Friday, July 23, 2010

Security: Color revolutions turn to black

Source: International Relations and Security Network (ISN)

By John CK Daly for ISN Security Watch

The post-Soviet citizenry has grown tired of empty promises, and if Washington is to fulfill its self-proclaimed destiny to lead them towards a democratic, capitalist future, it must seriously ponder its policies, John CK Daly writes for ISN Security Watch.

With Washington enmeshed in the dolorous legacies of the Bush administration’s dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Beltway nevertheless continues to operate on the assumption that American leadership is not only wanted but craved throughout the world, most notably in the debris field left by the collapse of the USSR in December 1991, when 15 new nations emerged from the implosion of the Soviet Union.

In truth, the unraveling of the USSR had begun several years earlier, as Eastern Europe began to liberate itself from the socialist systems imposed by the westward sweep of the Red Army in the closing days of World War II.

Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and the three Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania made haste to incorporate themselves into western structures, from the EU to NATO. For the remaining 12 constituent republics of the former USSR, having been chained for three generations to Lenin’s socialist experiment, the road to global integration was to prove far stonier and is a process still incomplete.

The West, led by the US, exploited the hopes of the long suffering Soviet peoples for a better future in every way possible, which culminated in the ‘color revolutions’ of 2003-2005 in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

Nearly two decades after the fall of the USSR and a half-decade later of ‘freedom,’ two of these three revolutions have seen western goals thwarted, as both Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan have rejected those thrown up by the turmoil.

Georgia’s color revolution is turning increasingly grey, as Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili continues to antagonize his increasingly assertive neighbor. While the reasons for this turn of events is obvious to thoughtful analysts, their impact remains muted in Washington. The implications of this myopia are ominous for the residents of the post-Soviet space, the EU, increasingly dependent on Russian energy imports, and the ultimate success of the US-led effort in Afghanistan.

The symbolism of the Obama administration’s total lack of awareness of the historical underpinnings of the post-Soviet space’s turning away from western examples is epitomized in its photo op with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presenting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a ‘reset’ button, misspelling the Russian for ‘reset,’ ‘perezagruzka’ as ‘peregruzka,’ meaning ‘overload’ or ‘overcharged.’

As recent events in Kyrgyzstan have shown, the post Soviet citizenry has grown tired of empty promises, and if Washington is to fulfill its self proclaimed destiny to lead them towards a democratic, capitalist future, it is going to have seriously to ponder its policies up to now.


Georgia’s November 2003 Rose Revolution, which brought Saakashvili to power, was the first of the so-called color revolutions. As would later occur in Kyrgyzstan, American NGOs helped fund the opposition to then-president Eduard Shevardnadze, ironically one of Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev’s chief aides in ending the Cold War.

A Georgian parliamentarian subsequently put the amount of US NGO assistance at $42 million, while billionaire George Soros, speaking in Georgia in 2005, said: “I'm very pleased and proud of the work of the foundation in preparing Georgian society for what became a Rose Revolution, but the role of the foundation and my personal role has been greatly exaggerated.”

Saakashvili has strongly promoted a free market economy, but what has been most crucial in underpinning his US support has been the hosting of a portion of the $3 billion, 1,042-mile one million-barrel-per-day Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. His presidency has been criticized for authoritarian tendencies, but is perhaps most marked by the five-day August 2008 Russo-Georgian war, which saw south Ossetia and Abkhazia slip from Tbilisi’s control.

Saakashvili nevertheless has advice for President Barack Obama; during a recent interview in Time magazine he advised the president not to be seduced by the prospect of improved relations with Moscow, stating, “It's not just about abandoning your ally Georgia. No, Russia is asking the U.S. to give back the Soviet sphere of influence.”


Ukraine has long had reason to be skeptical of Washington’s promises. On 1 August 1991, four months before the USSR ended, then-president George HW Bush told a session of Ukraine's Supreme Soviet in Kiev that Americans “will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism.”

Seventeen years later at a NATO summit in Bucharest, his son, president George W Bush, subjected NATO members to pressure to fast track a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Ukraine and Georgia to join the alliance. Bush’s maladroit attempts to strong-arm NATO infuriated Moscow while delivering nothing tangible to Ukraine, tarring president Viktor Yushchenko and his government as US stooges, while convincing the Kremlin that Washington's master design was to encircle Russia with a string of military bases.

The ‘Orange Revolution’ of November 2004 - January 2005 followed a contested presidential election that saw the overthrow of the Soviet-era government of Leonid Kuchma and his handpicked successor, Viktor Yanukovych, in favor of Viktor Yushchenko.

The pro-western Yushchenko, despite his strong record as an economist, squandered his political goodwill by failing to reform Ukraine’s economy, ultimately forcing it to accept billions of dollars in IMF aid with stringent conditions attached, of which some was withheld because Yushchenko’s administration failed to implement economic reforms.

In January 2010 presidential elections, Yushchenko polled 5.45 percent of the votes and in a runoff was replaced by the man he displaced, Yanokovych, a man far more inclined towards a realistic relationship with Russia.


Despite America’s verbal commitment to Kyrgyz democracy, in reality Washington’s sole interest in the country since 9/11 has been its airbase at Manas.

Following popular demonstrations in March 2005 that drove president Askar Akayev into exile in the ‘Tulip Revolution,’ Kurmanbek Bakiyev became acting president. Kyrgyz saw America’s hand in destabilizing the Akayev regime, as in 2004 American NGOs began funding the opposition. Following Akayev’s flight, in Bishkek, Freedom House project director Mike Stone said simply: “Mission accomplished.”

Manas continued to preoccupy Washington to the exclusion of all else until April’s unrest, with paltry sums being assigned to the country for anything beyond the airbase. US foreign direct investment (FDI) in Kyrgyzstan in 2007 was $13 million, or about 3 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s total FDI. For the first nine months of 2008, US FDI was only $3.5 million, less than 1 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s total FDI that year. This year’s rent for Manas - $67 million.


America’s intentions notwithstanding, the Obama administration remains mired in two seemingly endless wars as Islamist radicalism flourishes worldwide and the global economy remains in deep recession even as America’s national debt has soared to $13 trillion.

The Obama administration has had to deal with the post-9/11 legacy of the administration of George W Bush, who proclaimed dual global wars - one against terrorism, the other for ‘democracy’ under the delusion that the twin campaigns would produce global crowds celebrating American altruism, even as Washington promoted US geopolitical and economic interests. If a single factor ultimately undercut the success of the Bush jihad in the post-soviet space, it was summed up by Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist James Carville: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Nineteen years after the collapse of communism, the vast majority of former Soviet citizens are not better off, and their dissatisfaction has registered both at the polls in the case of Ukraine and in the streets further east in Kyrgyzstan.

A ‘perezagruzka’ is indeed needed, but in Washington. If Washington is sincere about promoting democracy and capitalism in the post-soviet space as an antidote to resurgent Russian influence, then it is going to have to roll up its sleeves and engage in some civil institution building as well as send significant aid that improves the life of the average Ivan Ivanovich rather than seeing the region through the twin prisms of exploitable cheap energy reserves and military access.

As Kiev’s January elections proved, Washington’s rhetoric after nearly two decades has grown threadbare, and at least the Russians are a known quantity bereft of bleating platitudes about the marvelous benefits of democracy and the free market.

Dr John CK Daly is a non-resident Fellow at John Hopkins Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington, DC.