When most people think of diplomats, they think of aristocratic families and their descendants who attend private schools like Eton, Harrow or Le Rosey and universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard or ENA. When most people think of diplomacy, they think of flying on special planes, feasting at fancy receptions in elegant embassies, sleeping in luxurious suites in hotels like the Hotel Intercontinental or savoring haute cuisine meals in restaurants like the Perle de Lac.
One does not think of diplomats as being creative. However, there are situations in which creativity is needed to get out of seemingly intractable situations. The current crisis in Ukraine is an excellent example. A large country with over 40 million citizens, Ukraine appears torn between entering into a customs union with the Russian Federation and some former Soviet Republics and an accession agreement with the European Union (EU). President Viktor Yanukovich said he would sign the EU agreement in Vilnius at the end of November, then changed his mind and appeared in Russia negotiating with President Putin. No one, perhaps even Yanukovich, knows his intentions.
It’s cold in Kiev. No, this is not a weather report, though it is freezing here. Rather, it is a reflection on the current political turmoil since the Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovitch, did not sign an accession agreement with the European Union (EU) at the end of November in Vilnius. Protesters are braving the weather to gather in squares in the center of the city to express their clear desire to have Ukraine become an official part of Europe rather than join a customs union with Russia. European Union flags are being sold by street vendors, Ukrainian flags on cars are another sign of support, although the manifestations are very limited to a specific area in downtown Kiev.
The Russian Federation has just closed down all domestic activities associated with the United States Agency for International Development (A.I.D.). The official arm of the U.S. government’s assistance programs has spent almost $3 billion over the past 20 years combating the spread of diseases, developing the rule of law, and helping modernize infrastructure in Russia.
The Kremlin’s decision follows previous stricter controls on foreign civil society aid and development programs. The Russian argument is that under the guise of development assistance the programs have interfered in the country’s internal affairs, crossing the line between development/humanitarian assistance and political meddling.
As the Western world cries out to stop the bloodshed in Libya and the autocratic if not bizarre rule of Colonel Qaddafi and US warships move closer to the shores of Tripoli, calls for intervention are once more juxtaposed against the sovereign rights of states. Countries such as Russia and China will probably veto any UN Security Council Resolution for intervention in the name of non-interference in the internal affairs of Libya while Western countries will condemn the human rights violations and the humanitarian catastrophe affecting those within the country as well as those fleeing.