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Nikolai Holmov

Grass Roots/Direct Diplomacy in Ukraine: USA 1 – 0 EU

I forget just how often I have noted the stunning and abject failure of the EU to reach out directly to the Ukrainian public and the de facto policy to consistently rely on a very insulated, mistrusted and uncivil civil society to advance its message at considerable cost – a policy that has consistently failed despite the EU throwing more and more money at civil society.

Above: Introducing U.S. Ambassador Geoff Pyatt to Ukraine

It is certainly obvious to the EU that channeling their communications to Ukrainian society via the Ukrainian government and opposition was not working, hence the move to civil society as the channel – which actually works far less effectively than when the EU tried to do it via the Ukrainian political channels.

For the past 2 years at least, I have muted the only way that the EU will have any influence on Ukrainian society is to do it directly – something it stubbornly seems not to want to do – A point I made (again) not so long ago here when raising the wholly unimportant issue of the new bike rack at the Delegation of the EU to Ukraine in Kyiv which was headline news on its Facebook page for a day or two.

Now, lets look at that Facebook page a little closer – 3208 likes – which means of 46 million in Ukraine (on the assumption all the likes come from Ukrainians) 3208 will have the EU Delegation come up in their Facebook news feed – and only 119 people are actually “talking about this”.

Very poor indeed considering this year is an important year for relations between the EU and Ukraine.

Geoffrey R. Pyatt, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, author: U.S. State Department photo, source: Wikimedia Commons

Geoffrey R. Pyatt, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, author: U.S. State Department photo, source: Wikimedia Commons

Enter the new US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoff Pyatt , – who has been here officially 1 week.  His credentials presented a few days ago.

At the time of linking to that YouTube entry, 14,760 people had watched it – and Mr Pyatt is speaking Ukrainian (quite well too) – inferring most viewers will be Ukrainian.

He has immediately reached out at grass roots society level to far more Ukrainians within a few days of being here than the Delegation of the EU to Ukraine has done since it arrived, or EU in its entirety has in the past 20 years of interaction with Ukraine – And this by simply doing what I have been saying for years that the EU should do – avoid channels like the political class or civil society class – both of which significantly fail to connect with Ukrainian society – and go direct!

How much money has been invested into an uncivil civil society the public does not trust and that it fails to connect with, and how much did that YouTube entry cost?  Which has had the furthest reach directly into Ukrainian society based on the statistics available from these free social media sites, and over what time scale?

When every social survey shows Ukrainian society significantly distrusts the political class, civil society and large parts of the Ukrainian media – just how retarded does the EU need to be before it realises His Excellency Mr Pyatt has it right within a week of arrival in going direct – and the EU still has it wrong in doing anything but!

What is more interesting?  A senior foreign diplomat being seen, acting like a human – talking in part in the national language and the rest subtitled into Ukrainian on YouTube, or slabs of politically correct text with photographs of people nobody knows, occasionally in Ukrainian and occasionally in English?

An Ambassadorial video-blog that responds to questions from Ukrainians on the US website?  How will that compete with “Message” on an EU Delegation Facebook page?  Which of those will be perceived as more responsive and appealing by the Ukrainian public?

Who should have the greater impact on social media when it comes to Ukraine at this moment in time?  The USA or the EU?  What do the stats say when it comes to actual impact?

The EU Delegation needed to get out of Kyiv 2 years ago (and still does) and engage in open meetings with the Ukrainian public, be interviewed by local media on the local television and local radio and have Q&As in town halls  to have even the slightest chance of  effective impact when it comes to shaping public opinion.  Then upload it all to YouTube, put it on websites and social media sites.  That is going to be the only way the EU can attempt to seriously  influence the Ukrainian society.

What the individual EU Member States embassies and consulates in and around Ukraine must think of such a socially ineffective EU Delegation at such an important time, I dread to think!

It must go direct and in person – There are no other channels that are trusted enough by society – simple!

This post was originally published on OdessaBlogger

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UK citizen living in Ukraine since 2005 after working 15 years for The Crown. Actively engaged in civil society, blogger, Chatham House member, policy wonk, contributer to numerous Eastern European PhD papers, books and papers.

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