In Ukraine, a franchised revolution
By K Gajendra Singh 

"A huge geopolitical battle is being fought in Ukraine." 
- Nouvel Observateur, Paris. 

BUCHAREST - In scenes reminiscent of the overthrow of Georgian President
Eduard Shevardnadze in November last year (see Georgia in the melting pot,
Dec 3, 2003) and Slobodan Milosevich of Serbia in 2000, crowds opposing
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, the official winner of Ukraine's
presidential polls on November 21, massed at the main door to parliament in
support of his rival Viktor Yushchenko, a former premier too, who claimed
that the polls were rigged. 

Parliament on Sunday annulled the results, which had given pro-Russian
Yanukovich 49.46% of the votes against 46.61% for pro-West Yushchenko. But
Roman Zvarych, a deputy and one of Yushchenko's close aides, said: "We are
in legal limbo. Much of this we are making up as we go along." The Supreme
Court, as of late seen as a neutral body, was due to sit for a third day
Wednesday to examine allegations of systematic electoral fraud. 

These events are part of a major geopolitical battle being fought in
Ukraine, with the United States and Europe trying to encroach on Russia's
traditional strategic turf. With the latter resisting it, the situation is
reminiscent of the Cold War era. Ukraine, despite so far evolving
peacefully, is now teetering on the edge of an abyss, with the possibility
of serious turmoil looming, which could have ramifications that affect
post-Cold War equations. 

"If we really want to preserve peace and accord, and if we really want to
build up the democratic society that we talk about so much ... let's
organize new elections," Interfax reported outgoing President Leonid Kuchma
as saying, after a call by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who expressed
concern about reports of a possible split between east and west Ukraine.
After meeting regional leaders and Yanukovich, Kuchma said there should be
legislative reform, including "a constitutional agreement to be approved by
[parliament], because the country needs a legitimate president". 

International mediators will step up efforts on Wednesday to resolve the
crisis. The European Union sent foreign-policy chief Javier Solana to Kiev
this week to meet with Kuchma. A German government statement said Russian
President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder "were in
agreement that the results of a new election, based on Ukraine law and the
will of the Ukraine people, would be strictly respected". 

But in spite of the presence of foreign mediators, earlier negotiations
between the warring political leaders did not go well and a financial crisis
now threatens Ukraine; the National Bank of Ukraine issued on Tuesday a
regulation that restricts withdrawals on deposits in Ukrainian banks. 

Yanukovych comes from the eastern part of the country, which traditionally
has deep economic, historical, cultural, linguistic and ethnic ties with
Russia. Putin personally traveled to Ukraine before each of the election's
two rounds to assure Ukrainian voters that Moscow's sympathies were
unambiguously with Yanukovych. And Putin has already twice congratulated
Yanukovych on winning the election. 

Russia's support for Yanukovych in the presidential campaign thus
unavoidably transformed the Ukrainian vote - which was in essence a choice
between the political continuity represented by the prime minister and the
political change embodied by Yushchenko - into a geopolitical choice between
West and East. 

While protests in Kiev have hogged international TV coverage, supporters of
Yanukovich in Donetsk's regional council in eastern Ukraine, his stronghold,
voted 164-1 to hold a referendum on December 5 on giving the region the
status of a republic within Ukraine. "We won't tolerate what's going on in
Ukraine," Donetsk regional governor Anatoly Bliznyuk told lawmakers. We have
shown that we are a force to consider." There have been reports of
intimidation of supporters of Yushchenko in the eastern regions. Most of
Ukraine's gross domestic product comes for the eastern and southern regions
of the country. 

