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18 June, 2013

Fussy Diplomacy: Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry is Playing the Game of Swings

“Ukraine is a leader of democratic transformations in the post-Soviet space,” Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Leonid Kozhara recently said, trying to convince his audience in Paris. No French journalist present at the breakfast with the Ukrainian minister published this bold statement. The West press is not that gullible. Even those who have never travelled to Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia can distinguish between democracy and autocracy.

Evidently, this communication formula – Kozhara repeated it in his interview for Le Monde, which did not publish it, either – was invented by the spin doctors who are used to targeting Ukrainian political consumers, and very dense ones at that. Those who have even the slightest clue about the French stance on cooperation with Ukraine must know that Paris, which stands behind the list of 11 requirements the EU set for Ukraine in view of the Vilnius summit, needs to hear different words.

“Freedom for Yulia Tymoshenko is one of the conditions the EU set for signing the Association Agreement. Are you ready to sacrifice this prospect only to continue keeping her in prison?” Piotr Smolar, a journalist writing for Le Monde, asked bluntly. The same question was asked by French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius and by Paul Jean-Ortiz, a diplomatic counsellor to the French President… Nothing personal. Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, the rightist and leftist leaders of the French state, have consistently disagreed with the official version of the prosecution of the former Ukraine prime minister.

READ ALSO: Pawel Swieboda: “If Ukraine fails to sign the Association Agreement with the EU, it will have a hard time returning to negotiations”

However, Kozhara must have received an ample supply of ready-made statements back in Ukraine. “A great problem for Yulia Tymoshenko is that she refuses to cooperate with the investigative bodies,” he told Le Monde. “Even now, she is mobilizing her supporters, demanding her own release and is threatening to throw us behind bars as soon as she returns to power. Court procedures are not completed. After the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, we have two months to appeal. The decision has not been made yet.”

It is very likely that the prepared statement on Tymoshenko was written in and for the Presidential Administration. It is clear that the current Ukrainian leadership would not want, literally, to swap places with Tymoshenko. But what concern is that to the Paris political elite? Voiced in France, complaints against the evil Tymoshenko have as little impact as Kozhara’s statements made immediately after the parliamentary election in the capacity of a Party of Regions spokesman: “By calling the Ukrainian election to the Verkhovna Rada undemocratic, international observers are violating the law,” he said back then. And he was, of course, believed. That is, not believed.

The bull-in-a-china-shop elegance of Ukrainian diplomats is not even surprising lately. “You either use Brussels against Moscow or, depending on the dictates of the moment, do the opposite,” a colleague from Le Monde said forthrightly. “It’s a game of swings,” he came up with a metaphor. “There are countless statements by Russian leaders in which they invite us to join the Customs Union. But this does not in the least mean that Ukraine is blackmailing the EU! We only stick with our national interests.”

Swings seems to fit. When Viktor Yanukovych and his team came to power, they eagerly rode Leonid Kuchma’s favourite amusement device called “multivector policy”. But those were different times, and the effect was also different. Kuchma was able to sign the Cooperation Agreement with the EU in 1994, the Partnership for Peace with NATO in 1997 and also the Agreement on Friendship, Partnership and Cooperation with Russia and three agreements on the division of the Black Sea Fleet. This kind of multivector policy was possible, because Ukraine did not yet have common borders with the EU and Russia had not yet formulated its revanchist concept of the Eurasian Union.

READ ALSO: A No-Win Situation for Ukraine

The contemporary geopolitical context is absolutely different. Alternating dashes in the eastern and western directions no longer means maintaining a system of counterbalances. Time is short as both Moscow and Brussels are waiting for Ukraine’s response. Is Kyiv ready, as it looks at both prospects, to protect the national interests rather than the hopes of a thin ruling elite?

The quality of diplomatic communication presented in both Paris and Brussels does not suggest a positive answer. On the contrary, one receives the impression that Kuchma’s much-ridden and rusty ride may malfunction to the point of leaving its users with broken noses. Or simply led by the nose.

It is not that Kozhara in his new capacity of the Foreign Affairs Minister is not exerting himself. He has involved the European Centre of Contemporary Ukraine, a Brussels-based NGO, to promote Ukraine’s image in the West. However, the co-founders of this foreign organization are Kozhara himself and Party of Regions members Vitaliy Kaliuzhny and Yevhen Heller. This same non-profit organization has used the services of the Fleishman-Hillard PR agency in Paris to invite journalists and researchers to a business breakfast with Kozhara.

It seems that money has been invested and a proper level of prestige has been maintained. But the outcome is zero. Donetsk diplomacy in a Western wrapping is not working. Perhaps it will feel strange to move from an ordinary swing to another amusement ride called “Surprise” in November. But then it will not come as a surprise to the rest of the world.

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