Thursday, December 09, 2004

Europe's Ukraine III: Who Supports Yushchenko? - Leftist Fantasies and German Realities

One of the most preposterous stories coming out of the present Ukraine crisis is that being peddled by Guardian reporters Ian Traynor and Jonathan Steele to the effect that the US has organized and financed Viktor Yushchenko’s “orange revolution”. “Yushchenko got the US nod, and money flooded in to his supporters” runs the sub-title to Steele’s November 26 piece on “Ukraine’s postmodern coup d’etat”. “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev” runs the more blunt-edged title of the accompanying piece by Traynor. The Guardian articles represent a novel sort of “journalism” made up almost entirely of innuendo, conflation, and unsourced assertion: in the style of certain fashionable academic "theories" regarding supposed American "Empire", they “tell a story” but make virtually no effort to substantiate it. Thus, the Traynor piece, for instance, identifies a series of American political organizations, government agencies and NGOs as the sources of the supposed “campaign”: “The Democratic party's National Democratic Institute, the Republican party's International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid…, as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros's open society institute.” If there is any highly deformed kernel of truth to be found in this, it consists of the fact that Freedom House along with the Democratic NDI and the Republican IRI co-sponsored an election monitoring mission by the European Network of Election Monitoring (ENEMO) that found the conduct of the November 21 poll wanting. (See the Freedom House press release here.) The inclusion of the US state department and USAid in the alleged conspiracy, on the other hand, seems to be based on nothing at all. Whereas, moreover, Soros’s Open Society Institute is undoubtedly active in Ukraine, to present it as somehow an agent of the US government just weeks after an openly declared and highly publicized Soros-bankrolled campaign to topple that same government came to naught is a nice piece of work – especially coming from the Guardian, which just as openly made common cause with Soros against the Bush administration. With impressive exactitude, the Traynor article also puts a number on the amount of money the US government is supposed to have spent to defeat Leonid Kuchma’s chosen successor Viktor Yanukovich. “[T]he figure is said to be about $14 million,” Traynor writes. He does not bother to tell us by whom it is said to be this.

But the Traynor/Steele “scoop” is not only notable for its utter lack of factual basis. It also is distinguished by its glaring implausibility. Why in the world would a US government whose most important geostrategic issue of the moment is quite obviously the stabilization of Iraq attempt to oust a Ukrainian government which has provided the sixth largest troop contingent to the coalition forces, numbering at last count some 1400 troops, in favor of a candidate who has promised, Zapatero-style, to withdraw Ukrainian troops immediately upon taking office? (Note that some reports suggest that Yanukovich too has pledged to withdraw Ukrainian troops from Iraq. But, firstly, it is the opposition, not the Ukrainian government, which has sought to make troop withdrawal into a campaign issue – indeed just last Friday it forced a vote in the Ukrainian parliament on the matter – and, secondly, a closer inspection of the official government position reveals it to be essentially indistinguishable from that of the US government, i.e. that foreign troops should be replaced by Iraqi troops as the latter become ready.) Traynor, however, has a solution for this seeming riddle. According to the ultra-devious American playbook for democratic regime change, “The usually fractious oppositions have to be united behind a single candidate if there is to be any chance of unseating the regime. That leader is selected on pragmatic and objective grounds, even if he or she is anti-American.” Aha! Most excellent “pragmatism” that. In the imaginary world of the fevered “left”, American “Empire” is so powerful that even what is bad for America is good for America!

Rehearsing his fantasy of US sponsorship of the “orange revolution” in the pages of the Nation, Jonathan Steele concludes by bemoaning what he sees as a lack of EU involvement in the matter. “The European Union,” he writes, “has been weak and divided, missing the chance to exert a strong European line in the face of US strategic meddling. It should give Ukraine the option of future membership rather than the feeble ‘action plan’ of cooperation currently on offer. Adapting its legislation and practice to EU norms would set Ukraine on a surer path to irreversible reform than anything that either Yushchenko or Yanukovich would do. The EU should also make a public statement that it sees no value in NATO membership for Ukraine, and those EU members who belong to NATO will not support it. At a stroke this would calm Russia's legitimate fears and send a signal to Washington not to go on inflaming a purely European issue.” Ah: so European “inflaming” of the issue would be all right then.

But Jonathan need not be so sad. If he devoted as much attention to the Europe that he loves as he does to the America he despises, he might have noticed that certain Europeans have been very active indeed strategically meddling and “inflaming” in Ukraine. Citing an October 25th report from the Center for Applied Politics, a Munich-based think-tank with close ties to Germany’s ruling “red-green” coalition, a November 24 article on [link in German] notes:

The Social Democratic Party’s Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation (FES) and the Center for Applied Politics (CAP) have been seeking to influence the Ukrainian electoral campaign already since December 2003. As the CAP puts it, the activity of the supposed election observers went “beyond election observation” and was also concerned with the “interfaces between the elections and the [political] transformation”. The aims of the “election observers” likewise included developing “political recommendations for successful and effective reform”, the CAP explains. The “commitment of the candidates to a ‘European option’” is found among the observation criteria [enumerated by the CAP]....

Note that the “election observers” here in question consisted of a group of ten German and Ukrainian “experts” put in place by the CAP and the Kiev office of the FES (in December 2003). It might also be of interest in this connection that the FES disposes of an annual budget of over 100 million euros, largely consisting of subsidies from the German federal government and German regional governments. For comparison’s sake, this is more than twice the annual budget of the federally-financed US National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The FES, moreover, is only one of several party-based and publicly-funded German foundations that are active around the world.

The November 24 article from continues:

In light of the successful mobilization for the planned upheaval, Berlin has been increasing its interference in Ukraine. According to the foreign policy spokesperson of the SPD [Gernot Erler], the German Bundestag will hold a debate this Wednesday on the Ukrainian election and call on the parliament in Kiev “to accept the real election result”. Without offering a single piece of evidence for the victory of Berlin’s favorite, on Tuesday the SPD- spokesperson decreed that Yushchenko “is the elected President”.

It is also of some relevance that the head of the OSCE Election Observer Mission in Ukraine is the German diplomat Geert-Hinrich Ahrens. (Interestingly, the head of the OSCE Observer Mission in the US just weeks before the Ukrainian election was also a German: the former President of the German Bundestag and CDU politician Rita Süssmuth.) Throughout the 1990s, apart from a three year interlude from 1996-99 during which he served as German Ambassador to Colombia, Ahrens was a pivotal figure in the implementation of German and European policy in the former Yugoslavia. This past Monday, the CAP and the FES co-sponsored a colloquium in Berlin with the title “The Ukrainian Presidential Elections – Pointing toward Transformation?” The proceedings included a greeting from SPD foreign policy spokesperson Gernot Erler, as well as presentations by CAP and FES experts and invited Ukrainian colleagues. The morning session on the conduct and implications of the presidential elections featured a moderator of a certain distinction: Geert-Hinrich Ahrens.