Ukrainian diplomacy. Results of 2023
In the context of a prolonged large-scale invasion, it is still quite difficult to objectively assess Ukraine's foreign policy in the past year
It would be wrong to throw ashes on one's head or give up, no matter how many reasons there are for doing so. Today, the main thing is victory and offensive work to strengthen the international coalition of unity and solidarity with Ukraine. At the same time, each member of this coalition, a kind of fan club for Ukraine, is important. This is perhaps the main task of Ukrainian diplomacy today.
In general, 2023's foreign policy processes have become a kind of reflection of our military front, with its own victories, failures, and minefields. In some places, we managed to advance and push the enemy back. In some places, the opposite happened.
“The most significant achievement of the year was the European Council's decision in December to start accession negotiations with Ukraine. This opened a new page not only in Ukraine-EU relations, but also in the history of independent Ukraine.”
The NATO Summit in Vilnius can also be considered a success. The path to Ukrainian membership in the Alliance has become one step shorter. This is how NATO's decision not to apply the Membership Action Plan to Ukraine and to transform the process of rapprochement with the Alliance into an adapted Annual National Program is interpreted. The establishment of the NATO-Ukraine Council is also important. For the first time, the term "invitation" to Ukraine appeared in an Alliance document, albeit with conditions. However, along with the obvious positives, the summit in the Lithuanian capital will be remembered for the inappropriate Twitter diplomacy with a threat to boycott the event. As it turned out, this emotional step has already had negative consequences for further processes.
“It is enough to recall the polite request to the head of state not to go to Brussels to participate in the European Council meeting where the decision to start accession talks was made, or the non-invitation to the Asia-Pacific Summit in San Francisco in November.”
In the category of the outgoing year's biggest failure, the Hungarian direction wins by a wide margin. Over the course of the year, Ukrainian diplomacy failed to do anything to prevent the confrontation with Budapest from escalating, culminating in the struggle over the December EU decisions on accession negotiations and long-term financial assistance to Ukraine. Ukrainian-Hungarian relations lack an adult and balanced approach. At the same time, the Hungarian case further emphasizes the importance of paying special attention to neighboring countries.
“At a time when we are facing an existential threat in the east, we have no right to neglect our western border. In particular, we should not allow destructive emotions in our relations with Poland. The same applies to Slovakia.”
Over the past year, Ukraine's relations with the Global South have been in a clear slide. Ukrainians did not see the much-hyped diplomatic offensive on this track, despite all the tours and sporadic contacts. We still hope to open ten new embassies in Africa. However, it is unlikely that this will be a panacea for Russian-Chinese dominance in the region in the short term.
The China track continued to limp along throughout the year. No magic keys to Xi's heart were found, and, as a result, Ukrainian diplomacy's China track remained in the shadow of other events, such as Washington's and Brussels' relations with Beijing. Even the long-awaited ambassador appointment to China did not help, as it failed to move either relations or dialogue with the Chinese leadership forward.
“Ambassadors to a number of key countries, such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Norway, and the United Kingdom, are still unresolved.”
There were many movements and statements around the agreement on bilateral security commitments for Ukraine. However, unfortunately, at the end of the year, they stalled, which was even acknowledged by the head of state. But the main thing is that these agreements do not turn into the Budapest Memorandum 2.0 in terms of content and philosophy. This will be an important challenge next year.
Predictably and yet unexpectedly, like the first snow, at the end of the year Ukraine once again flew into the “minefields” of American domestic politics, becoming the object of fierce inter-party showdowns in both the budget process and the presidential election race. This defining track definitely lacks classical approaches, where the principle "if you can't help, at least don't hurt" is highly valued.
“It is already clear that 2023 marked the end of the Ukrainian era of "diplomacy of emotions" and "turbo modes." Obviously, this toolkit, which seemed to have worked well at the beginning of the full-scale invasion, no longer works.”
The coming year, 2024, will mark the beginning of tough geopolitical processes and elite change in dozens of countries as an election result. Ensuring Ukraine's interests in these conditions requires "adult diplomacy" that values not "loud announcement diplomacy" but persistent, systematic and pragmatic work, with professionalism and competence playing a leading role. It should be understood that in the context of next year's election campaigns, it will be tempting for some politicians to use the "Ukrainian issue" in their domestic electoral struggle, and therefore all processes in Ukraine will be viewed under a microscope.
The key to Ukraine's success is unprecedented unity and unbreakable international solidarity. Therefore, the effective work of Ukrainian diplomacy under The Ministry of Foreign Affairs' coordinating role is one of The Victory's decisive factors. Moreover, Ukraine's key foreign policy priorities for 2024 remain unchanged: strengthening international support to repel Russian aggression, and progress towards EU and NATO membership.
About the author: Kostiantyn Yelisieiev is a Ukrainian diplomat. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine.
The editors do not always share the opinions expressed by the authors of the blogs.