Meanwhile, Yushchenko, buoyed with full Western support and the
international splashing of Kiev's massive protests in his support across
headlines, raised the stakes on Sunday, saying that he might not accept the
court's decision and called for legal criminal action against Yanukovich and
his supporters. An aide to Yushchenko demanded that outgoing President
Kuchma sack the prime minister and called for the formation of a coalition

In Warsaw, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, a pivotal regional
figure and one of the visiting international mediators, said that a breakup
of the state was indeed a real threat. Speaking for the EU, which had
condemned procedural violations of the November 21 vote, Dutch Foreign
Minister Bernard Bot said new elections would be "the ideal outcome". The
likelihood for a fresh poll brightened first when a spokesman for the
Russian Foreign Ministry - despite obvious support for Yanukovich - said
that Moscow also now favored a re-run. Reportedly Yanukovich has said he
would back the new poll only if he and Yushchenko ruled themselves out of
the running. Influential US Senator Richard Lugar, a US monitor, also
weighed in on the international debate. He told Fox News that he favored a
re-run of the election. 

Under the Dutch presidency, earlier statements and the reaction of EU
appeared to be harsh. The EU, taken over by political discards at home, has
neither a coherent foreign policy nor the military muscle to fight a war
except under US coercion and tutelage, as in Kosovo. But Ukraine and the
crisis in Darfur, Sudan, gave a welcome pretext to the Western media to turn
its focus away from the destruction and carnage in Iraq. 

Western media, such as CNN and BBC, with anchors and often biased experts,
pounced on the story with an enthusiasm unseen since Saddam Hussein's statue
was toppled in Baghdad. London's anti-Iraq war newspaper the Independent and
the pro-war Telegraph excitedly declared a "revolution" in Ukraine. Across
the Atlantic, the rightwing Washington Times welcomed "the people versus the

It is interesting that 2 million anti-war demonstrators who streamed though
the streets of London against the war on Iraq in March 2003 were politically
ignored, but some tens of thousands in central Kiev are proclaimed to be
"the people", while the Ukrainian police, courts and governmental
institutions are dubbed as instruments of oppression. Little notice was
taken when opposition parties in Pakistan, in power in two provinces,
protested against President General Pervez Musharraf, who reneged on his
promise to the opposition to give up the all powerful post of army chief at
the end of 2004. And the many thousands in the streets were also largely

This writer, who was posted in Bucharest in the early 1980s and has been
based here for many years and was accredited to Azerbaijan in Caucasus in
the mid-1990s, feels that after the collapse of the Soviet Union and former
communist regimes in Europe, mostly money grabbing mafia-style leadership,
supported by the West, have been thrown up as an alternative. They have
built up massive nests in the West on which they then become dependent, like
Russia's billion-dollar oligarchs, who also control "free media". Under the
charade of globalization and economic laissez faire, hundreds of billions of
US dollars have been transferred to Western banks and institutions, which
have become debts for the hapless poor masses in these countries. 

In Romania in 1989 there was a spontaneous uprising by students and people
against the Nicolae Ceausescu regime, but it was taken over by old Communist
Party nomenclature. In 1990, security officials of the old regime emerged as
Romanian nationalists to provoke inter-ethnic riots with Hungarians in Tirgu
Mures. Vladimir Tudor, an admirer of Ceausescu, makes no bones about his
anti-foreigner policy. Under a pro-West president in the late 1990s, Romania
was robbed left and right. EU leaders and the US have repeatedly criticized
rampant and pervasive corruption in Romania, which itself went to polls on
Sunday to elect a new president. 

There is a similar pattern developing elsewhere in Eastern Europe with the
nationalist card being used by corrupt politicians to cover up their own
corruption. The events in Serbia, Georgia and now Ukraine are an expression
of people's frustration and helplessness, however, pro-West leadership is
unlikely to deliver the goods either. Romania's GDP now equals what it was
in 1989, when the communist regime was overthrown. Most of the GDP is now
cornered by 10-15% of the top political and bureaucratic elite. The masses -
especially the older generation - suffer from daily privations and are
withering away. The populations in most of the former communist states are
declining fast. But the Western media rarely write about the terrible impact
of this so-called democracy, capitalism and globalization. 

