory.”
 
In response, Medvedev went on national television to accuse Ukraine of turning down “ultra-discount” prices to create an “artificial gas crisis” with Europe.
 
"This is deplorable," he said. "This truly smells of blackmail.”
 
Ukrainian officials say they can hold out with their own gas reserves through December. Facing six months of gas talks, and a secessionist war in the east, many Ukrainians are enjoying the distraction of a diplomatic spat with Russia.