A diplomatic back-and-forth has ensued after Richard Sulík described sanctions that the EU has imposed on Russia as "unfortunate".
"Countries should trade with each other. And some of our exporters have been affected. Sanctions thus only cause harm, and Russians will not return Crimea anyway. We need to look forward and we need to build relationships," said Sulík, who serves as deputy prime minister and economy minister, and leads the coalition party Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), in an interview with the Pravda daily in December. The daily has now published another story based on this quote on January 19, with the headline "Sulík rejects sanctions and claims Russians will not return Crimea".
Ukrainian government upset
From there, Sulík's comments quickly made their way to the Russian media and then the Ukrainian media, upsetting the Kyiv government. Tens of thousands of Russian troops, plus heavy military equipment, have been massing on Ukraine's border in recent weeks, with observers warning a new invasion may be imminent. Russia currently occupies Ukrainian territory in Crimea and supports rebels in breakaway parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
"It is unfortunate that the official of our friendly state, with which we have strong partnership relations, demonstrates a distorted perception of reality on the issue of Crimea, as well as on the need for sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation," Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko stated in an official statement published on the ministry's website.
Nikolenko at the same time noted that Sulík's comments are at odds with Slovakia's official position. That position, in support of sanctions, is represented by the country's main foreign policy actors: President Zuzana Čaputová, Prime Minister Eduard Heger (OĽaNO), and Foreign Affairs Minister Ivan Korčok (SaS).
Defence is a topic in Slovakia now
In his reaction, Heger stated that Slovakia does not intend to break from the coalition of states that condemn Russia's actions.
Minister Korčok is a nominee of Sulík's SaS. He has recently been in the spotlight together with Defence Minister Jaroslav Naď (OĽaNO), explaining the Defence Cooperation Agreement between Slovakia and the US in the face of unrelenting attacks from the opposition as well as from disinformation websites.
SaS supports the defence agreement and Sulík as its leader has stated that Slovakia should react in eastern Ukraine in harmony with NATO.