Go to contents

[Diplomatic News] Diplomats Are Old USSR Hands

Posted April. 14, 2006 03:16,   


Two ambassadors with very interesting resumes have taken their posts in countries that once constituted parts of the USSR. They are Heo Seung-cheol (aged 47), the ambassador to Ukraine, and Choi Jae-geun (aged 58), the consul general of St. Petersburg.

Ambassador Heo taught Russian at Korea University before becoming a civil servant for his expertise on the region, when the government expanded its policy of opening top government positions to civilians. Consul General Choi on the other hand, is a career diplomat who served as the consul general (consul councilor) of the Korean Embassy in Moscow and the consul general of Vladivostok before becoming the first consul general of St. Petersburg earlier this month. He has achieved the feat of serving in all three Korean diplomatic posts in Russia.

Civilian expert-

Ambassador Heo was the president of the Ukraine Society in Korea. He received his doctor’s degree in Slav literature at Brown University and is Korea’s only expert on the Ukraine.

The Ukraine held its general elections on March 26, just after Ambassador Heo took his post. He surprised everyone by accurately forecasting the aftermath of the Orange Revolution. Although he is a language expert with no experience in diplomacy, he had no trouble winning respect by speaking fluent Ukranian with President Viktor Yushchenko and top government officials. He is also making the most of his contacts in the Ukraine.

He says it is a pity that many Koreans mistake Uzbekistan for the Ukraine. He emphasized that Korea should have closer ties with the Ukraine, a country with cutting edge technology that is three times the size of the Korean peninsula, as well as 50 million in population.

Korea and Ukraine are in the middle of talks on visa immunity, which will be signed in the first half of this year, and Koreans will be allowed to enter Ukraine without visas.

A special bond with Russia-

The minute consul general Choi arrived in St. Petersburg last month, he paid his respects at the monument of Lee Beom-jin (1852-1910) the Korean Empire ambassador to Russia who took his own life in objection to the Japanese takeover of Korea. He made it clear that Korea is establishing a bridgehead in St. Petersburg after 100 years.

St. Petersburg is the hometown of President Vladimir Putin, making the city politically important. This was part of the reason why the Korean government installed a consulate here. In July, the summit meeting of the Group of Eight (G8) will be held not in Moscow, but here.

St. Petersburg is also home to many Neo-Nazis (skinheads) who attack foreigners. Consul general Choi makes protecting the 500 overseas Koreans and Korean tourists a top priority.

Ki-Hyun Kim kimkihy@donga.com