Ukraine does not have adequate support in the West, either in political circles, or among experts. The situation with the mass media and civil society is slightly better
The Western diplomatic horizon looks overcast. Within a short period of time, some politicians that supported Ukraine have taken a back seat, making way for indifferent pragmatists or officials. The party of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Carl Bildt, lost the latest election, so one of Kyiv’s best advocates has now left the big political arena. The same applies to Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs. “People are always more important than institutions”, Philippe de Suremain, the former French Ambassador in Ukraine, often stresses. And this really is the case. As far as priorities are concerned, Barack Obama is not at all like Reagan, Cameron or Thatcher, and the political consequences of the changes in the leading offices of influential countries and institutions are always different for Ukraine.
The conservative NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was replaced by social-democrat Jens Stoltenberg. “The change in tone towards Russia is already perceptible,” commented an international observer who works in Brussels. “Rasmussen expressed things clearly, in military fashion, while Stoltenberg has a velvet, flexible and diplomatic manner of communication”. Already under its new leader, NATO has made a statement about the fact that the situation in Ukraine is critical and could worsen. But Kyiv needs support on a completely different level. NATO is hesitating, procrastinates more as time goes by and limits itself to declarations. In fact, it is already reacting to Moscow’s serial hysterics.
The situation in the European Commission is no better. To call the conservative José Manuel Barroso pro-Ukrainian would be an exaggeration, but it is impossible to deny the obvious strength of his character, sense of fairness and ability to stand up for his own position. He will be remembered as a self-sufficient politician, not prone to falling under someone else’s, particularly Moscow’s, influence during his term in office as President of the European Commission.
How will his successor, Jean-Claude Juncker, manifest himself? We can only wait and see. The main thing is for the position of this politician regarding Russia not to coincide too closely with the views his countrywoman, Anne Brasseur, President of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. She continues negotiations in different forms with Sergey Naryshkin, the Speaker of the Russian Duma, and on September 1, even invited him to visit Paris, in defiance of EU sanctions, which ban Naryshkin’s entry onto Schengen territory. Why? Because Mrs. Brasser is convinced that dialogue is better than a boycott.
The flexibility, if not complaisance, among the leaders of international institutions allows Moscow to lobby its interests under very comfortable political conditions. The Kremlin has an impressive group of Western politicians and a whole army of lobbyists at its disposal - from experts in unofficial negotiations to newly-baked “experts on Ukrainian issues”, most of whom probably did not give Ukraine the slightest thought just six months ago.
“How is this possible?” asks friend and political journalist, Régis Genté. “I know three political scientists in Paris, who really have something to say about Ukraine: Alexandra Goujon, Yulia Shukan, Annie Daubenton... But completely different people are invited to participate in television debates on Ukrainian issues. Either the blatantly pro-Kremlin Jacques Sapir and Dmitri de Kochko, or other, completely weird people...”
Why has this been happening since the start of military action in Ukraine? There are several dozen consultant and communication companies in Paris, which, among other things, sell “new faces” to TV channels. Very often, the faces are not that new, but those who are already part of the mix. According to The Ukrainian Week’s sources, a good third of them have permanent clients from either Russia or French pro-Russian political and business circles. “Lobbyists have a far greater influence on television content than is apparent from outside,” says a colleague, who has worked on one of the French TV channels for 10 years. “For example, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hubert Védrine owns a small consultancy with the clientele in Moscow, among others. This is why he can often be heard on radio and TV.”
It is not easy to prove that the theses of Védrine’s speeches on television are directly dictated by the Kremlin, but he is obviously expressing Moscow’s views. “Russia’s intervention in events in Ukraine is not its fault, Moscow has been provoked by America”, he tells a stunned audience. A professional diplomat, Védrine must know that in civil law – not to mention international law, every active entity is responsible for its own actions. A country cannot be “offended” – feeling is a subjective category in the field of psychology. But Hubert Védrine and Jacques Sapir are never tired of talking about the “humiliation” experienced by Russia from the unfulfilled promise allegedly given to Mikhail Gorbachev on the non-expansion of NATO.
