Yushchenko’s Gambit

The dramatic climax of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s visit to the United States will no doubt be his address to a joint session of Congress, where he is sure to receive a hero’s welcome. That conclave of self-serving phonies knows a kindred soul when it sees one. But the real high point (or low point, depending on your perspective) has already occurred: that was when President Bush came out firmly in support of his guest’s application for NATO membership. He had already done so, to some extent, during his European trip, where he emphasized that “NATO is a performance-based organization.” Ukraine, said the president, would have to measure up to NATO’s “democratic” standards.

“Democracy,” my a**. It’s all about Ukraine upgrading its weapons systems to meet NATO standards: and to do that they’ll have to do business with American weapons manufacturers, who will be more than happy to help. As Congress and this administration shower the Ukrainians with “foreign aid,” that money will come back to the States in the form of payment for revamped and modernized weaponry.

There’s a good reason why Bruce Jackson– formerly head of the U.S. Committee on NATO and the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq – was one of the most energetic Western cheerleaders for the “Orange Revolution.” This is a bonanza for the arms industry, with which Jackson has been intimately connected as an employee and public relations shill: he was planning and strategy vice president at Lockheed Martin until 2002, in charge of scaring up new business. In a fascinating profile of Jackson, John Judis cites “one prominent neoconservative” describing Jackson as the “nexus between the defense industry and the neoconservatives. He translates us to them, and them to us.”

Not much translation is needed, however, because the language of money and power is universal: it’s just a matter of emphasis. Naturally, Boeing, Lockheed, and other merchants of death are interested in the bottom line. However, the neocons – while not averse to pocketing a handsome profit from their government connections – have their own agenda: NATO troops stationed minutes from Moscow will be a dagger pointed at Putin’s throat, and this is what interests the ideologues of American supremacism. They are already eyeing Moldova, where the Communists are rabidly pro-American and the conservatives are for maintaining ties with Russia. Now here’s a headline auguring a surprising new trend: “Pro-Western Communists Win Parliamentary Majority in Moldova Elections“!

Considering the new U.S. strategic doctrine of preemption and world military hegemony, however, it isn’t so strange at all. With the Americans setting up their own version of the old Warsaw Pact in Eastern Europe, the Moldovan neocommunists find themselves in natural alignment with American neoconservatives. The latter wish to dominate, and the former are eager to be dominated. A hook-up was inevitable.

The color-coded coups in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan are due to be replicated in neighboring Belarus – and wherever Russia retains the dominant influence. This means not in Uzbekistan, run by the certifiably crazed dictator Islam Karimov, a reliable U.S. ally, or Azerbaijan, another repressive sock puppet of the West: the so-called “fourth wave” of democratic revolutionary fervor has mysteriously avoided any of the countries in the pro-U.S., anti-Russian GUUAM alliance.

A coincidence, I’m sure.

Aside from joining NATO, Yushchenko is also keen to bind his country to the European Union. Alas, the Eurocrats are far less eager than Washington to embrace the new Ukrainian regime. To begin with, many in the EU believe the Union is getting too large to be manageable, and then there is the fear of unchecked immigration. Western Europe, with its relatively high-paying workforce, is very attractive to immigrants from Eastern Europe: an influx of Easterners is not looked on with favor by Western European unions or the socialist politicians who depend on them for support. A wave of Ukrainian immigration is also bound to drive up welfare costs, which gives conservatives pause.

In any case, Yushchenko has his hands full just coping with the ongoing political struggle within his own country: domestic and not foreign policy is necessarily the first item on his agenda. Aside from Ukraine’s dicey economic position, a major problem for Yushchenko is the political tension tearing at his own governing coalition. As Peter Lavelle, a Moscow-based analyst, points out:

“Yushchenko is finding the unity that brought him to power is being tested. Yushchenko is not faced with a resurgent ‘old regime’ backlash, but rather from competing agenda from his prime minister.”

This conflict has yet to throw the government into crisis because President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko have so far evolved a division of labor that puts the former in charge of foreign policy and the latter in charge of the economy. However, Lavelle doubts this can last. Tymoshenko is willful, and does not hesitate to use her power to benefit her cronies in the time-honored Ukrainian tradition. As Lavelle describes the differences between them:

“Yushchenko’s approach to the economy has been very general, primarily concerned with assuring fiscal and monetary stability, creating a favorable investment climate and building solid foundations for sustainable growth. In short, Yushchenko can be described as an economic liberal supporting a laissez-faire approach.

“Tymoshenko is very different. Judging by her public statements, Tymoshenko supports strong state intervention in the economy and a statist economic policy. While Yushchenko uses political means to deal with his enemies, Tymoshenko is attempting to exert economic and financial control over political opponents through tough state regulation. Her calls to revisit the privatization of a thousand formerly state-owned firms has not only shaken business confidence, it has also alarmed minority shareholders in former state firms. Potential foreign investors have also questioned Tymoshenko’s intentions.”

