The U.S. effort to export "democracy" to Ukraine has some skeptics of interventionism baffled and confused. A seeming throwback to the Soviet era, Leonid Kuchma, and his chosen heir, ward-heeler Viktor Yanukovich, were widely perceived as having stolen the election, and the Ukrainian Supreme Court, supposedly a tool of the regime, agreed. While one may argue about which side engaged in election fraud, and to what extent, in any case the Yanukovich crowd is closer to the Sopranos than the Boy Scouts, and anything would seem to be an improvement. Hundreds of thousands of orange-clad protesters seem to think so. But the view from Kiev is quite different from that of Washington, where the Ukrainian divide is depicted in more realistic terms: as the latest front in a geopolitical struggle for power.
Listen to neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who writes with eye-watering clarity about the hypocrisy and double standards employed by Western liberal cheerleaders for Yushchenko who question the bona fides of the U.S. effort to implant "democracy" in Iraq:
"Zbigniew Brzezinski, a fierce opponent of the Bush administration’s democracy project in Iraq, writes passionately about the importance of democracy in Ukraine and how, by example, it might have a domino effect, spreading democracy to neighboring Russia. Yet when George Bush and Tony Blair make a similar argument about the salutary effect of establishing a democracy in the Middle East – and we might indeed have the first truly free election in the Middle East within two months if we persevere – ‘realist’ critics dismiss it as terminally naive."
The conflict dividing Ukraine, Krauthammer writes, is "civilizational" war, with an evil authoritarian Russia on one side and the angels of the West on the other:
"So let us all join hands in praise of the young people braving the cold in the streets of Kiev. But then tell me why there is such silence about the Iraqis, young and old, braving bullets and bombs, organizing electorate lists and negotiating coalitions even as we speak. Where is it written: Only in Ukraine?"
Critics of Western intervention in Iraq questioned the democratic-liberal bona fides of an "opposition" headed by an embezzler with a deserved reputation as a ruthless opportunist, whose U.S.-funded Iraqi National Congress fed our intelligence agencies – and the American media – a steady diet of lies about nonexistent Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction." But their skepticism evaporates like dew in the morning sun when it comes to those two dubious vessels of Ukrainian "democracy," former prime minister and head of the central bank Viktor Yushchenko and oligarch Yulia Timoshenko (his sidekick and probable prime minister in a "reform" government).
Yushchenko, as head of the National Bank of the Ukraine (NBU), presided over an unprecedented case of fraud, which enriched certain oligarchs and especially the firebrand Timoshenko and her faction, who control the western part of the country: their power is centered in the energy monopoly that is the domain of the "gas princess," as Timoshenko is popularly known. Remember that Chalabi, too, was a banker, but with this difference: while the Ali Baba of the neocons stole millions, not only from the Jordanian Petra Bank but also from U.S. taxpayers, and used it to benefit himself directly, scandal swirls around Yushchenko, but never actually touches him personally. He is seen as a "reformer" because he never enriched himself, only his cronies and political supporters.
Timoshenko’s patron, the embezzler Pavlo Lazarenko – who, with the complicity of the NBU, stole a good portion of the International Monetary Fund bailout money and laundered it in the West – eventually had to flee the country, and was indicted and jailed in the U.S.
Yushchenko’s Chalabi-esque tendency to spin some very tall tales is evidenced in his insistence that he was poisoned by some sinister conspiracy involving the pro-Yanukovich forces – darkly implying the KGB did it. This story has been trumpeted from here to Kingdom Come by the pro-Yushchenko Western media, but its ubiquity is reminiscent of the sort of open-mouthed credulity that accompanied Chalabi’s lies about Iraqi WMD: as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, California, "There is no there there." The New York Times ran a story completely denying Yushchenko’s contention, and then followed up with a more sympathetic but still skeptical and very revealing account:
"The candidate refused a biopsy of his face because he did not want to campaign with stitches. But dioxin and related toxins are detectable in the body years after exposure. [Yushchenko press secretary Irina] Gerashchenko said such tests had still not been performed."
Okay, so let’s see if we get this straight: He was willing to campaign with a disfigured face and a catheter installed in his back to keep him from crying out in pain – oh, but no stitches! How plausible is that? The incision required for a biopsy hardly amounts to major surgery. More like a pinprick to be sure.
A biopsy would reveal whether or not the candidate had contracted a rare but devastating auto-immune dysfunction, such as scleromyxedema, which produces disfigurement identical to Yushchenko’s unsightly symptoms. It would also detect the presence of toxins, such as dioxin, in the skin – and prove, or debunk, the "poisoning" scenario once and for all.