The man "selected" by the West to lead Ukraine, Yushchenko, finds his
support among groups who have privatized public assets to their cronies. He
is supported by huge funds from newly rich Ukrainians, who want to preserve
their gains. Huge amounts of money were also pumped from the West to groups
who support Yushchenko. Openly and blatantly, the US and other Western
embassies paid for exit polls, prompting Russia to do likewise, though not
to the same extent. Western media cited the muzzling of the media in Ukraine
- which included closing the newspaper Silski Visti - after it ran an
anti-Semitic article claiming that Jews had invaded Ukraine alongside the
Wehrmacht in 1941. On September 19, Yushchenko's ally, Alexander Moroz, told
JTA-Global Jewish News: "I have defended Silski Visti and will continue to
do so." Yushchenko, Moroz and their oligarch ally, Yulia Tymoshenko,
meanwhile, cited a court order closing the paper as evidence of the
government's desire to muzzle the media. 

A nation divided
At Kiev's School for Policy Analysis, political science expert Olexiy Haran
says historic fault lines are being exploited by government leaders to
divert attention from their tolerance of corruption. "Some of the governors
are trying to push for the split in the country," he said. "I believe it's
being done deliberately. The main issue is corrupted power, criminals, and
democracy, not language or religion." To howls of protests from the
Russian-speaking east, Yuschenko ruled out calls to make Russian an official
language of the country, arguing that this could see multinational companies
and even newspapers print only in Russian. "Until now, when the West thought
about Ukraine, it was negative," said Haran. "The great thing about these
election falsifications is that the people stood up and the West saw that
there is democracy in this grey zone. This is the Orange Revolution [orange
is the color of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party]. Everyone here is conscious
of the legacy." 

The Western media have only highlighted how youthful demonstrators can bring
down an authoritarian regime, simply by attending rock concerts in a central
square. The demonstrations supporting pro-Western Yushchenko have laser
lights, plasma screens, sophisticated sound systems, rock concerts, tents to
camp in and huge quantities of orange clothing. These are all spontaneous
protests. Enormous rallies were held in Kiev and eastern Ukraine in support
of Yanukovich, but Western TV channels hardly noticed them. Yanukovich
supporters were denigrated as having been brought in by buses, while
ignoring obvious questions such as where the "Orange Revolution" money has
come from and how quickly the opposition organized. It appears to be another
case of spreading democracy through the use of a civilian coup d'etat. 

Ukraine's recent history
The Kiev movement touches on a historical and religious raw nerve in
Ukrainian polity and society. Throughout most of its history, Ukraine was
split between competing empires, and the fault lines run deep with the great
Dnipr River as the divide. The western part of the country was governed for
more than 300 years by either the Polish or Austro-Hungarian empire while
the east was dominated or part of Russia. The east is Russian-speaking and
Christian Orthodox, while the west is mostly Ukrainian speaking and Greek
Catholic, orthodox in character but owing allegiance to the pope. 

With its tortuous and divisive history and lacking in ambivalent
nationalism, Ukraine's current borders were last drawn after World War II,
when some Polish territory was added to it as well some from Romania. Former
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev added Russian territory, including the Black
Sea coastline, to Ukraine. Russians in the Soviet republic of Ukraine had
happily voted for independence after the collapse of the USSR in 1990-91. 

Because of its mixed legacy of history, the international mediators in Kiev
attempting to unravel the election mess include the Polish prime minister,
the EU's Solana, as well as Russian representatives including Moscow mayor
Yuri Luzhkov. Apart from Russia's geopolitical interests, a hostile Ukraine
would constrain its access in the West and make Russia's access to the Black
Sea as limited as Iraq's is in the Persian Gulf. If not handled carefully
and sensitively, rapprochement between Moscow and Brussels to face up to a
neo-conservative-driven United States would come to a standstill. Ukraine
itself might break up with unforeseen consequences for all. 

Eventually Western media took some note of what supporters of Yanukovich
were saying: that the specter of Ukraine coming apart could transform the
rich industrial region - along with the Crimean Peninsula - into an
autonomous powerhouse or even lead it to join with Russia. Alexander
Lukyanchenko, mayor of Donyetsk, Yanukovich's home town, told the local
assembly: "We should, in an orderly, constitutional way, stage a referendum
of trust to determine this country's make-up." He warned that the split
could begin unless demonstrators cleared the streets of Kiev, adding that
the rest of Ukraine could not survive without its industrial east. 

