Medical Masks Cause Diplomatic Rift Between Slovakia and Ukraine
16 March, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed most governments to strengthen preventative measures and to stock up on essential medical supplies, like masks and respirators. But the situation may have led to a diplomatic row between Ukraine and Slovakia. Slovakian Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini has accused Ukraine of reneging on a deal to sell medical masks, during a Slovakian television interview – though the Ukrainians deny that such a deal existed.

According to Pellegrini, the deal was to sell Slovakia 2 million medical masks for 1.2 million euros, and that payment had to be done in cash. But, Pellegrini alleges, Ukraine received a better offer from a German dealer, and the deal was called off.

Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba stated in response that “If Slovakia really was trying to purchase masks, then it was doing it without the knowledge of our government. We’ve banned exports at least until June 6. Any efforts of our companies and dealers to fulfill export orders across the border is illegal.”

During a press briefing in Kyiv, the foreign minister added that Ukraine had “checked all the databases, particularly customs databases,” and that Ukraine didn’t find any signs that would show such a large transfer of masks to Germany. “I refute the statement made yesterday that caused such a fuss,” said the foreign minister.

This, however, does not exclude the possibility that the masks Slovakia was attempting to buy were being smuggled out of the country, and Kuleba notes that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the customs service are “very strictly” blocking all exports, with Pellegrini calling the current global situation a “war” for medical masks.

Medical masks have become one of the most popular items to smuggle abroad, and customs officials have recently uncovered a car attempting to cross the Ukrainian border into Poland with 50,000 respiratory masks. 

Ukraine banned these exports on March 11, and the Ukrainian Anti-Monopoly Committee has been urged to ensure that price gouging on masks and other preventative medical supplies does not occur.