With good reason. When Russian President Putin upended the empire of banking and oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky by challenging the circumstances under which formerly state-owned enterprises were privatized, the West went ballistic, characterized the Russian oligarch as a “political prisoner,” and pointed to his “persecution” as evidence that Russia was falling back into totalitarianism. However, when Yushchenko’s government – with Tymoshenko at the economic helm – pulls the same deal with Ukraine’s steel mills, we hear not a peep out of the West.

During his visit, Yushchenko has made much of his new campaign against corruption, and in a speech pleaded with Americans to refrain from bribing Ukrainian officials. So far, however, his “anti-corruption” campaign consists of an edict forbidding government mucka-mucks from visiting bath houses:

“Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has started the corruption clean-up campaign with an informal ban on visiting bath houses (banyas) for government officials, The Independent daily reports. ‘It’s all about showing the new face of Ukraine,’ presidential spokesperson Irina Gerashchenko said. ‘It’s no secret that you get all kinds of unsavory types there, and they are not the people with whom officials should be mixing.’

“New Ukrainian authorities believe that a traditional place where Ukrainians, and indeed Russians, go every week to wash away their sins has become the check point where officials are nobbled by corrupt businessmen.”

The Ukrainians believe they can balance their budget by revisiting suspicious privatizations, seizing assets, and re-selling them to the highest bidder. Yushchenko was sold to Western journalists as well as his own electorate as a “free-market reformer,” but this is hardly a “free market” approach. Aside from destroying the sort of stability that business requires, it assumes the good will of government regulators – not a wise course, in any country – and encourages yet more corruption by making political pull, rather than entrepreneurial skill, the coin of the realm. Who will be “re-privatized,” and who will be spared? It’s all up to the gang currently in power.

Yushchenko has said that “only a few dozen” companies will be subject to review, whereas Tymoshenko has indicated at least 3,000 will be put on the block. In any case, Lavelle’s contention that the prime minister and the president “represent two different faces of the ‘Orange Revolution'” is certainly on point:

“One face is very liberal and courting the West; the second is statist with an eye to keep political enemies on notice while reforming the economy. Will these two aims eventually collide?”

The answer is up in the air, but what’s clear is that the Orange Revolution is moving on its perceived enemies on another front. This move is dramatized by recent events in Ukraine – which seems to have experienced an extraordinarily large number of “suicides” among officials of the former regime. One of whom supposedly shot himself in the head twice.

Then there is the question of the tapes – apparently, anybody who was anybody in Ukrainian politics had their phones tapped routinely. However, the question is which tapes are authentic and which are phony? Tapes supposedly proving the perfidy of the former regime are coming out of the woodwork, and yet their veracity is far from unchallenged. For example, a pro-Yushchenko television station in Kiev broadcast one such tape purporting to be a conversation between Russian spies talking about the alleged role in Yushchenko’s poisoning played by Russian political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky. The tapes were widely dismissed as a hoax, but the newly-appointed Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun is now touting them as evidence of a high-level plot to assassinate Yushchenko. Pavlovsky told the BBC:

When the tapes appeared on TV5, I took it as a joke … but when I heard the prosecutor-general had taken them, that turns a TV joke into a lie.”

Law enforcement in Ukraine is a joke to begin with, but it seems the “Orange Revolutionaries” are determined to have the last laugh.

As this farce plays out, and the new regime targets its enemies with the same economic and political weapons – state regulation and frame-ups – that were used by the former government of President Kuchma and his cronies, the question of who poisoned Yushchenko has gotten even murkier. While the rest of the Western media has neglected to follow up on this story – which, not so long ago, was generating blazing headlines worldwidea Knight Ridder piece reveals that “there are still more questions than answers about how he was poisoned and who was behind the act.”

Yushchenko firmly believes he was poisoned by agents of the former regime, and appears to be buying into the absurd Pavlovsky tapes, which are pretty much agreed by all but his Prosecutor Piskun to be bogus. The Ukrainian president points to a preelection dinner with the head of Ukraine’s secret services, and hosted by Volodymyr Satsyuk, the No. 2 official, as the genesis of his medical problems, but dioxin – the poison that was supposedly put in his food – takes at least three days to produce any effects, and Yushchenko was ill the next morning. The Knight Ridder piece cites the expert opinion of Dr. Arnold Schecter, a leading authority on dioxin at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas, who questions this key part of Yushchenko’s story. The symptoms showed up too speedily for the dinner at Satsyuk’s dacha to have been the site of the poisoning:

“In medicine, there’s always the exception, but dioxin usually takes at least three days to produce symptoms. Frankly, the timing of getting sick the next day would point away from the dinner.”

