Volodymyr Ohryzko, Ukrainian foreign minister 2007 to 2009 (Image: day.kyiv.ua)
When one government wants to send a new ambassador to another country, it requests what is called agrément from the government of that country, a process by which the government of the latter has a chance to weigh in on the individual the sending country would like to dispatch.
That often introduces delays in the appointment of ambassadors, but it has a great advantage in that it not only reinforces the idea that the two governments are dealing with each–at least in principle–on the level of equality but also blocks the appointment of individuals whose careers suggest they will be incapable of working with the host government.
Sometimes governments ignore this requirement of diplomatic life because they have such power over the country to which they are making an appointment that they don’t have to care what the host nation thinks. That was the case with the Soviet regime in naming ambassadors to bloc countries, most of whom were party officials rather than diplomats.
But sometimes, governments do it in a “hybrid” way. That is, they have their parliaments approve someone as ambassador even before the host country has had the chance to give or withhold agrément. That is what the Putin regime is trying to do now with regard to an appointment of its ambassador to Kyiv.
For that reason and many others, former Ukrainian foreign minister Volodymyr Ohryzko says that in his view Kyiv should refuse to give its blessing because “the presence or absence of an ambassador of Russia in Ukraine will change nothing” and the Kremlin’s candidate is both “strange” and unacceptable.
Mikhail Babich, the man Moscow wants to send to Kyiv, “has never worked in diplomatic posts,” “Delovaya stolitsa” points out. He served instead in the KGB forces, headed state enterprises in Russian regions and was head of government in Chechnya before Ramzan Kadyrov. For the last five years, he has been plenipotentiary in the Volga Federal District.
The way in which Moscow is acting clearly is designed to present Kyiv with a fait accompli, but Ohryzko points out that Kyiv doesn’t have to accept this obvious denigration of Ukraine’s status as an independent country.
What matters more, the Ukrainian diplomat says, is that “in general nothing depends on who is the ambassador of the Russian Federation in Ukraine. Whatever status the diplomatic representation of Russia in Ukraine has, all decisions relative to the relationship between Ukraine and Russia are taken by one man, Vladimir Putin.”
Thus, he continues,
“the presence or absence of a Russian ambassador in Ukraine changes nothing. Diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation are nonsensical. That country annexed part of Ukraine and has attacked another part… If this depended on me, there wouldn’t be diplomatic relations” between Moscow and Kyiv.
But it is important to remember why Moscow is doing this: it is trying to provoke Kyiv into rejecting its candidate so that the Russian authorities can launch a new propaganda barrage denouncing Ukraine for failing to be cooperative, even though the cooperation they want is one of the victim of aggression with the aggressor.
Regardless of who the Russian ambassador is, “the Russian embassy [in Kyiv] has been [and will be] a center of the Russian special services,” who occupy about “60 to 70 percent” of the jobs there. No diplomat should be talking to these people as if they were diplomats, Ohryzko says.
This case reflects a deeper problem: “Russia has never considered Ukraine a separate and independent state! Therefore it sends not ambassadors but ‘deciders,’” regardless of their background. That has to change if things are to move forward in a positive way; agreeing to Moscow’s candidate won’t help that.
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