Politics

Canada's UN mission goes viral with tweet mocking Russian letter to United Nations

In an unorthodox diplomatic move, Canada's UN mission on Thursday tweeted out a heavily annotated letter that Russia had sent to the United Nations, including pointed comments in the rewrite, later prompting Russian accusations of "kindergarten-level libel." 

Russia fired back, accusing Canada of 'kindergarten-level Russophobic libel'

Dmitry Polyanskiy, first deputy permanent representative of Russia to the United Nations, awaits the start of a UN Security Council meeting on March 11. Polyanskiy accused Canada on Thursday of childishly annotating a letter, right, which Russia sent to the United Nations seeking support for its draft resolution on providing aid access and civilian protection in Ukraine. (John Minchillo-Pool/Getty Images (right), Canada's UN mission/Twitter)

In an unorthodox diplomatic move, Canada's UN mission on Thursday tweeted out a heavily annotated letter that Russia had sent to the United Nations, including pointed comments in the rewrite, later prompting Russian accusations of "kindergarten-level libel." 

In a tweet that quickly went viral, Canada's UN mission added multiple remarks to a March 16 letter from Russia's UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia. The missive sought support for Russia's draft resolution on providing aid access and civilian protection in Ukraine.

Canada's UN mission annotated one part of the Russian letter that read: "Like other members of the international community, we are gravely concerned about its deterioration," referring to the "dire humanitarian situation in and around Ukraine."

Canada's UN mission crossed out the first few words and changed the rest to read: "We are not gravely concerned about its deterioration," and inserted at the end "because we are the primary cause."

In a section a few sentences below that, Canada's UN mission added a comment asking: "Do you think the UN membership actually believes this?" where Nebenzia accuses "Western colleagues" of "politicizing humanitarian issue [sic]."

On the final page, Canada suggested part of an alternative ending: "We want you to know just how little we care about the human life we have destroyed."

Lama Khodr, a media spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said the tweet was published "to contribute to Canada's public diplomacy on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and to provide transparency on the disinformation being spread by the Russian mission to the UN."

WATCH | Joly gives an update on Russia diplomacy talks:

Russia can't negotiate in good faith while targeting Ukrainian civilians: Joly

2 months ago
Duration 11:59
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says she doesn't trust Russia to negotiate peace with Ukraine in good faith while its military is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity on the ground.

Anthony Hinton, political co-ordinator at Canada's UN mission, went to Twitter on Thursday to explain how the tweet was created.

"This was done in-house by a creative member of the team, who is responsible for protecting civilians," he said.

"Took 30 mins. Only 1 draft then published. No back & forth with HQ. Aim: transparency for this blatant Russian disinfo, which they sent to all UN members."

Countries around the world, including Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Estonia, have commended Canada's tweet.

Dmitry Polyanskiy, first deputy permanent representative of Russia to the United Nations, fired back on Thursday:

"Thank you @CanadaONU for this kindergarten-level Russophobic libel!" he wrote on Twitter.

"It only shows that your diplomatic skills and good manners are at lowest ebb and gives an idea why your country's bid for a non-permanent seat in #SecurityCouncil was voted down twice in 20yrs by UN membership," Polyanskiy said, adding a thumbs-down emoji.

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 are living in unconventional times," Robertson said.

He said traditional diplomacy, which tends to happen behind closed doors and is kept out of the public eye, isn't as effective in today's information-rich times, where social media has increased people's expectations for transparency.

In order to maintain public support, Robertson says it's in governments' best interest to make information public early on.

"I think diplomacy is going to have to change if it's going to sustain the public support that is necessary for democracies to be able to act together," Robertson said. "Because when you go to war, you have to have the support of your public." 

Robertson noted a shift in diplomacy strategy earlier on in the Russia-Ukraine conflict when Western officials shared intelligence on Russia's imminent invasion publicly, something that he said would not have happened in the past.

On Feb. 21, days before Russia began its wide-ranging invasion of Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Russian forces were preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine and laid out detailed intelligence about how Russia would do it. 

WATCH | U.S. secretary of state warns Russian attack on Ukraine imminent:

Russia to attack Ukraine in ‘coming days:' U.S. secretary of state

3 months ago
Duration 3:54
At a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia 'plans to manufacture a pretext' for an attack on Ukraine.

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 demanded their release.

After the tweet was published, Saudi Arabia ordered Canada's 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 in this case, the tweet condemning Russia's actions in the letter provides quite a bit of nuance because it includes the original Russian letter and detailed comments explaining Canada's position.

Corrections

  • A previous photo in this story of Russian diplomat Vassily Nebenzia identified him as Dmitry Polyanskiy. The photo now shows Polyanskiy, Russia's deputy UN ambassador.
    Mar 18, 2022 5:20 PM ET

With files from Reuters

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