How quickly we forget. It seems like only yesterday that the headlines were ablaze with news of the color-coded revolutions supposedly inspired by our president’s commitment to fostering “democracy” throughout the globe. In an inaugural speech widely derided by those who hadn’t quaffed too deeply of the neoconservative Kool-Aid, George W. Bush declared that U.S. foreign policy has “the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” Not content with “liberating” Iraq, while reducing it to a pile of rubble, the U.S. government went on the offensive on a global scale, hailing the color revolutions in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Belarus, and Lebanon as examples of what the president had earlier referred to as a U.S.-led “global democratic revolution.”
It’s only a few years later, however, and the “revolution” seems to have petered out. Worse, in all instances, the “revolution” turned out to be completely illusory, i.e., little more than a flimsy pretext for U.S.-engineered regime change on the cheap.
Revisiting the scene of these various “democratic” upsurges, one thing becomes all too clear: nothing has really changed. Ukraine provides the best example of this “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” syndrome.
The saga of Viktor Yushchenko‘s rise – and near fall – as the leader of the “democratic” resistance to Ukraine’s neo-Soviet apparatchiks contained all the essential elements of the Bush administration’s revolutionary narrative: a handsome, young, rising political star challenges the sclerotic, corrupt, election-stealing leadership of a decrepit post-communist former Soviet republic – and nearly becomes a martyr to the cause of capital-D democracy. In Yushie’s case, it was an attempt to poison him, allegedly carried out by an official of the Ukrainian secret services – and, it just so happens, a key ally of Yushchenko’s election opponent, Viktor Yanukovich.
This alleged assassination attempt badly disfigured the formerly handsome Yushie’s face, and it is fair to say, this event was the turning point in the election. The finger was pointed directly at Yanukovich and his supporters, and the more radical Orange revolutionaries, led by the “gas princess,” Yulia Timoshenko, openly accused the Russian KGB of being behind the plot. The Western media jumped on the story and unquestioningly accepted the narrative peddled by the Orange revolutionaries and their sponsors in the U.S. government, who were covertly (and overtly) funding Yushchenko to the tune of millions.
This supposed poisoning, however, was diagnosed under the most curious circumstances: Dr. Lothar Wicke, the former chief of the Rudolfinerhaus clinic where Yushchenko went for treatment, denied that Yushchenko had been poisoned at all, and testified that he had been threatened by supporters of the Orange movement if he failed to come up with the “right” diagnosis. The poisoning diagnosis was disputed by several Western experts, who questioned the timeline laid out by Yushchenko and his entourage – Yushie got sick immediately after dining with the head of the security services, whereas dioxin poisoning would take at least 3 days to manifest symptoms – and many doubted that dioxin would be the poison of choice, in any case.
Furthermore, after all that heavy breathing about a Russian-Yanukovich plot to take out the rising star of the Orange Revolution, the investigation into who poisoned Yushchenko, and why, never got much further than vague insinuations directed at the Yanukovich camp, and dark intimations of KGB involvement. Two years later, after a long silence, the “investigation” has yet to bear any fruit: not a single suspect has been charged. The comic-opera character of this criminal probe is underscored by the first few paragraphs of a recent Radio Free Europe story:
“Speaking to journalists in Baku on September 8, the Ukrainian president said the investigation into the alleged poisoning in September 2004 was ‘one step away from the active phase of solving this case.’
“Yushchenko’s statement came as Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, Oleksandr Medvedko, announced that investigators had determined the time, place, and circumstances in which the poisoning attempt took place.
“All that remains, apparently, is to find the individual, or individuals, responsible.”
Ukraine’s Keystone Kops know everything about this crime – except who did it. It has taken them two solid years to get to the brink of “the active phase of solving this case.” Yet how do we account for the longevity of the passive phase?
One would think that the president would be eager to utilize the full resources of Ukrainian law enforcement – not to mention the expertise and assistance of his American allies – to get to the bottom of the plot that ruined his good looks and almost took his life. However, we have seen just the opposite: a strange reluctance to pursue the investigation, punctuated by laconic public pronouncements over the interceding years, culminating in this most recent Orwellian formulation of being “one step away” from “the active phase.”
Just how seriously we ought to take accusations that Yanukovich – and, standing behind him, the Kremlin – engineered the poisoning of Yushchenko is indicated by the post-”revolutionary” politics of Ukraine, now dominated by a coalition of Yushchenko and Yanukovich supporters. Would the Yushchenko group agree to share power with Yanukovich and his party if they really believed their coalition allies had tried to kill their dear beloved Yushie? Somehow, I doubt it.
In any case, the so-called Orange Revolution has faded to a pale pinkish hue, with the color almost completely washed out of it. Ukraine is still corrupt, poor, and owned lock, stock, and barrel by a nomenklatura of unusual avariciousness. All that has changed is the likelihood of NATO membership, and that’s all the U.S. government ever cared about anyway. The containment, of the Russian bear – recently stoked by copious infusions of honey (in the form of sky-high oil prices) – and not the export of “democracy,” was and is the real objective of U.S. support for Yushchenko and his fellow “revolutionaries.”
The Ukrainian Orange phenomenon was modeled quite explicitly on the example of the Rose Revolution, which featured a disputed election, massive youth-oriented street protests, and plenty of subsidies from U.S. government agencies. The evil neo-communist leftovers from the old order, led by Eduard Shevardnadze, were swept away by the rising tide of pro-Western, modernizing young “democrats,” exemplified by Saakashvili, said to be a Georgian combo of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Or so went the official narrative.
