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Undermews: America's Role In Ukraine


UnderNews compiled by Editor Sam Smith

[If you want some sense of why major American media are not to be trusted, read these articles on the Ukrainian election that give the back story concealed in most American coverage – Sam Smith]

JONATHAN STEELE, GUARDIAN - Viktor Yushchenko, who claims to have won Sunday's election, served as prime minister under the outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, and some of his backers are also linked to the brutal industrial clans who manipulated Ukraine's post-Soviet privatization.

On some issues Yushchenko may be a better potential president than Yanukovich, but to suggest he would provide a sea-change in Ukrainian politics and economic management is naive. Nor is there much evidence to imagine that, were he the incumbent president facing a severe challenge, he would not have tried to falsify the poll.

Countless elections in the post-Soviet space have been manipulated to a degree which probably reversed the result, usually by unfair use of state television, and sometimes by direct ballot rigging. Boris Yeltsin's constitutional referendum in Russia in 1993 and his re- election in 1996 were early cases. Azerbaijan's presidential vote last year was also highly suspicious.

Yet after none of those polls did the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the main international observer body, or the US and other western governments, make the furious noise they are producing today. The decision to protest appears to depend mainly on realpolitik and whether the challengers or the incumbent are considered more "pro- western" or "pro-market".

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In Ukraine, Yushchenko got the western nod, and floods of money poured in to groups which support him, ranging from the youth organisation, Pora, to various opposition websites. More provocatively, the US and other western embassies paid for exit polls, prompting Russia to do likewise, though apparently to a lesser extent. . .

Intervening in foreign elections, under the guise of an impartial interest in helping civil society, has become the run-up to the postmodern coup d'etat, the CIA- sponsored third world uprising of cold war days adapted to post-Soviet conditions. Instruments of democracy are used selectively to topple unpopular dictators, once a successor candidate or regime has been groomed.

In Ukraine's case this is playing with fire. Not only is the country geographically and culturally divided - a recipe for partition or even civil war - it is also an important neighbor to Russia. Putin has been clumsy, but to accuse Russia of imperialism because it shows close interest in adjoining states and the Russian-speaking minorities who live there is a wild exaggeration.

Ukraine has been turned into a geostrategic matter not by Moscow but by the US, which refuses to abandon its cold war policy of encircling Russia and seeking to pull every former Soviet republic to its side. The EU should have none of this. Many Ukrainians certainly want a more democratic system. Putin is not inherently against this, however authoritarian he is in his own country. What concerns him is instability, the threat of anti-Russian regimes on his borders, and American mischief.

The EU should therefore press for a compromise in Kiev, which might include power-sharing. More importantly, it should give Ukraine the option of future membership rather than the feeble "action plan" of cooperation currently on offer. This would set Ukraine on a surer path to irreversible reform than anything that either Yushchenko or Yanukovich may promise.


PETER SCHWARZ, WORLD SOCIALIST - In the Western media, this struggle for power is portrayed as a conflict between the forces of dictatorship and democracy, between an autocratic regime and a democratic opposition. But a closer examination presents a very different picture. Both Yushchenko and Yanukovich have their roots in the new elite which divided the wealth of the country after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Differences between the two camps are of recent origin.

From 1993 to 1999, Yushchenko was head of the Ukrainian central bank, and from 1999 to April 2001, he was prime minister‹serving in both posts under President Leonid Kuchma, who is now considered to be the power behind Yanukovich. As head of the central bank and prime minister, Yushchenko was one of the most important architects of a policy of economic liberalization and privatization, which has had devastating social effects. With an average monthly income of 65 euros, the Ukraine has one of the poorest populations in Europe, while an infinitesimal layer of nouveau riche has accumulated enormous wealth.

The conflict within the new elite revolves around the question of how best to defend its privileged status‹in a close alliance with Russia, or by a further opening up to Western capitalist interests. President Kuchma, who came to power in1994 and must now step down, carried out a careful balancing act. On the one hand, he strived to establish close cooperation with the European Union and the US. He made several agreements with the European Union aimed, so far unsuccessfully, at gaining admission to NATO, and even sent 1,500 soldiers to support the US occupation in Iraq. On the other hand, he maintained close relations with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

It is no longer possible to maintain this posture. The Ukraine has suddenly become the focal point of intense rivalries between Russia, on the one side, and the US and the European Union, on the other. Both sides intervened in a massive fashion in the election campaign and supported without scruple their respective favourites‹Russia backing Yanukovich and the Western powers supporting Yushchenko. Both sides are pursuing their own economic and geo-political interests.


