KYIV, March 5 – Russia was behind both recent attacks on a Hungarian cultural center in the western city of Uzhgorod that was aimed at tarnishing Ukraine’s reputation in Europe, Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin suggested Monday.
"Russian ears are sticking out everywhere," Klimkin tweeted in reference to incidents on February 4 and February 27 in which Molotov cocktails were thrown into the building.
The comment came a day after police had apprehended suspects and expressed concern that what he called "attempts to destabilize" the situation in Ukraine.
The attacks raised tensions between Ukraine and Hungary, which had already promised to block Ukraine’s cooperation with NATO and the EU. Russia, which has been long seeking to undermine Ukraine’s western and European integration, benefits from the diplomatic tensions.
The chief of Ukraine's National Police, Serhiy Knyazev, wrote on Facebook on Sunday that three suspects in the February 27 incident -- which caused a fire that destroyed much of the first floor of the center -- were detained in Ukraine.
Without naming a country, he said that a foreigner suspected of being behind organizing the attack remained at large.
Knyazev also said that two men suspected in the February 4 attack had been arrested in neighboring Poland.
But Henadiy Moskal, the governor of the TransCarpathian region, said the individual who allegedly organized the February 27 attack had fled to TransDnistria, a Russia-controlled breakaway republic of Moldova.
“The identity of the individual has been established. It’s a resident of TransDnistria that has fled to home immediately after the crime,” Moskal said. “According to our information, he is a member of the [TransDnistria’s] state security ministry.”
The individual apparently hired three Ukrainians from different parts of the country to carry out the attacks in Uzhgorod, Moskal said.
The developments come a week after Polish security service arrested three Poles representing a far-right group with links to Moscow that had allegedly carried out the February 4 attack.
Uzhgorod is located in the Zakarpattia region in southwestern Ukraine, which has a Hungarian minority of 150,000.
Hungary's Foreign Ministry last week summoned the Ukrainian ambassador to warn against rising "extremism" after an ethnic Hungarian cultural center in western Ukraine was attacked.
"Extremist political views" are gaining ground in Ukraine and intimidating ethnic Hungarians, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told public television channel M1 on February 27. "All of this is unacceptable," Szijjarto said. (nr/ez)