It wasn’t long, however, before the wolf disdained his sheep’s clothing and openly began to exhibit distinctly wolfish characteristics, imprisoning his political opponents and cracking down on the opposition in the name of “national security.” His latest assault on his political enemies involves busting up an alleged Russian “spy ring” – which, just coincidentally, includes the leaders of most of the opposition. Dozens of Justice Party and Conservative Party (monarchist) leaders and activists have been arrested and imprisoned on what are obviously trumped-up charges. Russian military headquarters in Tbilisi – where the Russians still have a nominal presence – has been surrounded by Georgian military and police, and a major standoff is in the making, with Russia calling for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council over the matter.
This crisis has a long history. U.S. support for Saakashvili and the Rose Revolution had, as usual, nothing to do with devotion to the principles of what is loosely referred to as “democracy,” and everything to do with the geopolitics of oil and the regional objective of encircling – one might even say strangling – resurgent Russia. The construction of an oil pipeline that somehow avoids traversing Russian territory is the dearest dream of the Chevron wing of the Republican party, and would please to no end the Clintonian Democrats, who, you’ll remember, set up a special office of the U.S. government devoted to making that pipeline a reality.
The Caucasus is a volatile region, every bit as volcanic and rife with ethnic and religious fissures as the Middle East. In Georgia alone, several ethno-religious groupings compete for title to the land and the right of self-rule in some very cramped quarters, and it takes a scorecard to know all the players. Without getting too much into the specifics – the particular historical and political factors giving rise to the Georgians’ struggle with the Ossetians, the Ajarians, and the Abkhazians – it’s important to know that all these rebellious regions share cultural and political ties to Russia. Russian-speakers, primarily Orthodox Christians, these peoples see their history as inextricably bound up with the fountainhead of Slavic civilization represented by the Kremlin.
Russia, in turn, has given them limited diplomatic, political, and military support in their respective struggles for self-determination and kept the Georgian wolf at the door. However, Saakashvili, in his bid to create a Greater Georgia and prove his usefulness to the anti-Russian alliance of NATO nations, is taking the offensive. Even as he jails the opposition, cracks down on the media, and seeks to label anyone who fails to march in lockstep to his authoritarianism a “Russian spy,” Georgia creeps closer to full NATO membership. First Ukraine, then Georgia – the creation of a cordon sanitaire around the former Soviet Union requires just a few more links, one of which was provided in the delightfully obscure country of Kyrgyzstan.
In Kyrgyzstan, you’ll remember, the classic pattern of these color-coded revolutions ran true to form: a disputed election, massive street protests, and the flight of the former leader to Russia. This was hailed by Condoleezza Rice and numerous commentators as yet more evidence that the Bushian “global democratic revolution” was taking hold – inspired, or so we were told, by the American “liberation” of Iraq and the president’s “forward strategy of freedom.”
The former president, Askar Akayev, an ex-communist bureaucrat, was accused by all the pertinent “human rights” organizations to be an election-thief as well as a mini-Stalin. Compared to what followed, however, the era of Akayev’s rule will go down in the history of the country as relatively benign: compared, that is, to the reign of his successor, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, which has been marked by what the International Herald Tribune describes as “political instability and deteriorating public security, including a string of high-profile murders.” The latest outrage is the news that the president’s brother tried to have heroin planted on a prominent opposition leader. Against the backdrop of mysterious hooligan attacks on the independent media, one thing seems clear: in Kyrgyzstan, the Tulip Revolution has wilted, and the familiar weed of autocracy has grown up in its place.
Both Russia and the U.S. maintain military bases in the country – there was, you may recall, that mysterious incident with the disappearing U.S. officer, who turned up several miles away from where she was last seen, for reasons that aren’t quite clear. And now we have this collision in the air over Manas Air Base, involving a Kyrgyz airliner and a U.S. military refueling aircraft – both reminders of the shadowy American presence in this far corner of Central Asia.
It was under Akayev that the Russians were granted access to their base near the village of Kant, not far from the capital city of Bishkek, in 2003. Shortly afterward, he was overthrown. While Bakiyev got into a tiff with the U.S. over the price of basing rights – he wanted $50 million more, to start – his increasingly repressive regime has not occasioned any reprimands from the Americans. What may provoke the ire of the U.S. are increasing military and economic ties with Russia, such as the recent joint “anti-terrorism”military exercises conducted by Kyrgyz and Russian forces. Who wants to bet that the guardians of liberty over at Freedom House and the constellation of “human rights” organizations will suddenly begin to take note of Bakiyev’s shortcomings?
We always said these color-coded “revolutions” were made in Washington, and now that they have all been betrayed in Washington and on their home turf, our view – not exactly a popular one at the time these “revolutions” were occurring – is confirmed. The people of these countries still suffer and are in virtually all cases worse off than before: the only achievement they can rack up to date is the prospect of NATO membership, or, in the case of Kyrgyzstan, increased aid.
The “revolutions” in the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe were meant not to spread “democracy,” but to extend the reach of American military power, via NATO and more directly. The American goal is to encircle the Russians and the Chinese, keeping both in check and extending the far frontiers of the rising American empire deep into Central Asia. It isn’t about democracy, or free markets – it’s all about imperialism, pure and simple.