SABRA AYRES, COX NEWS SERVICE - For the West, there also is a lot at stake in the outcome of the Ukrainian election. The United States has given billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine in the last 13 years, and there are currently more Peace Corps volunteers in Ukraine than anywhere else in the world. Much of the U.S. money went toward dismantling Ukraine's huge arsenal of nuclear weapons under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which was initiated by former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and current Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. The United States placed great hope that Ukraine would be a strategic buffer zone between Europe and Russia.


TELEGRAPH, UK - Ukraine is split, with the western, Europe-leaning regions voting overwhelmingly for Mr Yushchenko while the eastern part of the country - where many speak Russian - backing Mr Yanukovich. Maya Syta, a journalist working at polling station 73 in a Kiev suburb, witnessed ballot papers destroyed with acid poured into a ballot box. "The officials were taking them out of the box and they couldn't understand why they were wet," she said. "Then I saw they started to blacken and disintegrate as if they were burning. Two ballots were wrapped up into a tube with a yellow liquid inside. After a few moments they were completely eaten up.". . .

The most common trick was "carousel" voting, in which busloads of Yanukovich supporters simply drove from one polling station to another casting multiple false absentee ballots. In another brazen fraud recorded by observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, voters were given pens filled with ink that disappeared, leaving ballots unmarked and invalid. . .

In recent years, a resurgent Russia under President Vladimir Putin has sought to reassert control over Kiev. Ukraine is an important pipeline route for Russian oil and gas, and a friendly regime will not impose high transit fees. The country's Black Sea port of Sevastopol is also home to Russia's southern naval fleet, offering easy access to the Mediterranean. Moscow is pushing for the creation of a "joint economic space" in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine - a project that Mr Yushchenko has said would dilute the country's sovereignty. . .

Western countries such as Britain and the United States support Mr Yushchenko - who promises a turn towards Europe and pursuit of Nato membership. His supporters have been wooed with millions of dollars from the United States.


IAN TRAYNOR, GUARDIAN, UK - Ukraine, traditionally passive in its politics, has been mobilised by the young democracy activists and will never be the same again. But while the gains of the orange-bedecked "chestnut revolution" are Ukraine's, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavoury regimes.

Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box. . .

The operation - engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience - is now so slick that the methods have matured into a template for winning other people's elections. In the centre of Belgrade, there is a dingy office staffed by computer-literate youngsters who call themselves the Centre for Non-violent Resistance. If you want to know how to beat a regime that controls the mass media, the judges, the courts, the security apparatus and the voting stations, the young Belgrade activists are for hire. . .

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. . .

The Democratic party's National Democratic Institute, the Republican party's International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros's open society institute. US pollsters and professional consultants are hired to organise focus groups . . . 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. . .

Officially, the US government spent $41m (£21.7m) organising and funding the year-long operation to get rid of Milosevic from October 1999. In Ukraine, the figure is said to be around $14m. . .

Freedom House and the Democratic party's NDI helped fund and organise the "largest civil regional election monitoring effort" in Ukraine, involving more than 1,000 trained observers. They also organised exit polls. On Sunday night those polls gave Mr Yushchenko an 11-point lead and set the agenda for much of what has followed. The exit polls are seen as critical because they seize the initiative in the propaganda battle with the regime, invariably appearing first, receiving wide media coverage and putting the onus on the authorities to respond.

JOHN LAUGHLAND, GUARDIAN - The western media's view of Ukraine's election is hopelessly biased. There was a time when the left was in favor of revolution, while the right stood unambiguously for the authority of the state. Not any more. This week both the anti-war Independent and the pro-war Telegraph excitedly announced a "revolution" in Ukraine. Across the pond, the rightwing Washington Times welcomed "the people versus the power".

Whether it is Albania in 1997, Serbia in 2000, Georgia last November or Ukraine now, our media regularly peddle the same fairy tale about how youthful demonstrators manage to bring down an authoritarian regime, simply by attending a rock concert in a central square. Two million anti-war demonstrators can stream though the streets of London and be politically ignored, but a few tens of thousands in central Kiev are proclaimed to be "the people", while the Ukrainian police, courts and governmental institutions are discounted as instruments of oppression. The western imagination is now so gripped by its own mythology of popular revolution that we have become dangerously tolerant of blatant double standards in media reporting.

Enormous rallies have been held in Kiev in support of the prime minister, Viktor Yanukovich, but they are not shown on our TV screens: if their existence is admitted, Yanukovich supporters are denigrated as having been "bussed in'" The demonstrations in favour of Viktor Yushchenko have laser lights, plasma screens, sophisticated sound systems, rock concerts, tents to camp in and huge quantities of orange clothing; yet we happily dupe ourselves that they are spontaneous...."



NOV 29, 2004

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