Iron diplomacy

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The first foreign delegation to Kyiv during the 2022 invasion meeting with Ukrainian leaders in front of the situation room after arriving by rail
US secretary of state Antony Blinken on the train to Kyiv

"Iron diplomacy" (Ukrainian: залізна дипломатія, romanizedzalizna dyplomatiia) refers to the practice of transporting world leaders through Ukraine via rail since the start of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. The expression was coined by Oleksandr Kamyshin, the head of Ukrainian Railways, because many diplomats were being shuttled by train to and from Kyiv, the capital city, as the use of Ukrainian airspace was impractical due to the invasion. In addition, the first foreign leaders to visit Kyiv had decided to avoid travelling from Poland to Ukraine via a Polish military jet, in case Russia interpreted it as an escalating move.

Rail system

External media
Images
image icon A conductor showing the dining car
image icon A well-furnished meeting room
image icon The first foreign delegation in transit
image icon Von der Leyen amongst furnishings
Video
video icon Scholz and Draghi in Macron's room

Since the start of the Russian invasion in 2022, Ukraine's airspace has been closed and its roads have become unreliable due to fighting. As a result, the country has been forced to rely heavily on its rail system for transport, including for humanitarian aid, refugees, weapons, and food for export. As the rail system is crucial in Ukraine's resistance to the invasion, Ukrainian Railways has continued to run despite repeated attacks against the system, such as the attack on Kramatorsk station. Security has also increased, and Oleksandr Kamyshin, who runs Ukrainian Railways, is now armed and accompanied by two bodyguards, keeps his schedule and location secret, and avoids physical contact with his family.

Diplomats and other world leaders who wish to travel through Ukraine are faced with a similar lack of options, so they regularly take part in Kamyshin's iron diplomacy program. Ukraine also provides a security detail for the visiting leaders, and Kamyshin also keeps their travel details secret, but sometimes information ends up being publicized before the delegation has left Ukraine, which increases the risk of an attack.

Carriages

One of the carriages used in the iron diplomacy program was originally constructed for rich tourists to the Crimean peninsula. Completed in 2014, it was used only a few times before Russia annexed the peninsula early that year. Recently modernized carriages from the Soviet era have also been used for the iron diplomacy program. Although much of the furniture is of high quality to allow visiting leaders to travel comfortably, and meeting rooms are generally furnished with nice upholstery, not all the carriages have been given equal treatment. Notably, when French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Italian prime minister Mario Draghi were travelling together to Kyiv, they were all smiling when discussing the stark differences between the accommodations they were provided.

Notable visits

Date Travellers Representing To Notes Rf.
2022.03.15 Mateusz Morawiecki, prime minister
Petr Fiala, prime minister
Janez Janša, prime minister
Jarosław Kaczyński, deputy prime minister
 Poland
 Czechia
 Slovenia
 Poland
Kyiv
  • First visit by foreign leaders during the invasion


2022.04.01 Roberta Metsola, parliament president  EU Kyiv
  • First visit by a top EU official during the invasion
  • Trip details withheld for security reasons
  • Kamyshin asserted weeks later that "[a]ll Western leaders ... arrived by train"
  • Metsola addressed the Verkhovna Rada in person



2022.04.08 Ursula von der Leyen, commission president
Josep Borrell, foreign affairs representative
Eduard Heger, prime minister
 EU
 EU
 Slovakia
Kyiv




2022.04.09 Boris Johnson, prime minister  UK Kyiv

2022.04.24 Antony Blinken, secretary of state
Lloyd Austin, secretary of defense
 US Kyiv
  • Visit occurred hours before Krasne railway station was attacked, amongst others
  • Unclear if the secretaries were still in transit at the time of the attacks

2022.04.28 António Guterres, secretary-general  UN Kyiv
  • Visit occurred two days after Guterres held talks with Putin in Moscow
  • Central Kyiv was attacked while Guterres was still in the city
  • Two rockets exploded in the Shevchenkivskyi District, shocking the UN team


2022.05.08 Justin Trudeau, prime minister
Chrystia Freeland, deputy prime minister
Mélanie Joly, foreign affairs minister
 Canada Kyiv

2022.06.16 Emmanuel Macron, president
Olaf Scholz, chancellor
Mario Draghi, prime minister
 France
 Germany
 Italy
Kyiv
  • Macron was assigned a much nicer compartment than Draghi was
  • The leaders announced their support for granting EU candidate status to Ukraine


2022.06.16 Klaus Iohannis, president  Romania Kyiv
  • Iohannis joined Macron, Scholz, and Draghi in Kyiv but had travelled separately
  • He also announced his support for granting EU candidate status to Ukraine

2022.06.29 Joko Widodo, president  Indonesia Kyiv
  • First visit by the leader of an Asian country during the invasion
  • Visit occurred shortly after Widodo attended the G7 summit in Bavaria
  • Indonesia is scheduled to host the next G20 summit in Bali
2022.07.03 Anthony Albanese, prime minister  Australia Kyiv



See also

Explanatory notes