The Kremlin confirmed yesterday 28th July 2016 that Mikhail Zurabov, Russia’s ambassador to Ukraine, has been sacked.
Zurabov is deservedly one of the most criticised officials in the Russian government. Unlike the great majority of Russian ambassadors he is not a career diplomat but was a former liberal politician who as Russia’s minister of health in the mid 2000s tried to introduce market mechanisms to Russia’s health system, which backfired earning him a public reprimand from none other than Putin himself. In 2009 he was sent to Kiev as ambassador in what appears to have been intended as a form of political exile.
The Kremlin has in the past had the unfortunate habit of treating the vital diplomatic post of ambassador to Kiev as a sort of dustbin for failed Moscow politicians. Zurabov’s predecessor as ambassador, Yeltsin’s former prime minister Viktor Chernomydin, was another example. The lack of strong Russian representatives in Kiev has proved disastrous and is key to understanding why Moscow was so completely unprepared for the Maidan coup, and has had so much difficulty shaping events on the ground in Ukraine in its own interests both before the coup and since.
Suffice to say that Zurabov was nowhere to be seen during the Maidan protests of 2013-2014, which led to the overthrow of Ukraine’s President Yanukovych. Nor has he played any significant role in the Ukrainian conflict since. Throughout the whole history of the Ukrainian conflict, because of his passivity and incompetence, Moscow’s voice in Kiev has been muffled or silent.
That it has taken the Russian government this long to sack Zurabov is astonishing. Most Russians would doubtless say that it is because Zurabov has high level patrons within the Russian power structure. Sacked in disgrace he has however now finally been, as the terse tone of the Kremlin’s announcement of his sacking – containing no word of thanks for his past work – makes all too clear. It remains to be seen who will take over from him, but Moscow urgently needs a more forceful figure to represent its interests in Kiev.