Friday, March 24, 2006

Betwixt and Between

The Great Game has begun again in an entirely different context. This time, instead of Central Asia it’s Eastern Europe, predominantly Orthodox Christian countries. And instead of Britain (essentially the EU countries) it’s the United States facing off against Russia in a stealth game of geopolitical proxy chicken. No military engagement seems necessary; rather, it’s the ineluctable march of democracy that appears to be driving these successive revolutions. First, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, technically in Central Asia, but a former Soviet republic nonetheless, and then the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, another former soviet republic, followed by what will be the Belarusian revolution, another breakaway Soviet republic.

This is an unwelcome development for Russia, who, even after the end of the Cold war, has always maintained a de facto regional sway over these republics, favoring and propping up Moscow friendly strongmen like Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia, Viktor Yanukovych in the Ukraine, and now Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. It is almost certain that Lukashenko will share the same fate of both Shevardnadze and Yanukovych, considering the circumstances are exactly the same. In the Georgian and Ukrainian contretemps, election results that were widely regarded as fraudulent resulted in civil unrest, which lead to international opprobrium and calls for either new elections, with credible international monitors of course, the path the Ukraine took, or the dissolution of government entirely, the way that Georgia went. And it’s obvious who benefited.

Mikhail Saakashvili, a graduate of Columbia Law School in the U.S and now president of Georgia, and Viktor Yushchenko, president of Ukraine, are pro-western, or more clearly, leaders of a neo-liberal bent. They are seen as integral pieces in wresting the reins of regional power from Russia. And although the United States and to a lesser extent the EU have no direct involvement in these developments (it may be patently obvious though) they have myriad indirect associations – because, in the end, it’s beneficial for them.

For instance, George Soros’ Open Society and the Liberty Institute, among numerous others, are private foundations that aim to shape international public and social policy, putatively, but are instead proxies that help foment civil protest against authoritarian governments, or primarily Eastern European governments, the type of concerted and behind-the-scenes actions that spelt the end of the Cold War. But is this a necessarily bad thing?

I’m always skeptical of arguments that discount the intentions of Georgians and Ukrainians' desire to have more transparent, less authoritarian government. Does a little push along hurt matters? Granted, the type of government that takes form after said ‘push along’ is where the issue turns. Would they be encouraged (forced) to remove all import tariffs, open up financial markets, sell off national resources at fire-sale prices, Privatize! Privatize! Privatize! and generally prostrate themselves to be a (subordinate) friend of the West?

This is a legitimate concern, one that can be countered by citing the experience of the Ukraine presently. It’s seems that just two years after the Orange revolution Viktor Yushchenko is having some trouble implementing his neo-liberal agenda, add that to the economic slow down in the region, and Mr. Yushchenko may lose the upcoming parliamentary elections. The answer, then, to neo-liberal hegemony, particularly in this case, seems to be the electorate’s desire for representative democracy and accountable government, a novel and historically well-tested concept the apathetic West should consider revisiting

And the two seemingly unrelated stories I came across today begin to cohere: The first, the US joining the EU in sanctions against Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko following, you guessed it, questionable election results; The second, more ominous, the Pentagon releasing a report that claims the Russian Foreign Ambassador in Iraq (sounds redundant) provided military intelligence to Saddam during the weeks preceding the US lead invasion, or war. That’s a twofer: one a slap on the wrist against Belarus, and by extension Russia, the other a direct shot square in the nose. But how will Russia counter? The Great Game continues.

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