#Ukraine: The crisis through the eyes of digital diplomacy

Earlier today, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a press conference in Moscow in which he addressed the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine for the first time since Russian troops seized control of Crimea last Friday. In his address, Putin cited an “unconstitutional coup” as the reason for Russia’s aggressive response to the ousting of former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych.

While western leaders have been quick to denounce Russia’s aggression, many speculate that both sides are interested in an amicable diplomatic solution. Russia would like to ensure that Ukraine, and other areas in Eastern Europe, remains under its sphere of influence. However, unlike the cold war era, Russia is a part of today’s global economy and as such it cannot continue to escalate the situation and risk financial isolation. Europe, on the other hand, is adamant in its stance that the Ukraine’s territorial integrity must be maintained. Yet Europe’s leeway is also limited as it relies on a steady supply of Russian gas.

Similarly to media outlets, the tweetosphere of twiplomacy has been tweeting nonstop about the tensions in #Ukraine. While many tweets simply echo statements made by high level government officials, others offer unique insight.

Russia: Let slip the dogs of war

Like former US Secretary of State Collin Powell, who was sent to the UN by the Bush administration to lay the foundations for the invasion of Iraq, Russian Foreign Minister Segey Lavrov has been making the case for Russia’s current involvement in Ukraine. Over the past 24 hours the Russian Foreign Ministry has tweeted three important statements by Lavrov according to which “Domestic crises must be resolved through a dialogue and with respect for obligations to protect human rights and ethnic minorities” and ” We are calling for responsible approach, for setting aside geopolitical interests &for putting Ukrainian people’s interests above all “.These statement are in line with Russia’s claim that it is willing to use force but only in order to safeguard the rights of ethnic minorities such as the Russian minority in Eastern Ukraine. According to Lavrov, this whole crisis is a misunderstood humanitarian operation gone lost in translation.

Setting the stage for Putin’s claim of a Coup d’état, Lavrov also tweeted


Yet more interesting than Lavrov’s tweets are those published by Russia’s mission to NATO. These included a description of Russia’s response to a growing humanitarian crisis


as well as identifying areas in the Ukraine that long to be reunited with Russia.

In this case, #Ukraine is accompanied by #civil rights, # justification and #butt out.

Poland, Belarus, Latvia and Lithuania: Rebel with a cause

Poland-A previous member of the Soviet empire, Poland has worked hard to distance itself from the Kremlin in favor of the warm embrace of Western Europe. In the past few years Poland has joined NATO, expanded its economic ties around the world, including the Middle East, and branded itself as the economic and political gateway to Eastern Europe. Since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis some weeks ago, Poland has taken a tough stance against former President Yanukovych and has been actively rallying international support for the protestors in Kiev’s Maidan square.

Russia refuses to see Ukraine follow in Poland’s footsteps and with good reason. Poland has proven that once a country has left the sphere of Russia’s influence, it hard to reel it back in. In the past few days Polish officials have tweed that “the Russian Ambassador to Poland summoned today to @PolandMFA Russian aggression & violating of Ukraine territorial integrity inacceptable” and that “we are looking for solutions that will protect Poland, Europe and the world from an armed conflict”. Poland, it would seem, is no longer afraid of poking the Russian bear in its eye. The Poles are also not afraid to call a spade a spade and have therefore tweeted that

This tweet sums up the whole game of Risk being played between Moscow, Washington and NATO HQ in Brussels. It also illustrates that Poland understands that as long as it gets its energy from mother Russia, it will never really be free.

Belarus-In this country, which also borders with Russia, its mum’s the word on the current crisis. For the past four days its MFA has been re-tweeting the same message and the # Ukraine is nowhere to be found. But all is not quiet on the Eastern front. In fact, a possible domino effect may soon shake the foundations of Putin’s Kremlin as both Latvia and Lithuania, former Soviet states, have been denouncing Russia’s aggression indicating that the #Bear’s sphere of influence is not as domineering as once thought.

Like his Latvian counterpart, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister tweeted earlier today that

Germany, UK and France: Wax on, Wax off

There seems to be a consensus that Germany wants to see the dispute with Russia end quickly as Russia is Germany’s biggest energy supplier. However, whether its war time rhetoric aimed at rattling Putin or a genuine shift in policy, Germany’s official tweets have demonstrated a change of tone over the past few days. On March Second, Germany’s Foreign Minister tweeted  “It’s high time for diplomacy. Must not fall into abyss of military escalation. #Crimea #FAC“.  Today the German Foreign Office tweeted “FM #Steinmeier says talks with Russia’s FM #Lavrov in Geneva were “difficult, long and serious“. #Ukraine #Diplomacy” but also added

Germany is upping the ante putting the option of sanctions back on the table.

The UK has taken a more “hands on” approach to the crisis. On March first the Foreign Office tweeted that the Russian ambassador to the UK had been summoned to a meeting dealing with the invasion of Crimea.  In addition to referring to the Ukrainian crisis as the worst European crisis this century, Foreign Minister Hague tweeted on Monday that “the sovereignty & territorial integrity of #Ukraine has been violated & this cannot be the way to conduct int affairs”. Hague arrived in Kiev on Monday in order to meet with the interim government. Tweeting from Kiev he pledged 10 million Pounds for economic and political reform

Accept for two tweets regarding conversations held between French President Holland, US President Obama and UK PM Cameron, France’s official twitter accounts have been relatively silent on #Ukraine paying more attention to matters in North Africa, the Central African Republic and some stunning historical pictures of Paris in the rain. Not exactly #Liberté, #Egalité, #Fraternité

The US: Leading the free world-from behind?

As tensions between Washington and Moscow continue to mount, many in the US have criticized President Obama for not standing up to Mr.  Putin. As a Fox News commentator once said, Putin is the school bully and Obama in the nerd who keeps forking over his lunch money. If one was to review the State Department’s twitter channel he would see what the phrases “The President is deeply concerned” and “We are closely monitoring the situation” really mean.

First, visitors to @StateDept are greeted by the large image of Vice President Biden closely monitoring the situation by speaking to his counterparts in Kiev

Yesterday, Secretary Kerry announced that in order to monitor the situation even more closely he will be flying to Kiev for meetings on Tuesday. It is possible that the NATO foreign ministers have decided to always have one representative on the ground in #Ukraine in a sort of airlift reminiscent of the Berlin blockade. Another image featured on the twitter channel is that of President Obama talking to Russian President Putin over the phone in what has been described as the most crucial phone call of Obama’s presidency.

However, despite America’s somewhat ambiguous diplomatic languages, Secretary Kerry has made it clear the in the eyes of the US Russia’s invasion of Crimea is both unacceptable and illegal.

If this is case, than the prospect of that amicable diplomatic solution may be moving further and further away.






About the Author
Ilan Manor is finishing his mass media studies at Tel Aviv University. He has previously contributed to the Jerusalem Post, +972 Magazine, the Jewish Daily Forward and On Second Thought magazine. His Hebrew-language blog has been featured several times in the Israeli press.