Ukraine: The Clockwork Orange Revolution
“Well, I think any election [in Ukraine], if there is one, ought to be free from any foreign influence.” (President Bush, White House, 2 December 2004)
The elections in Ukraine last autumn were almost universally portrayed in our media as a David and Goliath contest between the new, squeaky clean, people’s champion, Viktor Yushchenko, and the corrupt state apparatus backed by Moscow, which was a relic of the Soviet era. Happily, so the story goes, the people’s champion prevailed, and democracy has finally come to Ukraine, and brought joy to George Bush’s heart. The story bears only a passing resemblance to reality.
Few journalists challenged that view, and those who did, for example, Jonathan Steele of the Guardian in an article entitled Ukraine's postmodern coup d'etat on 26 November 2004, came in for dog’s abuse.
Another proponent of an alternative view has been John Laughland, who writes for the Spectator and the Guardian, and is associated with the British Helsinki Human Rights Group.
(The Group takes its name from the Helsinki Agreement of 1975, whereby the states in Europe, and the US and Canada, agreed that the then frontiers in Europe should stand. The Agreement was the product of what was called the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which acquired a permanent secretariat in 1992 and became the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).)
According to the Group’s website, http://www.oscewatch.org/, “its purpose is educational - to provide original research information to a broad range of people interested in human rights issues in the OSCE area” and “it does not receive funding from any government”. Certainly, there is a lot of interesting information on the Group’s website about the states that have emerged from the Soviet bloc and Yugoslavia, information which is sadly lacking in our media. Generally speaking, the latter present the break up of the Soviet bloc and of Yugoslavia as a triumph of democracy over tyranny with barely a mention of the economic misery into which large swathes of the population were catapulted, while a few people became filthy rich by acquiring state assets for a pittance.
The Group had monitors on the ground in the Ukraine last autumn, and provided a continuous commentary on its website on the presidential electoral processes there. These involved a first round on 31 October, in which 24 candidates stood, and the then Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich narrowly beat Viktor Yushchenko (by 40.1% to 39.2%), and a run off second round on 21 November between Yanukovich and Yushchenko, in which, according to the Central Election Commission, Yanukovich again beat Yushchenko (by 49.5% to 46.6%). However, this was overturned by the Supreme Court after accusations of widespread electoral fraud, and a re-run was ordered, which took place on 26 December. This time a new Central Election Commission declared Yushchenko the winner (by 52.0% to 44.2%), and he was inaugurated on 23 January as the successor to Leonid Kuchma as the President of Ukraine.
The Group has now produced a report entitled Ukraine's Clockwork Orange Revolution. It is well worth reading. The following are a few of the points it makes.
Yushchenko became the West’s favourite despite the fact that he was as much part of the old guard as his rival Yanukovich. Yushchenko himself was Prime Minister from December 1999 until April 2001, when he was voted out of office by the Ukrainian parliament.
He began his career in the agricultural division of the Soviet state banking system, Gosbank. In 1989, he became Deputy Chairman of the Ukrainian division of the Agro-Industrial Bank (Agroprombank), which after independence became the independent Bank Ukraina. If he didn’t enrich himself at that point when he had the chance, he showed unique self-restraint.
Since his election, he has appointed Yulia Tymoshenko, a prominent ally in his Our Ukraine movement, as Prime Minister. She is a billionaire with vast interests in gas distribution: it is unlikely that she acquired this in a few years merely by hard work. She is wanted in Moscow under an Interpol warrant for, allegedly, bribing and blackmailing energy executives.
So the notion that Yushchenko and his associates are clean, in contrast to his opponent, is simply unsustainable.
One fact about Yushchenko has received very little attention in our media, namely, that he is married to a US citizen of Ukrainian descent, who worked for the Reagan administration. Her name is Yekaterina Chumachenko. In the 1980s, she worked as assistant to the US Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, then in different capacities in the White House Office of Public Affairs and the Department of the Treasury. From 1994-99 she was head of the Ukrainian representation at Barents Group LLC, which acted as a consultant to the National Bank of Ukraine, when Yushchenko was chairman. It was at this time that she met Yushchenko. Conceivably, this may have something to do with him being selected by the US as the candidate to support, despite his questionable past.
