Tetiana Gaiduk: I wouldn’t want to be a foreign ambassador to Ukraine in an election year

When someone asks me who will be the next president, I honestly shrug. One of the three. It is eloquently expressed by social polls ordered by their electorate offices. But I cannot say for sure. Maybe, out of four.

Ratings are changing all the time. Candidates use dirt on each other, say populist nonsense, invest enormous budgets in agitation. There is a risk of Russia's interference in the elections. I often cannot separate the wheat from the chaff, promises from plans, high goals from banal ambitions. But no one awaits answers from me. It’s not the case for the ambassadors.

Locals keep asking the ambassador what he expects from the new leadership of the country. The diplomat automatically starts his good old story about “fruitful and mutually beneficial cooperation.” But does he have any other option? On the one hand, there is an unwritten rule to refrain from evaluating candidates. On the other hand, how can he comment carefully, when he really has no idea what to expect?

Businessmen from ambassador’s homeland want to know what to do with their businesses in Ukraine. They have contracts and investment plans here. It would be nice to know whether they should quickly pack up and leave. It would also be good to understand if their enterprises will be nationalized or not, and whether acts of illegal pressure on business by law enforcement have remained in the past.

In the end, ambassador’s native Foreign Ministry awaits his forecasts the most.

It’s because they need to know whether this country continues to do everything to become European. Not geographically, but in values.

It’s because it is important for them that the Ukrainian army remains in the priority of the state and reaches out to NATO standards with all its might. So that one won’t suddenly find the Russian border in some unexpected places on the map.

It’s because they would very much like the Ukrainian government to think more about the real economy and jobs, and to how avoid inflation and crisis.

They would like the Ukrainians to continue the reforms and not spoil the portfolio to the heads of Western states, who have put so much effort to add the Ukrainian case to their list of achievements.

So that no one would suddenly decide to negotiate with Putin. After all, the ambassador himself made so much effort to ensure that his government regularly continued sanctions, and permanent representatives in international organizations were not given bribes from Russians, but advocated for peace, the Ukrainian Crimea and the prohibition of the construction of Nord Stream-2.

I won’t predict what will happen to my country in the next five years. If only there were no destructive changes in the state system, which government were desperately trying to reform without understanding the mechanism of its functioning. After all, this is a sufficient condition for political and economic crises that Russia wouldn’t hesitate to make use of.

A foreign ambassador in his turn has to make the prediction. And he must do it based on much more modest data than mine. There are a number of objective reasons for this – the language barrier, accessibility, a different political culture. There is also a need to look at the situation in the country through the filter of the impression that the Ukrainian politicians try to make on each individual ambassador, based on plans for cooperation with his government. At the same time, ambassador has to maneuver in conditions when half of Ukrainians expect the position and pressure from his country. And the other half accuse them of interfering in internal affairs.

There is another challenge for a foreign diplomat: to constantly find arguments for his leadership in support of Ukraine. It’s because while he has lived here, he hasn’t been dominated by the slow reforms, the inefficiency of the anti-corruption bodies and the lack of justice, but by a sincere sympathy to the people who go to Maidans, send their relatives to the war and want peace and prosperity in their land.

The ambassador’s homeland has a lot of its own problems. Protests, terrorist attacks, cyber attacks, Brexit. Left, right, socialists, populists, fools, white walkers. Black walkers, the Wall. And it is rather challenging to interrupt all this with Ukrainian agenda.

The ambassador in Ukraine meets with presidential candidates. And what he sees is a thirst for power, control, revenge. He is horrified by cynicism, incompetence and unpredictability. Shocked by plans to change political laws, and by naive intentions to subordinate economic laws to electoral programs. But he keeps looking for arguments.

It’s all because he understands that without external support, this country will slide into the abyss. And the sooner all candidates realize this, the better. Experienced politicians came to this conclusion a little earlier, green ones – with a delay. But the fact remains.