Throughout the 1990s, in Ukraine, the US and European Union supported corrupt and authoritarian presidents, who promised to open the economy to western investments, surrender the Ukrainian share of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, and cooperate in the NATO strategy of eliminating Russian influence in the other former Soviet republics. But the west was far from generous. The EU and USA demanded greater and greater access to Ukrainian markets, and the privatisation of key enterprises. But Ukrainian access to EU markets - and any long-term perspective of membership in the European club - was repeatedly rejected by Brussels.
After 1999, Ukraine’s leaders began to loose interest in their unequal relationship with the West, and increasingly preferred a regional integration with other CIS countries. This coincided with the growing self-confidence of the Russian elite under Putin, which also began to put pressure on the western multinationals and local oligarchs who had seized large parts of the economy, and obtained grossly unfair contracts from the weak and corrupt Yeltsin government.
In 2000, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma agreed to create a Common Economic Space with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The flow of a pipeline built to carry non-Russian crude oil from the Ukrainian black sea port of Odessa to western Europe was reversed, enabling a better regional integration of energy resources - and thwarting the long-term American-EU goal of reducing Russia’s dominant position on EU oil and gas markets. And having been snubbed by NATO at the 1999 summit which marked the western military alliance’s expansion into other East European countries, Ukraine’s leaders announced that the country would seek a neutral position, and re-opened discussions on military training and arms industry cooperation with Russia.
Kuchma had gone too far. The same westerners who had tolerated - and financed - his corrupt antics in the 1990s abandoned him, and began the search for a more compliant leader, who would be dependent on western investors and financiers, not on the Ukraino-Russian industrial and energy magnates who gave Kuchma his independence.
Here comes the CIA
Foreign ‘aid’ to Ukraine increased significantly, with the European Commission, USA and Canada as the three most important players. EU aid almost doubled between 1998 and 1992.
All three donors increased the share of their aid allocated to programmes to promote political changes in Ukraine.
The liberal wing of this offensive was led by US billionaire George Soros who controls a network of private foundations across Eastern Europe. Strongly opposed to the aggressive and short-term shape of American foreign policy under Bush and Cheney, Soros has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to create a new generation of westernised liberals in the post-communist countries, in the hope that internal actors will gradually promote pro-western policies, privatisation and membership of the EU and NATO, and avoid any direct confrontation with either Russia or the USA. European initiatives, such as the EC’s European Initiative for Human Rights and Democracy (EIDHR) have followed similar goals.
The more ugly face of the western offensive was provided by the National Endowment for Democracy, which channels State Department funds to the international agencies of the US Republican and Democratic Parties, US Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO labour unions. The NED is the continuation of many former CIA activities, which in the post cold-war period can be carried out more effectively through ‘independent’ foundations and NGOs, rather than by secret means. While there is some overlap with the ‘soft’ democracy building of Soros and the European agencies, NED operations have often focused on the direct support of right-wing election campaigns, or subsidies to political NGOs that directly lobby for western interests in the region.
The division of labour in Ukraine closely followed the five-point programme used to successfully overthrow authoritarian and (for the west) unfriendly leaders like Vladimir Meciar in Slovakia (1998), Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia (2000) and Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia (2003), or the (so far) unsuccessful attempts to undermine Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
1. Western foundations and Embassies bully the divided opposition into unity around a single candidate. He doesn’t have to be the most pro-western (in 2001 the west’s preferred candidate in Belarus was a trade union leader, Vladimir Goncharik). But he should be ‘willing to accept western advice.’ In Ukraine, the western powers struggled to unite a very disparate group, which divided into two main camps. The national patriotic (ultra-nationalist, authoritarian) camp based on upper and middle-class groups who’s position depended on trade with western countries, or on control of the state apparatus, wanted to use the state to strengthen Ukrainian capitalists, reduce all forms of Russian influence, and place Ukraine firmly under EU and NATO leadership. This group had widespread support from Ukrainian-speakers, who are a majority in the west of the country. A second group of opposition leaders, linked to those industrialists who wanted good relations with Russia and with the west, and would prefer less state intervention in the economy, had some support among liberal youth in the capital and the major cities. They finally settled on Viktor Yuschenko, a former Central Banker.