I wonder why Yushchenko refused to undergo this simple and painless procedure. What I don’t wonder about is the truth of what Krauthammer has to say about the motivations of the Europeans in pushing for "regime change" in Ukraine:
"This is about Russia first, democracy only second. This Ukrainian episode is a brief, almost nostalgic throwback to the Cold War. Russia is trying to hang on to the last remnants of its empire. The West wants to finish the job begun with the fall of the Berlin Wall and continue Europe’s march to the east."
This is absolutely true, but the push for the "liberation" of Ukraine isn’t just a case of EU expansionism, the first real act of aggression on the part of an emerging imperialist power: it is also part of America’s looming confrontation with Moscow.
It isn’t just the Islamic world that the promoters of a "war of civilizations" are targeting: Russia, too, is in the sights of the War Party, as I have pointed out in this space before. As the epicenter of the Orthodox Christian Slavic civilization, Russia finds itself under attack on several fronts: not only in the Ukraine but also in Chechnya, where American neoconservatives have taken up the cause of al-Qaeda-linked "freedom fighters" and denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin as an aspiring "dictator."
The West turned against Putin the moment he moved against the Russian "oligarchs" – former Communist party insiders who used their influence in the waning Soviet order to loot "collectively-owned" state industries, including major industrial concerns and infrastructure, stripping the place bare and secreting their ill-gotten gains abroad. That this was done under the rubric of "privatization" defeated the idea of free market liberalism in Russia, and paved the way for the rise of Putin, who was lifted up into the seat of power on the strength of a wave of resentment against the oligarchs’ massive theft.
The oligarchs, however, who had by this time legitimized their fortunes by laundering the stolen money through investment in new enterprises, fought back, and were soon joined by their Western allies and paid publicity agents.
In the West, the reaction to Putin’s new assertiveness was immediate: a campaign of the sort that preceded the demonization and destruction of Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega immediately commenced in the Western media, with neoconservatives of Krauthammer’s ilk leading the charge. George W. Bush echoed their war cries, albeit faintly, when he voiced his "concerns" about the future of "democracy" in Russia: simultaneously, an open "letter of the 100" to Putin was sponsored by the Project for a New American Century and was signed by an agglomeration of the aggrieved, from militant neocons to assorted "progressives" (i.e. warmongers of a leftish hue). The letter basically condemned Putin and called for a new cold war confrontation with the "threat" to democracy emanating from the Kremlin. Anne Applebaum enunciated the theme of this hate campaign when she declared that an "Iron Curtain" had descended across Europe’s Eastern frontiers:
"All of these places do, it is true, seem obscure and faraway to Americans. But so did the events 60 years ago in Poland, at least until it became clear that they were part of a pattern: 1946 was also the year that Winston Churchill gave his celebrated speech describing the ‘iron curtain’ that had descended across Europe, and predicting the onset of the Cold War. Looking back, we may also one day see 2004 as the year when a new iron curtain descended across Europe, dividing the continent not through the center of Germany but along the eastern Polish border."
One can’t recall that Putin or his allies in Ukraine, Belarus, and environs have constructed a new version of the Berlin Wall: the citizens of these countries, and also Russians, are free to leave, and Ukrainians will do so in droves if and when their planned absorption into the EU is accomplished. Where is the Ukrainian gulag – or the Russian one, for that matter? The Cold War II crowd is reduced to spinning yarns about the KGB "poisoning" of their Ukrainian sock puppet.
What is the purpose of declaring that a new "iron curtain" has descended if not to conjure the specter of a cold war-style military confrontation with the remnants of the former Soviet Union – a conflict that is coming if we persist in getting up in Putin’s face in his own backyard?
Imagine if China and, say, France or Canada demanded that the Mexican election be redone so that their preferred candidate could win. There is consternation in the Kremlin, and glee from the neocons, who see Russia (and China) as the main obstacles to American global hegemony. Krauthammer, the Clausewitz and the Napoleon of the armchair generals, can’t help but gloat:
"You almost have to feel sorry for the Russians. (I stress almost.) In the course of one generation, they have lost one of the greatest empires in history: first their Third World dependencies, stretching at one point from Nicaragua to Angola to Indochina; then their East European outer empire, now swallowed by NATO and the European Union; and then their inner empire of Soviet republics.
"The Muslim ‘-stans’ are slowly drifting out of reach. The Baltic republics are already in NATO. The Transcaucasian region is unstable and bloody. All Russia has left are the Slavic republics. Belarus is effectively a Russian colony. But the great prize is Ukraine, for reasons of strategy (Crimea), history (Kiev is considered by Russians to be the cradle of Slavic civilization) and identity (the eastern part is Russian Orthodox and Russian-speaking)."
