Radosław Sikorski during first press conference, Tuesday, which brought scorn from PM Kopacz: photo - PAP/Jakub Kamiński
“My memory failed me. After checking, there was no bi-lateral [meaning one-to-one] meeting between Prime Minister Tusk and President Putin,” Radoslaw Sikorski said, Tuesday evening, adding that he was actually referring to comments Putin made at a NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, and not in Moscow in February of that year, as he had originally told the American Politico magazine.
Sikorski also appeared to back away from the claim that Putin offered parts of Ukraine to Poland on a plate, saying it could have been a sick joke but one that became more sinister as events have unfolded.
Sikorski has come under fire for not releasing such explosive information before and Poland's largest opposition party has called for his resignation as speaker of parliament.
The interview with Politico will be raised at a meeting of Poland's National Security Council on Wednesday, presidential spokeswoman Joanna Trzaska-Wieczorek has said.
Asked why he and PM Tusk had not made public Putin's imperial ambitions before, Sikorski said that the "surreal" remarks “appeared significant only later, after the NATO summit, after the war in Georgia and the annexation of Crimea".
He added that the detail of the conversation was “open to interpretation”, which takes on meaning “in the light of recent events,” referring to the current crisis in Ukraine.
In the afternoon, Prime Minister Kopacz expressed anger after the former minister appeared to cut an earlier, tense, press conference short while being pressed for more details on the Ukraine revelations and said she was “surprised” that he had kept Putin's remarks to himself for so long.
“I will not tolerate such standards of behaviour,” she said and apologised to journalists “on the Speaker's behalf”.
In the morning, Radoslaw Sikorski tweeted that Politico “over-interpreted” some of his comments, detailing a conversation between Donald Tusk and Vladimir Putin, when the current president of Russia had allegedly offered to carve up Ukraine with Poland's help.
Sikorski - who was moved as head of the foreign ministry after seven years in office in September to take up the role of speaker of parliament – maintains a conversation still took place, though he “was not a witness to it” but declined to say who told him about it.
“Putin told all western leaders in Bucharest in 2008 that Ukraine was a conglomerate of several different nations, including Poland, and threatened it's statehood,” Sikorski told journalists, Tuesday evening during his second press conference of the day.
He said that Poland does not have a recording of the conversation, however.
'Not a country'
Former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, told the TVN24 news station that “Russian president Vladimir Putin offered to divide up Ukraine many years ago to Polish and other national leaders”.
“Vladimir Putin said that Ukraine is not a country, it is a territory. At the next meeting, he told me that Crimea is Russian land. Then he told me that he was very unhappy with Moldova and something must be done. He also told me that NATO will not be able to defend the Baltic states,” Saakashvili said.
Saakashvili also backed the beleaguered former Polish foreign minister, saying that Donald Tusk told him about the conversation with Putin.
“Tusk told me he thought he was joking”.
Donald Tusk, who takes up his new position as president of the European Council in December, has yet to comment on his former foreign minister's claims.
On Sikorski's memory lapse as to where the conversation between Putin and Tusk took place and some of the details of the conversation, leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) Leszek Miller told journalists: “A politician who confuses fact with fantasy undermines the authority of the country”.
Earlier, leader of Poland's largest opposition party had called for the resignation of Radoslaw Sikorski as speaker of parliament, demanding why he had not informed parliament or the president of remarks he claimed were made by President Putin.
“Surly he should have informed the president [of Poland] if he heard about plans to split up a nation,” said Kaczynski. (pg)