One has to ask, “Where is God’s name did Russian President Dmitry Medvedev learn his public relations skills?” Well, there are several great role models: Russia’s Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev took his shoe off to bang the table at a “diplomatic” meeting. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, standing at the U.N. in New York City, called President Bush “El Diablo” (the Devil). And we all know Adolph Hitler’s diplomatic and PR track record. But Medvedev is a protégée of whom? Vladimir Putin, if we recollect correctly….
By Vladimir Frolov
The Moscow Times
President Dmitry Medvedev’s first state-of-the-nation address raised a lot eyebrows abroad both by its content and tone. If the objective was to make people shake their heads in bewilderment, it succeeded beyond expectations. But if the intention was to send a reassuring message to the international community, it was a stunning failure.
It is hard to understand why, after so much preparation, Medvedev’s team managed to deliver such a disastrous act of public diplomacy.
The speech was purposely delayed to Nov. 5 to give Medvedev an opportunity to send a signal to President-elect Barack Obama several hours after his election victory was announced. Medvedev’s team deliberated for some time whether Medvedev should send Obama a warm, handwritten note or an impersonal diplomatic cable. They wound up sending him a public ultimatum on missile defense. “It was an almost caricature case of the Kremlin being tone-deaf,” said one prominent Russia analyst in the United States.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speaks at the Washington Club in Washington, November 15, 2008. Medvedev visited Washington to attend the Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy on Saturday.REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES)
If the intention was to signal the Kremlin’s willingness to re-engage the United States under the new administration, then the Iskander missile threat and the failure by Medvedev to immediately congratulate Obama directly was really dumb.
Medvedev’s clueless speech, filled with lots of U.S.-bashing, made it much more difficult for those on Obama’s team who argued that the relationship with Russia, badly bungled by the administration of President George W. Bush, needed the priority attention to be repaired.
Medvedev’s Iskander threat sounded like an attempt to publicly blackmail Obama out of missile-defense deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic. By laying down this marker, Medvedev unintentionally made it much more difficult for Obama to back down from the missile-defense deployments. To cancel the project now would be tantamount for him to buckling to Moscow’s pressure — something that U.S. presidents are not too fond of doing. Moreover, blackmailing a U.S. president-elect is not the best way to improve U.S.-Russian relations.
Russia’s “Iskander” missile system on display at a military exhibition in the Siberian town of Nizhny Tagil in 2005. President Dmitry Medvedev has said Russia will place short-range missile systems on the EU’s eastern border to counter planned US missile defence installations in Eastern Europe.(AFP/VEDOMOSTI/File/Evgeny Stetsko)
Medvedev took a page right out of Soviet leader Yury Andropov’s book by threatening to place missiles on the country’s western borders. Many Russian specialists in Washington believe that Medvedev’s threats make him sound like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
In a few months, Medvedev’s Kremlin will encounter a tightly knit and efficient Obama administration. Medvedev needs much better advice to hold his ground with Obama in public diplomacy. Right now he is clueless in Moscow.
Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government relations and PR company.