The statements of PM Igor Matovič (OĽaNO) about the Sputnik V vaccine have caused a diplomatic scandal in Ukraine, according to the Denník N daily.
Both local media and politicians were outraged by an inappropriate joke he made during his interview with private broadcaster Radio Expres. When asked what he promised to Russia in exchange for Sputnik V, he said the Zakarpatska Oblast, an administrative province in south-western Ukraine.
Russia annexed the former Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014, which has resulted in an ongoing war in the eastern regions of Ukraine that has claimed thousands of lives.
Although Matovič later explained it was a joke and he did not promise anything to Russia in return, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba already responded by writing on Twitter that statements like these damage friendly relationships between the countries. The minister commented that the Slovak PM should have offered some Slovak regions in exchange instead.
Several Ukrainian media have also reported on the statement, calling it a failed joke.
Demands for apology
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry meanwhile summoned Slovakia’s chargé d’affaires in Ukraine, Matúš Korba, to express its protest against Matovič’s statements.
It also demands an apology from the Slovak prime minister.
“Regardless of the motives, genre and context, such remands of the head of the Slovak government, which directly refer to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, are unacceptable and have a negative impact on the friendly and neighbourly character of Ukrainian-Slovak relations,” the ministry’s statement reads, as quoted by the TASR newswire.
The ministry added that the “joke” sounds especially offensive to people living in the regions at war with Russia.
At the same time, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Slovakia, Yuri Mushka, filed a demarche at the Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry, TASR reported.
Meanwhile, Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister, Ivan Korčok (SaS nominee), wrote on Facebook on the evening of March 3 that he has already communicated with his Ukrainian counterpart Kuleba, and apologised for the “inappropriate statements of Slovak PM Igor Matovič”.
“I feel especially sorry because only a few days ago, we had a very good talk in Kyiv on how good our relations are developing,” Korčok added.
Apology on Twitter
Matovič apologised on March 4 via Twitter.
“Slovakia’s position on Ukraine’s territorial integrity has always been very clear,” he wrote. “Respect for international law is a must. Apologies to all Ukrainians for my inappropriate reaction which could undermine their just efforts.”