Ukraine brands Bill Etheridge 'a disgrace' over Yalta visit
Ukraine's ambassador to the UK has branded Bill Etheridge 'a disgrace' and accused him of 'violating international law' over a visit he made to the Crimea.
In a letter to the UKIP Dudley councillor and West Midlands MEP, Natalia Galibarenko strongly condemned his visit to the International Economic Forum in Yalta, accusing him of disrespecting the official position of the British Government.
It was sent to all of Mr Etheridge's council colleagues, leading him to accuse the high ranking diplomat of attempting to interfere in a UK election.
In a separate email to Mr Etheridge, Ms Galibarenko has threatened to 'bring him to justice' over the trip, which saw the MEP mingle with allies of Vladimir Putin and Syrian president al-Assad.
Ukraine's objection is due to the Crimea being classed as an illegal occupied territory in international law following its annexation by Russia in 2014.
Mr Etheridge's visit was already the subject of controversy after he criticised Britain's involvement in airstrikes on Syria and called for proof that Russia was behind the Salisbury poisoning attack.
It led to furious UKIP leader Gerard Batten summoning him before the party's ruling NEC next month to explain his behaviour.
In her letter, Ms Galibarenko wrote that Mr Etheridge had 'abhorrently neglected international law and blatantly demonstrated disregard of its key principles, namely the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of an independent state'.
She added: "By illegally visiting the occupied territory you deliberately play into [the] Kremlin's hands which is nothing but a disgrace."
Mr Etheridge insists he has broken no laws and has demanded an apology from the Ukrainian embassy.
"At no time have I praised the Russian government or commented on the situation in the Crimea," he said. "My intention was to discuss world trade and promote peaceful dialogue.
"I broke no UK law by visiting the Crimea. British people are advised not to go there, but it is not illegal.
"By sending this letter to everyone on Dudley Council, this is a clear case of a foreign power making a blatant attempt at interfering in the upcoming elections in Dudley.
"I will be demanding an apology for this outrageous behaviour."
Ian Austin, the Labour MP for Dudley North, described the letter as 'extraordinary'.
"I have never seen such a strongly worded letter from a diplomat," he said. "It shows how appalled the government of Ukraine – which has suffered a Russian invasion – are by Councillor Etheridge's behaviour.
Mr Etheridge, who was accompanied on his trip by fellow UKIP Paul Brothwood, says the Ukrainian embassy has told him there will be no further correspondence from them on the issue.