Bildt's behaviour has Russians seeing red
David Landes · 1 Oct 2008, 16:00
Published: 01 Oct 2008 16:00 GMT+02:00
- Bildt: Russia 'violating international law' (26 Aug 08)
- Sweden puts Russian military ties on ice (19 Aug 08)
- Sweden invokes Hitler in condemning Russian assault (09 Aug 08)
In the past, Bildt has received criticism at home for having ties with Russia that are too close for comfort.
But following statements in August at the height of the conflict between Russia and Georgia, the foreign minister learned that Moscow had decided to roll up the welcome mat.
In criticizing Russia's rationale for invading Georgia, Bildt likened the behaviour to that of Adolf Hilter and Nazi Germany.
"No state has the right to intervene militarily in the territory of another state simply because there are individuals there with a passport issued by that state," Bildt said in August
"And we have reason to remember how Hitler used this very doctrine little more than half a century ago to undermine and attack substantial parts of central Europe."
The conflict – and Bildt’s comparison – put a chill on Swedish-Russian relations.
When Bildt attempted to make a trip to Moscow a few days following his statements, he was given the cold shoulder.
“He hasn’t been welcome,” said Bildt’s spokesperson Irena Busic to the Aftonbladet newspaper.
Two subsequent attempts by Bildt to travel to the Russian capital have also been unsuccessful, according to the paper, although Busic denied that account of events.
“The Russians had a chance to meet Bildt, but they said no. There are no plans to try again,” she told Aftonbladet.
Bildt further riled his Russian colleagues this week when he decided to skip a meeting of the 47-member Council of Europe, which Sweden currently chairs, in favour of a state dinner with Sweden’s king and queen hosted by Ukrainian president and Kremlin critic Viktor Yushchenko.
“I’ve sat in the Council of Europe for eight years and I’ve never experienced anything like it,” said Leonid Slutsky, Russia’s representative to the body, according to Aftonbladet.
Slutsky and his colleagues reportedly stormed out of the meeting shortly thereafter.
Bildt’s absence also raised concerns from other representatives in the Council about Sweden’s apparent bias against Russia.
“It’s incomprehensible that Bildt isn’t here to address this criticism. There are many of us who are extremely disappointed by Sweden and the actions of its foreign minister,” said Switzerland’s Andreas Gross, according to Aftonbladet.
“That he has so clearly taken sides doesn’t bode well for Sweden’ EU presidency.”
Lund University history professor and Russia expert Kristian Gerner says Russia’s display at the Council assembly as well as its refusal to welcome Bildt shows the country is trying to make a point.
“They want to express their displeasure with Sweden and freeze relations,” he told the newspaper.
Gerner said that Bildt’s decision to head to Ukraine, another former Soviet republic still struggling to free itself from Russian influence, is extremely insulting to the Russians.
However Busic attempted to play down Bildt’s decision to head to the Ukraine for dinner.
“Ukraine is extremely important and not even a foreign minister can be in two places at once,” she said.