Another franchised revolution
The high percentage of votes in Donetsk (96%), the home town of Yanukovich,
provided proof that electoral fraud had taken place, according to Western
media. But turnouts of over 80% in areas which supported Yushchenko were
not. Yanukovich's final official score was over 49%, but when
Western-supported Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili officially polled
96.24% in January, no one questioned it. The observers who now denounce the
Ukrainian elections applauded Georgia's results, saying that it "brought the
country closer to meeting international standards". 

One of the most active "pro-democracy" groups in Ukraine's democratic
opposition is Pora, which means "it's time". The student activists of Pora
received personal tutorials in non-violent resistance from Serbian students
of the Otpor ("resistance") group, which was in the forefront of toppling
Milosevich in Belgrade. Then the Serbs helped the Georgian vanguard movement
Kmara ("enough is enough"). So a Georgian flag was also being waved in
Kiev's Independence Square. In Tbilisi, the rose-revolutionary Georgian
President Mikhail Saakashvili interrupted his first anniversary address to
offer a few words of encouragement in Ukrainian to his "sisters and
brothers" in Kiev. The reawakened cold warriors link the "chain of Europe's
velvet revolutions" in this peaceful march of democracy to what the crowds
first chanted on Wenceslas Square in Prague in November 1989. So a jaded
pro-democracy Lech Walesa was there too in Kiev, just as he had been in

Pora's posters plastered all over Ukraine depict a jackboot crushing a
beetle, an allegory of what Pora wants to do to its opponents. It was like
this during Nazi-occupied Ukraine, when pre-emptive war was waged against
the Red Plague spreading out from Moscow. Nobody in the West has said
anything against these posters. Pora continues to be presented as an
innocent band of students having fun. But it is an organization created and
financed by Washington, as were sister organizations in Serbia and Georgia,
Otpor and Kmara. 

Says a Western Cold War warrior: "If we, comfortably ensconced in the
institutionalized Europe to which these peaceful demonstrators look with
hope and yearning, do not immediately support them with every appropriate
means at our disposal, we will betray the very ideals we claim to
represent." He adds, "At the same time, until now, democracy has been
creeping backwards. Control of the biggest industries, of the media, of
state revenue and of the security services has fallen into the hands of a
corrupt and sometimes murderous elite of cynical, self-loving opportunists
who feed off the enterprise and hard work of others as they float between
the worlds of business, politics and bureaucracy." 

This might more appropriately apply to new Western-supported rulers in
former communist countries and even some countries in the West. The United
Kingdom and the US often forget the enormous dysfunction in their own
so-called democratic system, where their governments lied brazenly about
Iraq for over a year in the run-up to war and with impunity, while they
criticize others and support continued brazen Western intervention in the
democratic politics of other countries. 

A US franchise
A lot of planning, work and money has gone into efforts to design a US model
for promoting democracy around the world. The model's first success was
notched in Serbia. Funded and organized by the US government, which deployed
US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US
non-government organizations (NGOs), the campaign defeated Slobodan
Milosevich at the ballot box in Belgrade in 2000. 

Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role in the
campaign to oust Milosevich. In November last year, as US ambassador in
Tbilisi, Miles reapplied the same method successfully. Thanks to his
coaching, US-educated Saakashvili brought down Eduard Shevardnadze. When the
US ambassador in Belarus, Michael Kozak, a veteran of similar operations in
Central America, notably in Nicaragua, organized a near identical campaign
to try to defeat the Belarus strongman, Alexander Lukashenko, he failed.
"There will be no Kostunica in Belarus," the Belarus president declared,
referring to the United States' Belgrade success 10 months earlier. 

But experience gained in Serbia, Georgia and Belarus has been invaluable to
the US in planning the operation in Kiev. It is thus easy to understand such
slickly organized spontaneity. The operation - engineering democracy through
the ballot box and civil disobedience, which would be the envy of even a
Gandhian - is now so smooth that methods have matured into a template for
winning other people's elections. Located in the center of Belgrade, the
Center for Non-violent Resistance, staffed by computer-literate youngsters,
is ready for hire and will carry out operations to beat even a regime that
controls the mass media, the judges, the courts, the security apparatus and
the voting stations. 