This is great news for those civilizational warriors who want to take on Eastern Orthodoxy, as well as Islam, in a bid to establish American global supremacy. It is bad news for those who dread the consequences of a foreign policy that has so far succeeded only in creating an endless supply of fresh enemies worldwide. Putin’s "bluff was called," jeers Krauthammer, and
"He does not have the power to do to Ukraine what his Soviet predecessors did to Hungary and Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. Hence the clash of civilizations over Ukraine and, to some extent, within Ukraine: the authoritarian East vs. the democratic West."
Likening the Commonwealth of Independent States – conjured by the Russians as a free trade zone and nexus of economic cooperation – to the Warsaw Pact is exactly the opposite of the truth: the model that fits the old Warsaw mold is the European Union, which Ukraine will be annexed to if Yushchenko and his crowd have their way. The EU is not only committed to a form of socialism, albeit a somewhat watered down version, it is also very difficult to leave the EU, if not next to impossible. As Euabc.com correctly points out:
"At present, a country can only leave the EU after a unanimous decision (or by breaching EU law). The EU Constitution has a clause allowing Member States to leave after negotiating an agreement with the EU or on their own accord after two years."
When the Austrians elected a politically incorrect government – in a free and fair election – the EU imposed sanctions, and threatened to do more. Yet now they assume the mantle of militant democrats in the Ukraine.
Looking beyond the easily manipulated orange-clad crowds in the streets, who are understandably for any change as being for the better, the Ukrainian version of the Iraqi National Congress is even more unsavory and ideologically unhinged than Chalabi’s crowd ever was. Here is Yulia Timoshenko, the lady oligarch-turned-Robespierre of the Orange Revolution, according to the pro-Yushchenko newspaper, Ukrainska Pravda:
“Timoshenko promised to supply Russia with a similar revolution: ‘As soon as our orange revolution has been completed, we’ll transfer it to Russia.’ Timoshenko said one could see cars with orange ribbons in Moscow even now.”
With this Amazonian warrior princess of the Transcaucasus as Ukraine’s putative prime minister, is it any wonder that the Russians are worried she’ll permit her country to be used as a pawn in a new cold war game?
Putin is right to fear NATO expansion. Perhaps he recalls the assurances of U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and German foreign minister Hans Dietrich Genscher at a high level meeting in Moscow on the subject of German reunification, cited by Russia scholar Susan Eisenhower:
"[Genscher] promoted a ‘no expansion of NATO’ concept, an idea that Baker, too, had advanced. It was at the February meeting that the key words were spoken, words that are still a source of debate. If a unified Germany was anchored in NATO, Secretary Baker said to Gorbachev, ‘NATO’s jurisdiction or forces would not move eastward.’
"Apparently, Gorbachev was receptive to that assurance and emphasized that ‘any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable.’
"’I agree,’ Baker said.
Oh well. So much for that agreement.
Now that the West is penetrating Ukraine, and talking openly about the inability of Eastern countries – including Russia – to rise to the level of machine politics in Chicago, or Brooklyn, New York, Putin has reason to regret Gorbachev’s decision, or at least remember it in anger: Georgia, too, is slated for NATO membership, and the rebellious Russian-speaking semi-autonomous republics, such as Abkhazia, and Ossetia, are trouble spots just begging for NATO intervention – as would the eastern region of Ukraine, which threatens to secede if the Yushchenko forces triumph.
The United States, via the National Endowment for Democracy, has poured millions into the funding, training, and logistics of the Yushchenko organization that has managed to shut down Kiev and hold the government hostage – and they expect their investment to pay off in the military, political, and economic isolation of Russia.
Putin is hated by Western elites, not because he aspires to be a dictator, but because he is defiant in the face of this all-out assault. He destroyed the power of the Russian oligarchs, and aligned himself with the wrong oligarchical faction in Ukraine: Ms. Timoshenko, the former Ukrainian "gas princess," and her allies will profit enormously from an alliance with the West. The Odessa-Brody oil pipeline will start flowing, along with plenty of U.S. government subsidies for this uneconomic project.
The chill winds of a new cold war must be warmed up before they are allowed to develop into a generalized deep freeze. U.S. intervention in Ukraine, of any sort, is impermissible – and ought to be illegal, just as foreign funding of U.S. election campaigns is outlawed. The tragedy of Ukraine’s "orange revolution," however, is that some day, when the "liberated" Ukrainians wake up and discover they’ve been sold a bill of goods, the warranty will have already run out on the merchandise. When those youthful "orange revolutionaries" in the streets – who proclaim the virtues of peace and liberty – discover that they’ve been tricked into turning their country into a launching pad for NATO military actions in the Caucasus, and beyond – what will they do, then? Probably nothing, as their "revolution" will have long since been declared officially over – and thoroughly betrayed.