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Ukraine's opposition party submitted a draft bill on Thursday demanding
Ukraine's opposition party submitted a draft bill on Thursday demanding the foreign minister resign over threats to expel Russia's envoy, which strained relations with Moscow just weeks after a gas row.

Volodymyr Ohryzko warned Ambassador Viktor Chernomyrdin on Tuesday that he could be expelled over recent alleged "undiplomatic comments." Moscow described the incident as another unfriendly move by Kiev aimed at damaging bilateral relations.

"We will push for Ohryzko's resignation," Anna Herman, a leader of the Party of Regions and a member of the Supreme Rada, told a news briefing.

Herman said "it is no time to quarrel with Russia" and urged joint efforts to tackle the financial crisis that has hit both countries hard.

It is not clear what comments outraged the foreign minister, but Chernomyrdin is known to have criticized Ukrainian authorities for dragging out the recent gas talks with Russia which led to gas supplies transited to Europe through Ukraine being cut for nearly two weeks.

Chernomyrdin said in a Russian newspaper interview earlier this month that the Ukrainian leadership was impossible to deal with and hoped "sober" and "decent" people would come to power in the country after the presidential elections due before January.

The squabble revealed a growing rift within the leadership. Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was reported on Wednesday as saying Ohryzko, the president's man in the government, had not agreed the move with her.

Tymoshenko and President Viktor Yushchenko, former pro-Western allies, have become embroiled in political backbiting that intensified further when Yushchenko accused the premier of betraying Ukraine's interests in the January 19 gas deal with Moscow which led to the resumption in Russian gas supplies to Europe and Kiev.

Another Party of Regions member, Oleksandr Yefremov, said the Supreme Rada could vote on Ohryzko's resignation before the minister delivers a report to the legislature on March 3.

In a statement in response to the expulsion threat on Wednesday, Russia's Foreign Ministry said: "It is amazing how consistent the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has been in its attempts to damage Russian-Ukrainian cooperation."

Relations between the two former Soviet neighbors have been strained over a host of issues, including energy prices, Russia's August conflict with Georgia and Ukraine's NATO ambitions under its pro-Western leaders.

Ukraine has banned several Russian politicians from entering the country over comments about the largely Russian-speaking Crimea Peninsula, a Russian region granted to Ukraine by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.


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