WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's former prime minister, Donald Tusk, denied Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that their two nations carve up Ukraine.
That claim was made by former Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski in an interview with Politico published Sunday. It sparked a huge outcry in Poland, and Sikorski almost immediately backed away from the allegations, saying his memory had failed him.
Sikorski had said the offer was made in a one-on-one meeting between Tusk and Putin in Moscow in 2008.
The episode has been an embarrassment to Sikorski. Observers in Poland say he has hurt the country's credibility on the foreign stage, particularly in dealings with Russia.
Until he stepped down as foreign minister last month to become parliament speaker, Sikorski had been a leading European voice urging a tough stance toward Moscow. Some of his political opponents are calling for him to resign.
In an interview on Radio TOK-FM, Tusk said that Putin never suggested to him that Poland and Russia partition Ukraine.
"In none of the meetings with President Putin was such a proposition made," Tusk said.
He said Sikorski must have gotten that impression from remarks Putin made at a NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008 in which he said Ukraine was an artificial country and that Russia has interests there.
"This whole story shows that human memory is sometimes fallible," Tusk said. He praised Sikorski as one of the country's most talented politicians of the last 20 years and hopes that one "unfortunate interview" will not end his career.
Tusk stepped down as prime minister in September after being chosen to head the European Council, a job he takes up Dec. 1. A government shuffle that ensued led Sikorski to leave his post as foreign minister for the job of parliament speaker.