MOSCOW (Reuters) - A 350-year-old cavalry battle has become the latest irritant between Russia and its neighbor Ukraine after Russia’s foreign ministry on Tuesday accused Kiev of using the clash to foment anti-Russian feeling.
The ministry said the 1659 battle of Konotop, in which a Russian invasion was repelled, was being distorted to fit the political agenda of Ukraine’s leaders, who have angered Moscow by seeking NATO membership.
In the battle, a Russian force was defeated when it tried to stop a Ukrainian leader from entering into an entente with Poland and Lithuania — with whom Russia had waged wars.
One English-language reference book, “Ukraine: A History”, says the “Tsar’s troops suffered one of their worst defeats ever,” in the Konotop battle.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has ordered officials to mark the Battle of Konotop’s 350th anniversary in 2009 with a series of events starting this year.
“We feel perplexity and regret at the persistence ... with which certain forces in Ukraine are today trying to find ... events and people notable only for the fact that they were in some way directed against Moscow,” a ministry statement said.
“Playing with history, especially with nationalistic overtones, never leads to anywhere good.”
“In these conditions one must count on the wisdom of the Ukrainian people, who will not let themselves be drawn into an artificial, invented confrontation with Russia.”
Russia, which effectively ruled Ukraine from the mid-17th century with varying degrees of autonomy to the end of Soviet rule in 1991, has traditionally viewed the country as part of its sphere of influence.
Since pro-Western leaders were catapulted into power in Kiev in a 2004 “Orange Revolution,” they have repeatedly clashed with Russia.
Moscow has said Ukraine’s entry to NATO would threaten its security and the two states are in dispute over the future of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, based in Sevastopol in Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula under a lease deal.
The rows have often spilled over into differing interpretations of the past, a sensitive subject for two peoples whose histories have been closely intertwined for centuries.
Some in Moscow have suggested the legal status of Crimea could be in doubt. Previously part of Russia, it was assigned to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 by then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov was declared persona non grata in Ukraine this year after he said at another historical celebration, the 225th anniversary of the Black Sea fleet, that Russia should take back Sevastopol.
Kiev and Moscow have also clashed over whether an artificially-induced famine which killed more than five million in the 1930s amounts to “genocide” and the role played by anti-communist Ukrainian fighters in World War Two.
Additional reporting by Ron Popeski in Kiev; Editing by Jon Boyle