Embassies return to kyiv | International

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The Spanish Embassy will not be alone in kyiv. The diplomatic legation ―whose return was announced this Thursday in the Ukrainian capital by the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, without specifying the date― will join the ten that have been returning to the city this month, in a symbolic trickle that reflects how the Government of Volodímir Zelenski maintains control over a city whose days seemed numbered on the third day of war.

The twenty people who made up the Spanish Embassy were evacuated to Poland in a convoy escorted by geos on February 25, one day after the war began. Russia’s military superiority and the rapid advance of its troops into the interior of Ukraine then heralded a scenario in the capital that was very different from what it is now, now without a Russian siege and every day with more shops open and people and vehicles on the streets.

Upon returning to kyiv, Spain will join the 16 States, plus the EU, with diplomatic representation in the capital, according to data from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry last Monday. They are France, Italy, Turkey, Iran, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, the Vatican, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

Not all have had to return. The Holy See stayed in the capital throughout the war, as did the Polish ambassador, the only one from an EU country. A few States, such as Estonia or Georgia, kept the representation in the capital operational even in the toughest moments, but with a very small team. And the Netherlands reopened its Embassy this Saturday, but it maintains it in Lviv, in the west of the country, where it was transferred two days before the start of the war and later closed. The US Embassy remains in the Polish city of Rzeszow, near the Ukrainian border. Nor has the UK returned.

Effectiveness

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Two words are key in the decision: proximity and symbolism. The first, for its fundamental role in diplomatic work; the second, by the signal sent to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. “Nothing replaces physical contact. Beyond the symbol, there is truly effectiveness”, pointed out the French ambassador, Étienne de Poncins, in an interview with the France Info radio station on the occasion of the reopening, last Friday.

Right on the parallel street, the Italian flag is already flying at the diplomatic legation, fully operational since Monday and before in Lviv. “She was one of the last to leave the Ukrainian capital and now she is among the first to return,” boasted her Foreign Minister, Luigi di Maio, when making the announcement.

The pioneer was the EU. His diplomatic mission returned on the 11th, two days after the ambassador, Matti Maasikas, tweeted a photo of the newly raised flag accompanied by the phrase “first things first” (The first is the first). The head of community diplomacy, Josep Borrell, had announced the reopening the day before, as part of his trip to kyiv with the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

After eight days of activity in the Ukrainian capital, Maasikas stresses the importance of the decision. “In diplomacy, the added value comes from presence. If security allows it, even a little bit, you have to be present, ”he pointed out last Tuesday, in an interview with this newspaper in a kyiv hotel. “The main challenge [de estar en Polonia] it was the distance. When you’re a diplomat, you meet people on a daily basis, gather information, agree things… With all the WebEx, Zoom [servicios de videoconferencia] and everything, it is always better to do everything face to face. It is still the meaning of diplomacy,” he adds.

The EU representation has not fully returned. It has “essential expatriate staff” in kyiv, with more people in Poland and another teleworking, he explains. The important thing, however, is the presence, symbolized by the flag: “It is important for your country, but also for the host country.”

The Russian response to the sinking last week of the Moscow (Moscow), its flagship in the Black Sea, has in recent days altered the relative calm around the capital. Although far from the hardest moments of the siege, the anti-aircraft sirens have returned (this Wednesday and Thursday they have sounded several times) and the bombing of kyiv or Lviv, where seven people died on Monday in a missile attack. Maasikas says that the recent attacks have not caused them to “fundamentally reassess the situation”, although they have “highlighted the precautions we must take”. “Russia,” he concludes, “has made it clear that nowhere in Ukraine is safe.”

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