Zelensky sacks Ukraine’s ambassador to UK over Wallace weapons row

Ukraine’s ambassador in London has been sacked after criticising Volodymyr Zelensky’s behaviour in a row with Ben Wallace over claims of ingratitude on the part of Kyiv for arms supplied by Britain and other Western allies.

The Independent revealed on Thursday that there had been “very strong and harsh” telephone conversations between Vadym Prystaiko and the government in Kyiv after he accused President Zelensky of “unhealthy sarcasm” in his response to Mr Wallace, who had said that Ukraine should not view its Western allies as an “Amazon” delivery service.

Diplomatic sources say that Mr Prystaiko, who has been a key point of contact for the British government since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began last year, was warned that he could be recalled to Ukraine and face strong disciplinary action, which could potentially include dismissal.

This morning, the Ukrainian government announced that Mr Prystaiko had been fired by presidential decree, and that he had also been removed as the country’s representative to the International Maritime Organisation. No reason was given for his sacking.

Speaking at the Nato summit in Vilnius last week, the British defence secretary said people expected Ukraine to show more gratitude for the huge help it was being given by its allies “whether we like it or not”. In a mocking riposte, President Zelensky quipped: “How else can we show our gratitude? We can wake up in the morning and thank the minister. Let him write to me and tell me how to thank him.”

Mr Prystaiko, a veteran diplomat who has previously served as his country’s foreign minister, said in a Sky TV interview: “President Zelensky saying ‘Each and every morning we’ll wake up and call Ben Wallace to thank him’ – I don’t think that kind of sarcasm is healthy. I don’t think we need to show the Russians there is something between us. We’re working together, Ben can call me and tell me anything he wants to.”

The ambassador’s stance was seen as gross insubordination. There was also apprehension that his remarks would be picked up by Russian media, and presented with the words twisted and manipulated in an attempt to show major splits between Ukraine and its Western allies at a time when the Zelensky government is carrying out a major counteroffensive to reclaim occupied territory.

In the telephone calls, the ambassador is said to have been told that his professional future hung in the balance. The final decision was said to have been made by the foreign minister, Dmitry Kuleba, when he returned from New York after meeting with UN officials.

Ukrainian officials are frequently targeted by Russian trolls. Mr Prystaiko himself has been a victim in the past. He gave an interview to Newsweek magazine earlier this year in which he talked about heavy civilian losses due to Russian shelling. This was turned by a Russian website into “colossal losses by the Ukrainian army”, with the invented phrase “People were dying in the interest of the West.”

Mr Prystaiko was last seen in public watching tennis at Wimbledon’s Centre Court last week with his wife, Inna. They saw Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina in action, but left before Belarus’s Aryna Sabalenka came on, in protest at the backing by the country’s ruler, Alexander Lukashenko, of Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

It is not just in Ukraine that the “Amazon” controversy lingers on. Some allies of Mr Wallace, who is due to step down from his post and leave politics altogether at the next election, feel that Rishi Sunak should have stood up for the defence secretary.

Asked about Mr Wallace’s remarks shortly after they were made, the prime minister said that President Zelensky had “expressed his gratitude for what we’ve done on a number of occasions. Not least in his incredibly moving address that he made to parliament earlier this year.” Mr Sunak continued: “People across Ukraine are also fighting for their lives and freedom every single day, and they’re paying a terrible price for it, so I completely understand Volodymyr’s desire to do everything he can to protect his people and to stop this war.”

Mr Wallace was not, however, the only Western official to raise the issue of Ukrainian gratitude at the Nato summit. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan held that “the American people do deserve a degree of gratitude” after being questioned about American resolve.

Mr Sullivan was asked by a Ukrainian activist if Joe Biden was against immediate Nato membership for Ukraine because he was “afraid of Russia losing, afraid of Ukraine winning”. Mr Sullivan responded: “The United States of America has stepped up to provide an enormous amount of capacity to help ensure that Ukraine’s brave soldiers have the ammunition, air defence, the infantry, fighting vehicles, the mine-clearing equipment.”

Mr Kuleba, in his own response to Mr Wallace’s comments at the Nato summit, said : “I apologise, but we are at war. Colleagues, ministers and foreign journalists often ask me if we are getting enough weapons. I tell them that as long as we are on the way to victory, we will not have enough weapons. When we win, we will say, thank you, we had enough weapons. But as long as the struggle continues, we will not have enough.”

The UK has been involved in training the Ukrainian military since the separatist wars seven years ago. Since Mr Putin’s invasion in February 2022, Kyiv has been supplied with next-generation light anti-tank weapons (NLAWs), Brimstone and Starstreak missiles, and Challenger tanks.

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