The most bizarre incident that occurred during the election campaign was Yushchenko’s allegation that he had been poisoned by dioxin-related substances, which left his face pock marked and disfigured. This, he claimed, took place in September during a meeting with Colonel General Ihor Smeshko, head of the Ukrainian security services, a meeting to which he had gone voluntarily and with the foreknowledge of his aides. This was presented in the West as the ultimate example of the Ukrainian state apparatus acting on behalf of his opponent. But the story doesn’t stand up: it makes no sense for the security services to poison him at a time when he was known to be in their company. In any case, if they wanted rid of him, why didn’t they employ some more reliable means, like putting a bullet in his head?
An alternative explanation for Yushchenko’s condition is offered by Chad Nagle in an article for Counterpunch entitled Booze, Salo and Mare's Milk... Did Yushchenko Poison Himself? . He claims that his medical records show that over the past ten years he has had a variety of intestinal problems, which were severely aggravated by booze at his meeting with Colonel Smeshko last September, and that he invented the poisoning allegation to cover up his serious health problems, lest the public revelation of them lessen his chances of election. Nagle also claims that, back in September last year, the clinic that treated Yushchenko (Rudolfinerhaus Clinic in Vienna, Austria, which now publicly supports the dioxin story) described the poison rumours as "fallacious" and diagnosed Yushchenko with “severe pancreatitis, severe intestinal ulcers, gastritis, proctitis, peripheral paresis and a viral skin condition”.
The Western media gave the impression that there was a clear distinction between Yushchenko and Yanukovich on Ukraine’s strategic orientation, that the former saw its future in the EU, while the latter was wedded to a close and enduring alliance with Russia. But, according to BHHRG, no such clear distinction was evident in the electoral campaign in Ukraine.
Furthermore, the impression was given that Yushchenko stood for “economic reform”, which is the normal code word for free market economics, including privatisation of state assets. In fact, formally at least, there was very little difference between their economic programmes: Yushchenko fought on a rather populist platform promising more jobs, an increase in pensions and wages and an improved infrastructure for the country.
Yushchenko also undertook to withdraw Ukrainian troops from Iraq, if elected. Numbering 1,650, they are the sixth largest national contingent there (17 of them have been killed). And it now looks as if the withdrawal is actually going to happen: the BBC reported on 2 March that Yushchenko has announced a schedule for their departure beginning this month and ending in October. They serve under Polish command and Polish troops are also due to be withdrawn sometime this year.
Money from America
Another impression given by Western media was that Yanukovich had a near monopoly in the domestic media, even though it is almost all privately owned, a significant amount by allies of Yushchenko. According to the BHHRG, this was a gross exaggeration, and in the third election the opposite was the case – Yushchenko had a near monopoly.
Western media portrayed Yanukovich as Vladimir Putin’s man and implied that he received lots of assistance, including finance, from Russia. The BHHRG is of the opinion that although Yanukovich got the nod from Putin, he got very little else. One thing is certain: he got nowhere like the assistance that Yushchenko got from the West, including from the US taxpayer, through monies donated to local NGOs which supported his campaign. The total amount will never be known, but it probably runs into tens of millions of US dollars.
Money from the West funded the exit polls after the second election, which, by purporting to show that Yushchenko had won by a distance, were the trigger for the agitation which eventually led to the re-run of the election and Yushchenko’s final victory. President Clinton’s favourite pollster, Dick Morris, boasted after the event that he had provided advice on how to conduct the exit polls (Washington Post, 2 January 2005).
Foreign money funded the supposedly spontaneous “tent city” in Kiev, complete with concert stage and plasma screens, and paid for the rock bands to entertain the crowds. According to the BHHRG who had a representative on the spot throughout, the crowds were a fraction of the size – hundreds of thousands – reported in the Western media.
Ron Paul is a maverick Republican member of the US House of Representatives from Texas, and a member of the House International Relations Committee, with a particular interest in how US tax dollars are spent, since he believes in no, or at least very low, taxes. He told the Committee on 7 December 2004:
“We do not know exactly how many millions - or tens of millions - of dollars the United States government spent on the presidential election in Ukraine. We do know that much of that money was targeted to assist one particular candidate, and that through a series of cut-out non-governmental organizations (NGOs) - both American and Ukrainian - millions of dollars ended up in support of the presidential candidate, Viktor Yushchenko.”
He went on to give specific examples of US tax dollars funding NGOs in the Ukraine that supported Yushchenko.
Needless to say, the US doesn’t allow this kind of foreign interference in its own elections – foreign funding of domestic elections is illegal in the US.
Clearly, when President Bush asserted that any election in Ukraine “ought to be free from any foreign influence”, he didn’t mean American influence.