The Belgrade group had on-the-job training in the anti-Milosevich student
movement, Otpor. Catchy, single-word branding is important. In Georgia last
year, the parallel student movement was Khmara. In Belarus, it was Zubr. In
Ukraine, it is Pora. Otpor also had a potent, simple slogan that appeared
everywhere in Serbia in 2000 - the two words gotov je, meaning "he's
finished", a reference to Milosevich. A logo of a black-and-white clenched
fist completed the masterful marketing. In Ukraine, the equivalent is a
ticking clock, also signaling that the Kuchma regime's days are numbered.
Stickers, spray paint and websites are the young activists' weapons. Irony
and street comedy mocking the regime have been hugely successful in
puncturing public fear and enraging the powerful. If only the Tiananmen
Square activists could have had this kind of support in 1989. 

Saakashvili had traveled from Tbilisi to Belgrade to be tutored in the art
of mass defiance. In Belarus, the US Embassy organized the dispatch of young
opposition leaders to the Baltic, where they had sessions with the Serb
teachers flown from Belgrade. The Americans had organized the overthrow of
Milosevich from neighboring Hungary as Belgrade was a hostile territory. 

Promotion of democracy around the world is a bipartisan US effort; the
Democratic Party's National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Republican
Party's International Republican Institute, the US State Department and
USAID (US Agency for International Development) are the main agencies. They
are all involved in these campaigns and are further helped by the Freedom
House NGO and billionaire George Soros' Open Society Institute. US pollsters
and professional consultants are hired to organize focus groups and use
psephological data to plot strategies. 

In Serbia, when US pollsters Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates found that
the assassinated pro-Western opposition leader, Zoran Djindjic, was hated at
home and had little chance of beating Milosevich in an election, an
anti-Western Vojislav Kostunica was promoted. Djindjic came up later and
handed over Milosevich to the Hague Tribunal. Of course, the US is
determinedly opposed to the International Criminal Court and would deny aid
to those countries who do not sign a bilateral accord providing immunity to
the US. 

It is claimed that officially the US government spent US$41 million to fund
the year-long operation to get rid of Milosevich from October 1999. In
Ukraine, the figure is said to be about $14 million so far. 

While there are reputed outside election monitors from groups such as the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Ukrainian elections
and elsewhere involved thousands of local election monitors trained and paid
by Western groups. Reportedly, Freedom House and the NDI helped fund and
organize the "largest civil regional election monitoring effort" in Ukraine,
involving more than 1,000 trained observers. They also organized exit polls.
On Sunday night those polls gave Yushchenko an 11-point lead and set the
agenda for much of what has followed. 

The exit polls are important because they help seize the initiative in the
propaganda war with the regime, invariably appearing first, receiving wide
media coverage and putting the onus on the attacked regime to respond. And
how to react when the incumbent regime tries to steal a lost election. The
advice was to stay calm and cool but organize mass displays of civil
disobedience, which must remain peaceful but could invite violent

The US has now adapted and perfected the latest communication techniques to
apply to post-Soviet states to bring about desirable changes. "Instruments
of democracy" are used to topple unpopular dictators or unfriendly regimes,
once a successor candidate friendly to the West has been groomed. The
Central Intelligence Agency-sponsored Third World uprisings of the Cold War
days to remove prime minister Mohammed Mossadaq of Iran, who had
nationalized its oil resources, and of Salvador Allende of Chile, which
brought US favorite General Augusto Pinochet to power, a man whose crimes
are still being catalogued and looked into, are now passe. 

That is the promotion of democracy, US style. Who is next in line? 

K Gajendra Singh served as Indian ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan from
1992-96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Jordan (during the
1990-91 Gulf War), Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the
Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies and editorial adviser with global
geopolitics website Eurasia Research Center, USA. E-mail

(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact
us for information on sales, syndication and republishing.)

                                   Serbian News Network - SNN

                                        [EMAIL PROTECTED]


Reply via email to