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30 August, 2011

Triggering a Propaganda Backfire

The communication campaign launched to discredit the opponents of Tymoshenko’s trial did not just fail. It backfired

No sooner had the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko been put behind bars than the Western press was overflowing with loads of Ukraine-related materials, unseen since the Orange Revolution. The texts contained no compliments to our domestic justice. On the contrary, they liberally quoted Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who labeled the trial an “embarrassing spectacle, unworthy of a great country;” Catherine Ashton, EU high representative for foreign affairs, who questioned “the rule of law in Ukraine;” and many other politicians critical of Yanukovych’s regime.

The authorities' PR experts once again rushed to whitewash the Ukrainian leadership's image, but they would have done better keeping mum, since their campaigns have recently had only the opposite effect. A most spectacular propaganda brick made in Kyiv was dropped in France. Hardly had our diplomats let out a canard to the effect that Paris was allegedly recalling Jacques Faure, the French ambassador to Ukraine, because of his remarks concerning the political motives behind Tymoshenko’s trial, when the French Foreign Ministry instantly called Ukrainian Ambassador to France Oleksandr Kupchyshyn on the carpet. There was hardly any minor regional newspaper to be found which failed to write about the lecture on good manners delivered to the chief of the Ukrainian Embassy by his French counterparts.

However, lame was the duck hatched by the regime’s political technologists. Had there not been a report on the connection between Faure’s scheduled departure and his voicing of his take on the Tymoshenko case, The Ukrainian Week wouldn’t have had to use the mediation of a French colleague in order to get clarification from the French diplomatic service.

“Jacques Faure, France’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Ukraine, continues his mission, he has not been recalled.” This was the answer our weekly got from Christine Fage, deputy speaker for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a press conference in Paris. “Concerning the arrest of Yulia Tymoshenko, I will reiterate the message of the statement made on Friday, August 5: ‘We have doubts over the motives of this trial. In particular, we think the right to defense has not been ensured. As we have repeatedly stressed, respect for the rule of law is a key element in building a partnership between France, the European Union, and Ukraine.’”

Later, Fage's reply was incorporated into a press release circulated to Ukrainian journalists by the French Embassy in Kyiv. Few people will like their words to be manipulated. Meanwhile, there was simply nothing for which to punish Faure: the opinion he voiced at the round table discussion in the Ukrainian capital is in full conformity with the official declarations made by the European Union and the French diplomatic service.

Thus, the brick triggered a backfire which hit the masterminds of Secret Operation Jacques Faure. Now, more and more Ukrainian colleagues have been critical in studying manipulation of the media, and have been calling things their proper names. But if the canard had not been launched by Interfax, neither France nor Ukraine would have had this opportunity to see how skillfully the officials in Kyiv cook up convenient stories about their foreign colleagues.

The regime’s image-makers, anxious to imitate influence over other nations, are more and more reminiscent of a poorly-trained wizard who wanted to conjure a thunderstorm but got a goat instead. Comparisons to Western trials of well-known politicians,the trick to which our domestic diplomacy systematically resorts only help to emphasize the difference between developed democracy and its imitation.

“As the head of an embassy, I would not have commented on the trial of the former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, or made any statement concerning the corruption charges against ex-president Jacques Chirac,” said Yurii Serheiev, permanent representative of Ukraine to the UN and a former ambassador to France. And he would have been correct, since both politicians mentioned above enjoy full freedom now. The Chirac trial is still going underway, but the investigators are being quite proper, and there is no talk of any prospect of preventive arrest. Why then would one censure the French judicial system?

As far as Villepin goes, the comparison is even less correct, because his antagonism with Nicolas Sarkozy equals that between Tymoshenko and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. Regardless of this, the ex-prime minister has so far been able to refute accusations of having opened secret accounts in foreign banks. He is earnestly contemplating taking part in the coming presidential election. And no matter how much Sarkozy would like to avoid having to compete with the former prime minister on his own electoral field, he would never dream of putting de Villepin behind bars. The French judicial system is not meant to serve anyone’s personal interests.

One could sometimes think that there is a mole in the PR team working for Yanukovych and Co. This secret agent could well be responsible for dropping those propaganda bricks which eventually backfire on the regime, instead of damaging the opponents. With friends like these, the Ukrainian authorities don’t need enemies.

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