The EU & Russia: Before & Beyond the Crisis in Ukraine

February 21, 2015

Yesterday saw the release of the House of Lords European Union Committee report “The EU and Russia:  Before and beyond the crisis in Ukraine“.  It really is a very good read for those who know nothing about the region and how it has managed to find itself where it is.  For those who are still clueless and with the time to wade through 123 pages, it is thoroughly recommended to do so.

Perhaps the one issue that is not stressed prominently enough within the report, is that Ukraine and Russia are on entirely different trajectories – and have been ever since the dissolving of the USSR in 1991.  The difference are and always have been stark – despite the similarities regarding corruption, oligarchy and rule of law deficiencies.

In which Ukrainian election, other than the May 2014 election when it was clear only one presidential candidate would win from the outset, has an election been predictable?  In which Ukrainian election has an anointed successor by any incumbent actually won?  The only attempt to insure an anointed successor replaced the then incumbent resulted in the “Orange Revolution” in 2004/05 – when Ukrainians took to the streets and overturned that attempt.

Compare that to Russia where election results are predictable.  Anointed successors always win – and in some cases had back the reigns after a term in office to circumvent Constitutional niceties.  But there are no surprises.

In the RADA, the government (and any Ukrainian government historically) has suffered (sometimes unexpected) defeats regarding its submitted legislation.  The Duma, long stuffed with celebrities and sports stars to provide a little theatre, is not exactly known for knocking back anything President Putin submits – because that never happens.

Ukrainian civil society is vibrant – and over the past year has become disciplined, coordinated and gathered some momentum and power within the political space.  In Russia, it is suppressed, (unless it is government friendly), harassed and ignored, with no light at the end of the tunnel for those trying to influence government positively from their perspective.

The Ukrainian media even at its most repressed and censored, was far more free than that in Russia.  Today their respective journalistic freedoms are an enormous distance apart, even if neither is perfect.

Although it is possible to go on, the differences from 1991 to the present day have always been stark.  Ukraine is, and always has been, far more pluralistic in its democracy, far more open with its civil society and media space than Russia, and society far less accepting of dictated outcomes.

The Ukrainian trajectory, as slow and meandering as it has been, is nonetheless one of democracy and Europeanisation to a degree that has never existed in post USSR Russia.  Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan have indeed headed in an entirely different direction.

This irreconcilable difference is not stressed prominently enough in the Lords report.  Short of a transactional relationship between Russia and Ukraine in the future, the political and social trajectories of these nations is fundamentally different – regardless of eventual membership of western clubs, or not.

However, it is not what is within the Lords report that is necessarily interesting for those who have a grasp of Ukraine, Russia and the region beyond what can be found in the MSM or western “experts/commentators”.  For those that have no clue, the Lords report is highly recommended reading before making any comments whatsoever.

What catches the eye, for those that notice such things, is that amongst the criticism raised against the FCO in particular, there is an absence of any mention of friction within the ranks – or rather embassies – when it comes to either Russia or Ukraine strategy.

For those that follow HM Embassy Kyiv and HM Embassy Moscow, the FCO, as well as the usual UK delegations to the UN, Council of Europe, OSCE, and prominent political figures etc. on their respective public social media accounts, there are some rather interesting patterns regarding “shares”, “retweets” and the like – or more significantly, the lack of them.

Things such as the tweet below, as one example of many, are not retweeted by HM Embassy Moscow, despite being generated by HM Embassy Kyiv.  Too accusatory perhaps for those who would get summonsed to explain time and again?  The Kremlin wouldn’t notice perhaps if UK Embassy Moscow didn’t “retweet” or “share”?

It is notable that some of the social media publications/e-diplomacy from HM Embassy Kyiv, whilst shared, retweeted etc., by many within the official “UK Plc organs”, HM Embassy Moscow is rather sparing in that department – particularly with subjects that would clearly upset the Kremlin beyond its normal, permanently irritable demeanor.

Having followed this trend for quite some time, some may suspect that HM Embassy Moscow has developed something of an annoyance with some of the HM Embassy Kyiv social media campaigns/content.

Now, having lived in Moscow, it is entirely understandable that HM Embassy Moscow will not take too kindly to HM Embassy Kyiv considerably annoying the Kremlin via social media campaigns/public e-diplomacy.  Naturally, not particularly “helpful” from their perspective.  FSB harassment undoubtedly increases for both UK diplomats and locally employed native staff as a result.  However, FSB harassment is to be expected when in Moscow at the best of times – and this is not the best of times.

Thus we are left to wonder whether a rather discombobulated regional social media approach was either mentioned to the Lords, but not mentioned in the report, whether it has even been picked up by FCO London, or whether it was deliberately not discussed during evidence provided to the Lords, being deemed not important enough, though it clearly has some importance.

Whatever the case, such inconsistencies in public e-diplomacy/social media campaigns by the two lead UK embassies in the region are noticeable for those who have an eye for such things – not that UK Embassy Kyiv should in any way stop any campaigns that are causing annoyance to the Kremlin, even if it comes at the expense of their colleagues in Moscow.

After all, business as usual with Moscow is not about to return any time soon with the UK now washing Kremlin dirty Litvinenko laundry in public anyway – regardless of actions in Ukraine.

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