Having a tech-savvy President seems to be proving advantageous for Russia's public diplomacy (for its effort, at the very least). Dmitry Medvedev has been reaching out to the people of Russia, as well as the foreign publics, through his personal (verified!) Twitter accounts (in Russian and English), his official blogs (again, Russian and English), and the official Kremlin YouTube channel (with disabled comments section, by the way). Having combined what many in the U.S. would differentiate as public affairs and public diplomacy, Medvedev often covers overlapping subjects, especially when it comes to issues related to Russia's “near abroad.”
In his latest video blog post, for example, Medvedev expressed his concern about the recent Russia-bashing rhetoric in Belarus (with the presidential elections coming up next year there), and criticized President Aleksandr Lukashenko for attempting to brand Russia as the new “outside enemy” of the Belarusian people. Here are some excerpts from the English translation of the transcript (to see the original Russian segment, go here):
“I want to address both the Russian and Belarusian people. After all, we are all citizens of the Union State.
It is my deep conviction that our country has always treated and will continue to treat the Belarusian people as our closest neighbour. We are united by centuries-old history, shared culture, common joys and common sorrows. We will always remember that our nations – and I always want to say “our single nation” – have suffered huge losses during the Great Patriotic War. Together we survived terrible hardships of the collectivisation, famine and repressions.
Now Russia and Belarus are partners in the Union State. Both of our countries are also actively involved in the creation of the Customs Union, in the development of the EurAsEC, CSTO and the Commonwealth of Independent States. […] we have always helped the people of Belarus. In fact, since the collapse of the Soviet Union almost 20 years ago, the volumes of this support, whatever they say, have been huge. Only this year our help to Belarus in the form of favourable oil supply terms amounted to almost two billion dollars. There are comparable subsidies in the supply of Russian gas to Belarus. We do all this because we firmly believe that our nations are inextricably linked.
[…] In his comments, President Lukashenko goes far beyond not only diplomatic protocol but also basic human decency. However, this was nothing new to me.
[…] And, of course, we will bear this in mind when building relations with the current President of Belarus.
A flood of accusations and abuse has been directed against Russia and its leadership. Mr Lukashenko’s entire election campaign is based on that. […] Of course, this is not what defines the relations between nations and individuals.
[…] I would just like to say this openly: Russia is ready to develop allied relations with Belarus. Moreover, no matter who leads Russia and Belarus, our peoples will forever be fraternal. We want our citizens not to live in fear, but in an atmosphere of freedom, democracy and justice. And we are ready to pursue this together with our Belarusian friends.”
The new blog “statement” of the President also received a special mention on Russia Today TV – Russia's foreign broadcaster – which bluntly relayed Medvedev's message, clearly stating his position in front of the English-speaking foreign audiences as well.
A perfect example of truly public diplomacy: not only does Medvedev talk directly to the Belarusians, but he also states his disapproval of Lukashenko in public, for the whole world to see. Of course, the statement and the medium – by themselves – cannot provide any measure of the effectiveness of this particular message; however, the President (along with his PR/PD team) should be commended for his willingness to learn and practice PD more actively.
More interesting, however, is the fact that these comments from Medvedev come only days after Lukashenko stated that he was not interested in starting a blog [RUS] of his own. On September 24, after he officially registered to run as a candidate in the upcoming elections, he said:
“I am not thinking about a personal blog and do not intend to start one, simply because I do no need it. […] To show how advanced I am… I do not want to be showing off.
[…] I cannot boast that I also have many things that are not related to my activities as a President. There is very, very little of that which is private […] beyond the presidency. Why would I need a blog if I have a Presidential website?
[…] I will be expressing my point of view on that website, and not in some blogs.”
It is, then, very appropriate that President Medvedev chose to respond to Lukashenko's outburst specifically through his blog. The problem is – the latter might have missed the message, since he said he does not read blogs [RUS]: such a waste of time!
“The senseless tension in relations with Belarus will certainly end.”
“Russia has always treated – and will keep doing so – the Belarusian nation as its closest neighbor.”
In response, the mock Kremlin tweeter @KermlinRussia tweeted [RUS]:
“Belarus’ senseless independence will certainly end.”
“Belarus has always been – and will be – a part of its closest neighbor. Russia.”