Then there are the assertions from Yushchenko’s entourage that the Ukrainian president is healing, and that his face will soon return to near-normal – an astonishing assertion, given the long-lasting effects of dioxin, which is stored in body fat and even seeps into cell nuclei.

Adding yet more murk to the mystery, we have Dr. Lothar Wicke, the former medical director of the Rudolfinerhaus clinic where Yushchenko went for treatment, popping up again with claims that throw the whole affair into serious doubt:

“A senior doctor ousted from the Vienna clinic where Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian president, was treated for dioxin poisoning, claims that his life was threatened after he cast doubt on the diagnosis.

“Dr. Lothar Wicke, the former clinical director at the Rudolfinerhaus, said that the clinic came under intense pressure from Mr. Yushchenko’s entourage to diagnose poisoning, even when there was no apparent evidence.

“Dr. Wicke told The Telegraph that, as the crime writer Agatha Christie liked to point out, there was ‘no murder without a corpse, and no poisoning without poison.’ …

“Dr. Wicke remains uncomfortable about the role played by the Rudolfinerhaus in the drama. ‘The first two times Mr. Yushchenko was examined, there was no evidence of poisoning whatsoever,’ Dr. Wicke, 64, said. Yet, to his dismay, persistent leaks from the clinic suggested that the politician had indeed been poisoned.”

Up until the Yushchenko incident, Dr. Wicke had worked at the clinic for 25 years. He goes on to say:

“I was directly involved, and I can tell you that the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Vienna did not find any traces of poisonous agents in his blood. If there is no poison, there cannot be poisoning, and there was no trace of it whatsoever.”

Dr. Wicke went public with his concerns at the end of September, averring that a “medically forged diagnosis” had been circulated by someone “not permanently employed in this clinic.” He meant Nikolai Korpan, a Ukrainian surgeon with no expertise in poison or related areas of study, who had traveled with Yushchenko as his personal physician. After Dr. Wicke refused to repudiate his public statements in writing, he received a phone call from a man who described himself as “a friend from Ukraine.” “Take care,” said the mysterious, accented voice. “Your life is in danger.”

Dr. Wicke and his family were placed under 24-hour police guard.

A lawsuit against the Rudolfinerhaus has been launched by Dr. Wicke, who claims substantial damages after being forced out of his job for refusing to go along with the program. As for the Yushchenko camp, Dr. Korpan avers:

“There is a reason why Dr Wicke disputed the poisoning diagnosis but it is not a medical one. It will be revealed later.”

That’s the problem with this strange whodunit – the Yushchenko people keep telling us that all will be explained in due time, and yet somehow it never is. The investigation has been interminably delayed, with the chief prosecutors futzing about with phony “tapes” that prove nothing but that Ukraine has a long way to go before its law enforcement agencies meet Western standards.

Yes, yes, everything will be revealed “later” – too late, I fear, for anyone to reverse the events of the past six months. Yushchenko and Tymoshenko have already seized power and set up a regime that is different in degree but not in kind from that in power in Russia and throughout the former Soviet bloc. Ukraine is well on its way into NATO, and the axis of neocons, arms manufacturers, and the Bush administration prepares to provoke yet another crisis, re-starting the Cold War and targeting the Russian president as the reincarnation of Joseph Stalin. It won’t be long before an encircled Putin faces NATO in the Caucasus as well as on Russia’s western border – and that’s what the “Orange Revolution” was really all about, at least as far as its chief funder and patron, the U.S. government, is concerned.

Yushchenko’s gambit – to turn his country into an American outpost of empire, in exchange for massive aid and political and military support – may pay off in the short run, but the long-term prospects of such an alliance can only bode ill for the Ukrainian people. Do they really want to make their country into a battleground between East and West? On the other hand, do the American people really want to confront Vladimir Putin and rekindle the Cold War? It is foolish to prod and poke at the Russian bear – or any bear – especially when it is licking its wounds and in a cranky mood. Don’t we have enough on our plate?

To the war-crazed neocons who run American foreign policy, we can never have enough – we must intervene everywhere, from Kiev to Katmandu. Ukraine does not belong in NATO, and neither do we: the Cold War is over, and this transparent attempt to recreate it is so contrived, and so contrary to American interests, that one can hardly believe what is happening. A phony narrative of martyrdom, a brazen attempt to incorporate Ukraine into an American-led military alliance, the storm of propaganda that hints Putin is a combination of Stalin and Saddam – it’s all so obvious, even trite. These days, of course, any sort of madness is possible, but occasionally one has to stop and wonder, in sheer amazement, that they are being allowed to get away with it.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].