Outgoing Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko "spit in the face" of his political sponsors when he declared nationalist leader Stepan Bandera a national hero, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Monday.
Yushchenko, known for his promotion of Ukrainian nationalism, often at the expense of relations with Russia, awarded in late January the Hero of Ukraine title to Stepan Bandera, whom many see as a Nazi collaborator during WWII.
"The events of the past months did not surprise me at all, when the 'color movement' leadership spit in the face of its political sponsors issuing a decree to declare Stepan Bandera a Hero of Ukraine, a man who not only collaborated with the Nazis, but was also peculiarly cruel when doing away with Jews and Poles," Putin said at a meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski in February condemned Yushchenko's decree and said it runs contrary to the historical truth.
Yushchenko's move has already fueled fierce debate in Ukraine, where Bandera is a controversial figure, with his mainly West Ukrainian supporters considering him a hero.
Yushchenko was swept to power by the 2004 pro-Western street protests, known as the "orange revolution." He will be succeeded by opposition leader president-elect Viktor Yanukovych.
NOVO-OGARYOVO, February 15 (RIA Novosti)