Ukraine: PD vs. Political Interference?

President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to abandon closer ties with the EU in favor of Russia sparked anti-government demonstrations in Ukraine, dubbed EuroMaidan.

Ukrainian students from different educational institutions shout slogans during their march in Kiev, Ukraine, 26 November 2013. More two thousands students gathered for support of Ukrainian Euro integration in downtown capital as they declared a strike. EPA/SERGEY DOLZHENKO

When a bill was passed by the Ukrainian parliament on January 16th limiting the right to demonstrate, the protests took a violent turn. During the past week of unrest, three protesters have died in Kiev with over 300 injured.

Several German government officials have publicly voiced their opinions on the matter. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stated that he understood the views of the opposition, adding that “violence is not a solution, and we can say that to both sides.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed. Merkel spoke with President Yanukovych recently to persuade him to revoke the recent bill. She urged Yanukovych to lead a real dialogue with the opposition to discuss political reform. Other officials from the EU and the US have made similar statements in favor of the anti-government protesters.

On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the EU for what could be interpreted as “political interference”. According to Putin, the trips made by EU and US officials have only furthered the crisis in Ukraine. At an EU-Russia summit in Brussels on Tuesday, he stated “I can imagine the reaction of our European partners if, in the midst of a crisis in Greece or any other country, our foreign minister would come to an anti-European rally and would urge people to do something.”

From a public diplomacy standpoint, the EU and US officials have played a large role for the Ukrainian protesters. The protests have not ceased and could be fueled by these Western officials publicly voicing their support for the opposition. But this raises some interesting questions in regards to PD.  Are the actions taken by the EU and the US considered “political interference”, or is it public diplomacy?  How thin is the line between interference and PD? What is the difference between the two?

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