Meanwhile, no one has ever seen a document containing such promises. “This was a verbal agreement”, former far left economist Jacques Sapir, who is currently a consultant for the far right Front National, says to brush off sceptics. He seems to disregard the fact that current international law has never recognised unconfirmed talks as basic components of geopolitics. Sapir himself, who does not speak Ukrainian and does not hide his sympathies towards Joseph Stalin, is invited to participate in television debates on Ukraine just about every week. It would be interesting to know why.
France’s political class is making the same clichés and theses as those promoted by the “experts”, who are actually the lobbyists. Expertly using democratic rhetoric, the far right, far left, radical Eurosceptics and a small group of moderate politicians, are actively discussing the “legitimacy of Russian interests in Ukraine”, “intolerable American meddling” and other techniques, directed towards legitimization of Moscow’s aggression.
“We are not going to start arguing with Russia over such a trifling matter as Crimea?” feigning naivety, says Jacques Attali, who is regarded as the political father of socialist President François Hollande. “Allowing Ukraine customs privileges – is to disregard democratic standards”, declares Marine Le Pen, President of Front National. “It was MP Aymeric Chauprade, who was an ‘observer’ at the ‘referendum’ in Crimea, who fed her information both about ‘the criminal country, Ukraine, which is wiping out its own peaceable citizens’, and about the ‘Donetsk schoolchildren who are dying during their lessons from bombing by the Ukrainian army’”, prompts a colleague working in Brussels. “I saw them together immediately before debates on the Association Agreement with Ukraine. He was dictating something to her”.
According to sociologists, Marine Le Pen is almost certain to make it to the second round of the next presidential election. If the French political class does not show the world a fundamentally new, vivid, charismatic leader by 2017, Le Pen could well become the next President of France. People don’t like to write about this inevitability in the press, but this is what it looks like right now. This does not bode well for Ukraine.
Why are Moscow’s arguments taking root so well in western, particularly French, soil? There are several reasons. The first and obvious one is ideological. It was in France that Russia, and previously the USSR, built a diversified system of influence, relying on specific people with far left political convictions. Similar collaboration has been established with the far right in recent times – not only with politicians from the Front National, but also with journalists, who went to work on the French language channel, ProRussia TV and organisations that were registered as public ones, such as Unité Continentale, which is openly enlisting mercenaries to fight on the Russian side in the Donbas. The Kremlin is skilfully playing on the anti-American sentiments of both left and right extremists, and is also not forgetting to opportunely employ some of them.
Another reason – the inertia of the consumer social strata, which is not based on Russia’s informational aggression. It is not so much becoming an active collaborator, as it is distancing itself from the irritating, controversial subject. “You wonder why the press provides so much information about the Islamic State every day, but almost mothing about Ukraine?”, says Frédéric, a lecturer in political sciences at one of Paris’s universities. “Is it because France has the largest Muslim community in Europe? Not at all! It’s self-defence. The reflex of not thinking about things that frighten us. Geographically, Ukraine is much closer than Iraq or Syria. So it’s better, figuratively speaking, to bury your head in a pillow and pretend there is no war there”.
France is one of those countries where it’s not particularly difficult for foreign political lobbyist structures to operate: there is very little threat of active opposition from the amorphous, laid-back society. The only effective barrier is possibly the caste structure of the French leadership, where prestigious diplomas from a handful of French universities play the role that once belonged to a noble title. But everything is relative. “Democracy is transforming into a lobbymocracy”, jokes Frédéric. Or is he? “You often get the impression that even when the EU is supporting Ukraine, economic interests, particularly energy ones, actually have more influence”, admits Rebecca Harms, a German MP in the European Parliament. These are the values. What you name this society - post-industrial, post-democratic, an information civilisation or a lobbymocracy – is a matter of taste.
The Ukrainian Week talked with French cybersecurity expert Christine Dugoin-Clément about mechanisms for fighting fake news, the prospects for certifying true information, and the likelihood of separating propaganda from journalism once and for all.