This reminds me of a remark by Paul Wolfowitz a few months after the US invaded Iraq:
“I think all foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq. Those who want to come and help are welcome. Those who come to interfere and destroy are not.” (New York Times, 22 July 2003)
Obviously, Americans aren’t foreigners, no matter where they are in the world.
Second election fraudulent?
But was the second election on 21 November fraudulent? Was Yushchenko cheated out of a victory, as the exit polls seemed to indicate? It’s impossible to say for certain, but it is certainly not unknown for exit polls to be wrong, even those carried out by impartial and expert polling organisations. They were wrong in Ohio last November: had they been accepted as definitive on that occasion, John Kerry, and not George Bush, would now be President of the US. Overall, President Bush prevailed by 3 million votes in the official, tallied vote count, even though exit polls had projected a margin of victory of 5 million votes for Kerry.
Two exit polls were done in the Ukraine, giving quite different results. In its report, the BHHRG casts some doubt on the expertise with which one of them was carried out.
But wasn’t there widespread evidence of fraud, and didn’t the Supreme Court accept this evidence as compelling in ruling that the election be re-run? Well, no. The BHHRG report reproduces the Supreme Court ruling. It doesn’t mention fraud, but focuses on procedural violations, including violations that occurred in the pre-election period, for instance, in the drawing up of the election lists, composition of the election commissions, absentee voting and the media campaign.
Different electoral rules
But didn’t the fact that Yushchenko won the re-run on 26 December prove that the election on 21 November was fraudulent? Again, no. The momentum was clearly with Yushchenko once the election of 21 November was declared invalid. Furthermore, before the re-run on 26 December, the electoral rules were changed and so was the composition of the Central Election Commission.
On 7 December, in response to the outcry about the alleged misuse of absentee voting, parliament announced a package of reforms that amended the election law to limit absentee and home voting, which was restricted to ‘Group 1’ invalids and thereby excluded people infirm due to old age. Strange that none of the supposedly impartial outside observers complained about this disenfranchisement of the elderly, nor about the fact that the next day parliament approved a new Central Election Commission on which Yushchenko’s representatives formed an absolute majority and from which all pro-Yanukovich nominees were excluded.
The true story of the Ukrainian presidential elections is one of mass interference in the affairs of a sovereign nation by Western governments, especially the US. This type of interference began in Serbia in 2000, and was tried unsuccessfully in Belarus the following year. It was successful in Georgia in 2003, and now in Ukraine in 2004.
The notion that the US has a principled commitment to bringing representative government to every state in the world is an absurdity. The US has a principled commitment to bringing to power, and keeping in power, in every state in the world, governments that do its bidding, and it will interfere in any democratic process anywhere, anytime, in order to bring that about, if it serves its purpose to do so.
When he was running for election in 2000, it was possible to imagine that a Bush presidency would bring about a shift in US foreign policy towards less foreign intervention. His criticism of the Clinton era, as expressed by his foreign policy adviser, Condoleeza Rice, was that Clinton had engaged in intervention, which were not justifiable in terms of US national interests. Whatever substance there was to that stance, it disappeared after the events of 9/11: foreign intervention is now on the agenda with a vengeance: even though it was US foreign intervention in the Muslim world which triggered the events of 9/11, the US response has been to interfere a great deal more.
There are very few voices in the US who suggest that a more sensible response would be to interfere much less. One of them is Michael Scheuer, the ex-CIA man who wrote Imperial Hubris: Why the West is losing the War on Terror published last year. Another is the aforementioned Representative Ron Paul, who is a thoroughgoing isolationist and opposed the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Here are the opening lines of a remarkable speech he delivered in the House of Representatives on 26 January 2005:
“America's policy of foreign intervention, while still debated in the early 20th century, is today accepted as conventional wisdom by both political parties. But what if the overall policy is a colossal mistake, a major error in judgment? Not just bad judgment regarding when and where to impose ourselves, but the entire premise that we have a moral right to meddle in the affairs of others?
“Think of the untold harm done by years of fighting - hundreds of thousands of American casualties, hundreds of thousands of foreign civilian casualties, and unbelievable human and economic costs. What if it was all needlessly borne by the American people?
“If we do conclude that grave foreign policy errors have been made, a very serious question must be asked: What would it take to change our policy to one more compatible with a true republic's goal of peace, commerce, and friendship with all nations? Is it not possible that Washington's admonition to avoid entangling alliances is sound advice even today?”
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