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Espionage and the Orange Revolution
January 17, 2005 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Espionage and the Orange Revolution -or- How Ukranian spies prevented a crackdown on protestors in Kiev. (NY Times)
posted by Tullius (12 comments total)

Smeshko looks like a hero to me.
posted by caddis at 9:08 AM on January 17, 2005

What a fascinating article. It makes you think that support for democracy is more likely to spread throughout the population if its perceived to be home grown-- these intelligence officers see their wives and children join the protests, and their views on things change. Looks like they were just genuinely frustrated with corruption and didn't want to see an election stolen. Might've been different if they viewed the democracy as imposed from elsewhere.

This might not be the final version of history, though, as this story seems to use a lot of sources close to the intelligence agency.
posted by ibmcginty at 9:10 AM on January 17, 2005

Man, we sure could use an Orange revolution for democracy and a sympathetic intelligence agency in the USA!
[hangs head in despair]
posted by nofundy at 9:22 AM on January 17, 2005

nofundy, from the NYT article it looks to me like it actually had less to do with democracy than a "byzantine" power struggle between Ukrainian government cliques with "democracy" as its excuse. It also looks like this article's publication has more to do with pointing readers in a particular direction, to provide "supporters" for one side in an on-going policy debate among America's ruling cliques.

One clue is, to quote the article,"S.B.U. officers said that given the competing factions in their service, and its infiltration by Russian agents, elements of its work were certainly known." That raises an interesting question: if the S.B.U. is infiltrated by Russian agents, it might also be supplied with spies and agents for America whose aim is to "tilt" the Ukraine more towards the U.S.A. than toward Russia. It's obvious -- as in being flat-out stated in damn near every article about these events -- that Yushchenko, "the Western-oriented candidate", is "our guy", while "that crook" Yanukovich is "Russia's creature." It looks more like the U.S. and Russia are each trying to co-opt Ukraine for themselves, rather than really fostering real democracy for the Ukrainian people, kinda like in the 1890s the U.S. used the Cuban and Filipino people's struggles for independence from Spain to take those countries over for itself.

I think what's going on in Ukraine is more of a three-way struggle: the pro-Russia faction, the pro-America faction, and a Ukrainian "patriot" faction stuck in the middle (which might itself be subdivided into factions) -- that we'll be told leans more "our" way or Russia's depending on whatever such non-aboveboard events depend on. This article is designed to lead readers to believe that the pro-"democracy" (read pro-America) side is winning, i.e. they've succeeded in tilting those in the middle more "this" way and outsmarting the pro-Russia side. Let's see what the Ukrainian people will wind up getting out of all this.

Generally speaking, cynicism concerning reports about anybody's "intelligence agencies" is justified: what matters is not just what we're being told, but why we're being told that. As Shakepeare wrote, "the devil can cite scripture for his purpose." (And no, it's got nothing to do with Area 51 or foil beanies; reading history shows that's how "intelligence agencies" have always worked, or at least since, oh, Byzantium anyway.)
posted by davy at 10:59 AM on January 17, 2005

I read the article this morning - really fascinating stuff. But I don't think we'll know exactly what happened for some time. Hopefully we'll have a proper historical account of it all in a few years.
posted by aladfar at 11:36 AM on January 17, 2005

I see Davey’s point but cynical as I am I feel that while there is no way for us to know the amount of US/Western involvement, the CIA et al is a puppetmaster that is cited far, far too often on the left. If you are feeling conspiratorial, don’t forget that Yushchenko pledged to pull Ukrainian troops out of Iraq. Ukraine does need to ‘tilt’ one way or another, as do all powers that are not super, as it is an interdependent world. The question was (and is) for the Ukraine is does it tilt towards the EU and the USA or towards Russia, which has rather less to offer it on an economic or strategic basis than Western powers. I can see how some powerful, well informed men in the security services would look at the balance sheet and see that the West has more to offer and could be a more reliable friend. Others may even have cared about the freedom of their nation.
posted by The Salaryman at 12:04 PM on January 17, 2005

The question was (and is) for the Ukraine is does it tilt towards the EU and the USA or towards Russia, which has rather less to offer it on an economic or strategic basis than Western powers.

Two things: what makes you say "the EU AND the US", and (more importantly) why do you think it's good for Ukraine to choose any foreign master at all? To set discussing "National sovereignty" aside for a bit, whatever happened to the idea of nonalignment, or of a "third force"?
posted by davy at 1:01 PM on January 17, 2005

The Nonaligned idea started, remember, because the Titoites and Nehruists didn't want to get sucked into one superpower's orbit or another, the idea being that in "an inter- dependent world it's better for the "little guys" to stick together. This might work better now that there's only one superpower to band together to resist.