2. Promote ‘independent’ (that is, pro-opposition) media. A television station is essential to spread opposition propaganda to the masses, plus several newspapers and magazines for the training and mobilisation of the cadres of the new movement. Since Ukraine, like Russia, contains a number of billionaires and millionaires who seized control of state resources when the Soviet Union collapsed, it was easy to find, or buy ‘independent’ media.
3. Use compliant NGOs to define “election issues” that fit the agenda of the opposition and their foreign backers. Create an illusion of popular mobilisation around these issues, and try to provoke a negative reaction from the regime.
4. Pay for election polls and ‘experts’ to suggest that the elections will be manipulated by the regime, and flood the country with pro-opposition election monitors. Any close result can then be declared as a clear opposition victory. Canada sent hundreds of Yuschenko supporters, including many Ukrainian-Canadians as election monitors, and to contribute to the bubble of pro-western hysteria in Kiev.
5. Create a western-financed youth movement that can mobilise the population and provide an element of democratic and ‘revolutionary’ legitimation. Since the mid-90s, the Americans have refined a training programme for non-violent campaigning and protest to overthrow authoritarian rulers, based on the writings of Gene Sharp (The International Republican Institute and other US agencies have translated Sharp’s key essay “From Dictatorship to Democracy: A conceptual framework for liberation” into the languages of most countries where the US seeks regime change).
Che Guevara in Ukrainian national dress
In Ukraine, it was easy to mobilise frustrated middle class youth in Kiev and the Ukrainian-speaking west. Although their living standards were rising, they knew that more western investment and integration with the European Union would create more opportunities, and reduce competition from their Russian-speaking counterparts. They were also tired of Kuchma’s corruption, and offended by his attempts to balance between the symbols and traditions of Ukrainian and Russian nationalism. The ‘Orange Revolution’ (as the election campaign of the pro-western candidate became called) gave them the impression they were participating in a great historical moment, similar to the fall of communism (which most of them were too young to have participated in). Liberals believed they were completing the overthrow of Soviet habits and corruption, Ultra-nationalists believed that they were consolidating the Ukrainian nature of the society. As in the other countries, the victory of the pro-western candidate was seen as guaranteeing a ‘European’ future, rather than an “Asiatic” connection to Russia.
The pro-western opposition was so broad that they could not find common symbols for their protest. In the Russian-speaking East, they encouraged youth to ‘rebel’ against local, pro-Russian elites using a range of modernist logos including Che Guevara in Ukrainian national dress. In the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country, Che was replaced on T-shirts and posters by Stepan Bandara, leader of the Ukrainian nationalists who allied with Nazi Germany to exterminate Ukraine’s Bolsheviks and Jews during the Second World War. The polarisation of the pro-western youth movement into ultra-nationalist and liberal wings was contained - at least until the election, by huge amounts of US and Canadian money, which convinced the far right and nationalist groups that their best interest was to remain in coalition with Yuschenko’s liberals.
The result of this five-point strategy was a victory for Yuschenko’s ‘Orange Revolution’ in December 2004. But three years later, the results of ‘regime change’ are mixed. The ‘Orange’ government has been divided between authoritarian and liberal currents, and has not dared to impose NATO membership, which is strongly opposed by the population. In fact, Yuschenko was forced to honour the previous regime’s commitment to withdraw Ukrainian troops from Iraq. Advisors from the World Bank have told them to accept the corrupt, ‘mafia-style’ privatisations of the Kuchma period, rather than call into question private property rights. And the European Union is still refusing Ukrainian membership.
Many of Ukraine’s youth revolutionaries have become disillusioned. Others are continuing the fight as consultants on the current US subversion campaigns against Belarus, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and Burma. And some have distanced themselves from their foreign backers, and tried to find a more authentic way to enter the national political process. Or to export some of their protest techniques to the opposition in pro-American regimes in the region, like Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan...