Canada’s UN mission goes viral with tweet mocking Russian letter to UN
In an unorthodox diplomatic move, Canada’s mission to the UN on Thursday tweeted a heavily annotated letter that Russia had sent to the United Nations, including pointed comments in the rewrite, later prompting Russian accusations of “defamation of the kindergarten level.
In a tweet that quickly went viral, Canada’s mission to the UN added several remarks to a March 16 letter from Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia. The missive called for support for Russia’s draft resolution on access to aid and protection of civilians in Ukraine.
Thank you @RussiaUN for your letter dated March 16.
Canada’s mission to the UN annotated part of the Russian letter which reads: “Like other members of the international community, we are gravely concerned about its deterioration”, referring to the “disastrous humanitarian situation in and around Ukraine”.
Canada’s mission to the UN crossed out the first words and changed the rest to read: “We are not seriously concerned about its deterioration”, and inserted at the end “because we are the main cause of it”.
In a section a few sentences down, Canada’s mission to the UN added a comment asking, “Do you think UN members actually believe that?” where Nebenzia accuses “Western colleagues” of “politicizing the humanitarian issue [sic].”
On the last page, Canada suggested part of an alternate ending: “We want you to know how little we care about the human life we have destroyed.”
Lama Khodr, media spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said the tweet was posted “to contribute to Canada’s public diplomacy on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to provide transparency on misinformation being spread. by the Russian mission to the UN”.
Anthony Hinton, political coordinator for the Canadian mission to the UN, took to Twitter on Thursday to explain how the tweet came about.
“It was done internally by a creative member of the team, who is responsible for protecting civilians,” he said.
“Took 30 minutes. Only one draft was then released. No back and forth with HQ. Objective: Transparency for this blatant Russian disinformation, which they sent to all UN members.”
For the naysayers: This was done internally by a creative member of the team, who is responsible for the protection of civilians. Took 30 mins. Only 1 draft then published. No back & forth with HQ. Objective: transparency for this blatant Russian disinformation, which they sent to all members of the UN https://t.co/m8KBPNMUDA
Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, hit back Thursday:
“Thank you @UNCanada for this Russophobic defamation at the kindergarten level!” he wrote on Twitter.
“It only shows that your diplomatic skills and good manners are at rock bottom and gives some idea of why your country’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the #SecurityCouncil has been rejected twice in 20 years by members of the UN,” Polyanskiy said, adding a thumbs-down emoji.
Thank you @CanadaUN for this Russophobic defamation at the kindergarten level! It only shows that your diplomatic skills and good manners are at an all-time low and gives some idea of why your country’s bid for a non-permanent seat in #SecurityCouncil has been rejected twice in 20 years by UN members 👎🏻 https://t.co/3OOcvEP8R8
Tweet ‘unconventional’ but ‘effective’: expert
Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says Canada’s tweet demonstrates “effective diplomacy”.
“It’s unconventional, but we live in unconventional times,” Robertson said.
He said traditional diplomacy, which tends to take place behind closed doors and out of public view, is not as effective in today’s information-rich era, where social media has raised people’s expectations of transparency.
In order to maintain public support, Robertson says it is in the interest of governments to make information public early on.
“I think diplomacy is going to have to change if it’s going to maintain the public support needed for democracies to act together,” Robertson said. “Because when you go to war, you have to have the support of your audience.”
Robertson noted a shift in diplomatic strategy earlier in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict when Western officials publicly shared intelligence about Russia’s impending invasion, which he said would not have happened in the past.
On February 21, days before Russia began its sweeping invasion of Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Russian forces were preparing to launch an attack on Ukraine and presented detailed intelligence on how Russia would do it.
But Robertson said Twitter diplomacy has backfired in the past, such as when Global Affairs Canada publicly called out Saudi Arabia on Twitter in 2018 for arresting activists and demanding their release.
After the tweet was posted, Saudi Arabia ordered the Canadian ambassador to leave the country and froze all new trade and investment transactions with Canada.
“I think the problem with tweets is that there’s no nuance, and normally diplomacy is nuanced,” Robertson said.
But he said that in this case, the tweet condemning Russia’s actions in the letter brings quite a bit of nuance because it includes the original Russian letter and detailed comments explaining Canada’s position.