YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Ukraine recalled its ambassador to Armenia on Friday after warning of serious damage to bilateral ties and demanding an official Armenian explanation regarding President Serzh Sarkisian’s acceptance of a disputed referendum in Crimea that led to its annexation by Russia.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said Ambassador Ivan Kukhta was ordered to return home for consultations.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danilo Lubkivsky announced earlier in the day that the Armenian ambassador in Kiev, Andranik Manukian, has been twice summoned to the Ukrainian Foreign Minister and handed an official note.
“We appealed to Armenia to officially and publicly state that it does not recognize the annexation of Crimea,” Ukrainian news agencies quoted him as saying. “We expect such a response.”
“In case of statements or actions that we could interpret as unfriendly, there will be negative consequences for our bilateral relations,” Lubkivsky warned, according to the RBK-Ukraine news agency. He did not specify those consequences, saying only that the Ukrainian side will consider taking “a broad range of measures” against Yerevan.
Asked by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) to comment on the development, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan said, “As soon as we receive the Ukrainian side’s note, we will formulate our response and decide whether or not we will publicize that response.”
The Ukrainian protest stems from President Serzh Sarkisian’s remarks made during Wednesday’s phone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Sarkisian was cited by his press office as saying that the weekend referendum on Crimea’s secession from Ukraine, condemned as illegal by the international community, was “yet another example of the realization of peoples’ right to self-determination through a free expression of will.”
Sarkisian Appeals to ‘Brotherly’ Ukraine
Sarkisian appealed to Ukrainians and described them as “brothers” of Armenia on Friday as he sought to minimize the fallout from his controversial decision to welcome Crimea’s secession from Ukraine.
However, Sarkisian stopped short of publicly explaining the implications and rationale of his move criticized by the United States.
“For centuries, we fought shoulder to shoulder against aggressors. We have thousands of glorious pages of common history. This has been the case and this will be the case,” he said in a speech during an awards ceremony held at the presidential palace in Yerevan.
“It happens so that in the heat of time and events, different phenomena are perceived in different ways,” continued Sarkisian. “But the great thing about time is that over time things clear up, misunderstandings and disagreements disappear and everything returns to normal. I want to repeat that the Ukrainians are our brothers.”
Sarkisian spoke after handing out annual Armenian presidential awards to dozens of artists, writers and scientists. Among them was supposed to be Olena Fetisova, the Ukrainian screenwriter, producer and co-director of a new feature film about the late Sergey Paradjanov, a renowned Soviet filmmaker of Armenian descent.
Fetisova decided at the last minute not to accept the award carrying a monetary prize of 5 million drams ($12,000) in protest against Sarkisian’s decision to accept the outcome of an internationally condemned referendum in Crimea that was followed by the region’s annexation by Russia. “I would like to kindly ask you to convey my part of the remuneration of the State Prize of Armenia to the Armenian orphans,” she said in an open letter to Sarkisian. “I am sure that Sergey Paradjanov would do the same.”
Fetisova defended the snub in a phone interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), saying that Sarkisian’s stance amounts to an endorsement of Russian “aggression” against her country. “He backed the legitimacy of an illegal and thoroughly rigged referendum,” she said.
“I simply could not have come to Yerevan and thereby welcomed a situation in which my homeland is in danger and Armenia’s leadership unfortunately does not stand by my country,” added the Ukrainian filmmaker.
“I will pass the state award on to her through her colleagues and, in accordance with her wish, we will use its financial component for benevolent purposes,” Sarkisian said at the ceremony. “I understand Ms. Fetisova’s motives but want to appeal to the distinguished lady and the Ukrainian people by saying that we are brotherly peoples.”