Can Twitter Diplomacy Replace Natural Dialogue Between States?
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On April 3, 2018, the Valdai Discussion Club held an expert discussion, titled “The Future of Diplomacy and Political Communication”. Main speakers were Alexander Grushko, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, and Alexander Orlov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the French Republic (2008-2017), Executive Secretary of the Russian-French Forum Trianon Dialogue. The discussion was moderated by Fyodor Lukyanov, research director of the Valdai Discussion Club.

In the last decade, and especially the recent years, the international policy has undergone rapid and irreversible changes. Fyodor Lukyanov in his introductory speech noted that the rules of decorum, which were previously followed in politics even in the harsh periods, are fading and the classical diplomacy is not the norm now. The real example is the conflict between Russia and Great Britain. So the question was raised: is the classical diplomacy obsolete? Is it relevant in the world of today?

According to Alexander Orlov, the traditional diplomacy is not only outdated: in the changed situation, it becomes even more in demand. The essence of diplomacy lies in the negotiations, which people conduct to achieve a certain result. Today, the diplomacy is public, it is conducted "on the city square", in the media space. Recently there was a system keeping the world stabile, but now it is going to disappear. "The diplomacy is seriously changed, but the world only lost from it", Orlov concluded.

Alexander Grushko agreed, saying that the real diplomacy is alive and it has no alternatives, being a natural tool of dialogue between states. He blamed the West for the erosion of diplomatic work and the current escalation: recently a narrative was formed in the western media that hampers the normalization of relations with Russia and prevents the implementation of joint projects. "When we do not have a common agenda - and, alas, today we have to say that actually we do not have a global strategic agenda with the West, - of course, diplomacy cannot play the role it should play," - Grushko said. He named the "Iranian nuclear deal" and talks on strategic nuclear weapons (START) as examples of good diplomacy.

According to the deputy head of the Russian foreign ministry, the Western countries cannot come in terms with the fact that the west-centrality of the global world became the matter of the past. Therefore, the "deconstruction", or fragmentation of international relations, in his opinion, concerns western vector of the Russian policy only, while the eastern direction is developing in a constructive way.

The participants also discussed the boundaries between public and non-public diplomacy: if earlier they were quite clear, now they began to fade, so the personal negotiations, according to Fyodor Lukyanov, are "merged with the TV sets."

Orlov agreed with this statement, while clarifying that even now, as before, the leaders of the countries never contradicted themselves in public and private communications, although sometimes they could leave something unsaid. In the West, the unanimity prevails as difference of opinions disappears with borders vanish. The goal of the West is to gobble up or maximally weaken Russia as a potential ally of China, which is seen as an enemy №1 in the global geopolitical game. Since this cannot be done physically, measures are taken in other areas, primarily in the media. Therefore, according to Orlov, Russia should form a positive, attractive image of itself in the public opinion abroad: this task could be implemented by ambassadors and the media.

In addition to this line of activity, Orlov emphasized other tasks: to organize work with Russia-friendly forces in the West, to promote Russian language, culture, and tourism. According to him, there is a real struggle for the people’s minds, and if in the 1990s Russia stepped back from it, now it must return.

According to Alexander Grushko, the work in these areas is underway, and its results already "cause a great respect". As for the merge of the media and private policies, it should be assessed negatively, since the media focuses on “who is to blame”, while the negotiations on “what to do”, on the solution of specific tasks. In the present international escalation, the Western partners began to view Russian diplomats as part of the "soft power" bearing the narrative of the state against which they are fighting. Therefore, they expel Russian diplomats, trying to deprive the country of its most effective instrument of influence.

Being asked whether the "toxic" image of Russia could be somehow improved, Grushko noted, that the main problem was the uncertainty of the intentions of the Western partners, the discrepancy between the declarative desire to conduct a dialogue and simultaneous hostile actions. He stressed that common threats and challenges like terrorism require the unification of the efforts of the entire international community and that the economic interdependence serving as the basis for dialogue should not be destroyed.

Orlov underlined the important role that the personal communication between the heads of states plays in politics. According to him, the leaders should meet more frequently and not allow misunderstandings to develop into disagreements. The same applies to the means of "digital diplomacy" - for example, Twitter, which should not substitute a personal dialogue. Finally, the Russian diplomat stressed that it is impossible to tolerate the loss of mutual respect between countries, which persisted even in the tensest periods of the Cold war. The humiliation of states, as history shows, leads to disastrous results.