Video-Blog Diplomacy Could Trap Medvedev

President Dmitry Medvedev has introduced an innovative way to conduct foreign policy - video-blog diplomacy.

On Oct. 3, Medvedev recorded a video message to the Russian and Belarusian people. He made clear that the Kremlin no longer views Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as Russia's strategic partner. Medvedev basically called for a regime change in Minsk.

Sending powerful video-blog messages to neighboring states and their leaders has become a drill for Medvedev. In August 2009, a few months before the presidential election in Ukraine, Medvedev bluntly called for a freeze in relations between Russia and Ukraine until Ukrainian voters replaced their "anti-Russian president," Viktor Yushchenko. They did, and Russian-Ukrainian relations are back to normal.

This strategy has the advantage of publicly identifying laudable foreign policy objectives. It provides a direct channel of communication with broad audiences in the target states and Russia. In his video-blog messages, Medvedev is presenting the Kremlin's foreign policy as grounded more in moral imperatives and less in realpolitik. He is rallying international and domestic support behind his positions- and thus campaigning for leadership at home and abroad, boosting his self-esteem.

But there is a downside to the video-blog diplomacy. It could turn out to be a high-stakes bet, front-loaded with risks of failure, especially when taping a video blog predates strategy development.

Once you publicly unveil the desirable policy outcomes, you deny yourself the advantage of a strategic surprise. You are locked into a strategy that is basically being developed on the go. You no longer have the luxury of making a timely U-turn. Your policy options are further constrained by the public appeal to moral values, all but precluding a face-saving deal to avoid failure.

Medvedev's call for a regime change in Kyiv was successful largely because the Ukrainian political winds had already been blowing in Moscow's favor. Yushchenko had such low ratings that his defeat was all but a given.

This is hardly the case in Belarus, where the "last dictator of Europe" stands a good chance of being re-elected without resorting to electoral fraud. The Kremlin would then be forced to deal with Lukashenka.

Lukashenka will surely challenge Medvedev's video-blog diplomacy. Let's hope that Medvedev has a strategy to deal with the aftermath.

Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government-relations and PR company.
The Moscow Times