As for the internal structure and policies of the Ukraine, I'd rather that be settled by the Ukrainians themselves.
posted by davy at 1:08 PM on January 17, 2005

There are very, very few nations that can afford not to broadly align themselves with other powers, one way or another. Vanuatu might be one. Its not a question (necessarily) of having a ‘master’, more like pursuing enlightened self interest as a nation by choosing which friends will be closest. Check out Michel de Certeau’s ideas about how the weak can use the strong for their own benefit. The world of Tito and Nehru was very different from ours and enabled non-alignment to be a viable option. However, the history and development of India and Yugoslavia during the Cold War are hardly resounding successes. Russia is a decaying empire that cannot offer much strategic or economic support to those few nations still aligned to it (or at least in it’s sphere on influence) and shows decreasing interest in democratic norms. Its neighbours cannot afford to upset it too much, but it cannot help them build a prosperous future. National sovereignty is an obsolete concept in dire need of updating, even the United States lives in an interdependent world and must align itself with other nations to pursue its interests – to think otherwise is illusory, as the Iraq debacle and the decline of the Atlantic alliance under Republican stridency has shown. Of course it is best for Ukrainians to come up with their own political solutions, as they will be the only ones that can last. However, never in human history have the internal affairs of smaller powers been without some outside influence, either benign or not. To expect otherwise is noble, but naive.
posted by The Salaryman at 1:31 PM on January 17, 2005

Ukrane's future belongs not to being a tool of the US, but by being a part of the EU. And anyway, don't act like the Ukrainian people are naive in all of this. There has been plenty of propaganda trying to tie the "opposition" to the US in the minds of the people.
posted by delmoi at 2:10 PM on January 17, 2005

My favorite moment was the bit where Kuchma disappears from a private meeting with Yanukovich, and returns with a TV crew. Yanukovich blanched and departed. Without going all ga-ga here -- there's some good analysis in the comments so far -- who'd a thunk that Kuchma would turn out to be a good guy? (He'd had a new constitution approved twice to extend his term in office, and was widely viewed as essentially leaning authoritarian.)

Clearly the question for Ukraine is not nearly so much "US vs. Russia" but "Ukraine vs. Ukraine S.S.R.", i.e. a return to Moscow's orbit, which had controlled the land for hundreds of years (indeed, the origin of the Russian state was in Kiev). Ukraine may not be quite ready to enter the EU after such an experience, but clearly many believe that the EU offers a more open future. With the Baltics, Poland, and even Georgia now looking to Europe, Ukraine was put in a very delicate situation, and Putin was pulling out all the stops it could to keep them as part of Russia's "front yard". The sense of momentum they were given by the 'Rose Revolution' in Tbilisi is remarkable, and this is now going to put enormous pressure on the remaining satellite states with authoritarian regimes or weak governments: Belarus, Moldova, Trans-Dniester, and ultimately even Russia itself.

What's clear is that any revolution is dependent in many ways on power-brokerage behind the scenes. It's an odd, sad coincidence that this article came out just as the death of Zhao Ziyang was announced: clearly the moment was not ripe for China in Tiananmen, and may not be again for some time yet. (No wonder Russia is looking east right now.) There was the perennial question of troops firing on their own citizens (one may recall that the Prague Spring uprising was crushed chiefly by an invasion from Russia), but there was also the question of corruption at the top, which had consumed Beijing as well. I thought at the time that the Orange Revolution kids were unusually self-confident; how surprising, and yet not, to find that they had secret service guns on their side. It was almost too pat that these generals went with their wives and children's sentiments. Of course, outside Kiev, there was a far different demographic.

Finally -- an undercurrent of the election was a preference for Yanukovich by the heavily-ethnic-Russian provinces, and that's going to be a problem that may consume this incoming government -- they've been unhappy enough as it is, and now with a decidedly anti-Moscow executive there's a huge risk of a real ethnic blow-up at some point, as the nearby Caucasus has shown again and again. Most of the Southeast of Ukraine is chock full of Russians, or Russian-speaking Ukies. I'm not sure, myself, how much the language differences break down vs. the ethnic differences (you also have Ukie-speaking ethnic Russians, for instance!), but I suspect that blood is thicker than words here. Ideally Yushchenko will be able to win over these areas with economic concessions, perhaps further underwriting of state concerns, if he can afford to. I don't think, with Russia's interests here, that a peaceable split on the order of Czechia/Slovakia is in the offing.
posted by dhartung at 11:47 PM on January 17, 2005

[W]ho'd a thunk that Kuchma would turn out to be a good guy? (He'd had a new constitution approved twice to extend his term in office, and was widely viewed as essentially leaning authoritarian.)

That Kuchma sided effectively with the pro-America candidate does not rule out his being authoritarian. Ever heard of Pinochet?
posted by davy at 4:01 AM on January 18, 2005

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