About 250 years ago the playwright Samuel Foote was presented at an exclusive London gentlemen’s club. His sponsor introduced him with the words, “This is the nephew of the man who was recently hung in chains for murdering his brother.”
The reason this trivial incident is remembered now is because we know a man is judged by his friends. Politicians, and governments, are similarly judged by their friends. It is therefore interesting to see who the friends of the new regime in Ukraine are.
The overthrow of democratically-elected President Viktor Yanukovych has been widely applauded in the democratic West. There have been many similar examples of the international community supporting the forcible removal of a government it doesn’t like for whatever reason. However there are differences in what happens afterwards which tell us a lot about the nature of the revolution which effected the overthrow.
Governments are changing all the time somewhere in the world. When a new government is elected it generally just steps into the shoes of the old one, taking over its offices and embassies and taking on its international commuitments. In most cases there is no question raised about the credentials of the new incumbents. They do not seek to prove their legitimacy because there is no need to do so.
In some revolutionary situations the same principle is applied. When Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown by force in the Phillippines this was described as a popular uprising against a cruel dictator. No one questioned the legitimacy of the new regime the revolution installed, its members automatically took over the machinery of government and were treated as legitimate from day one.
In Portugal in 1974 a civilian government of long standing was overthrown in a military coup, which had wide popular support but was in no way legal. As Portugal had become internationally isolated due to its one party regime and colonial policy this action was also applauded. Despite the fact the new regime was everything the West railed against – an avowedly Marxist miltary dictatorship – it again saw no need to establish credibility and was not invited to.
What is happening in Ukraine?
The new regime, despite its broad international support, is trying to prove its credibility by flaunting is links with various advisers. The links we already know it has are with US arms dealers and their paid lobbyists in Congress, such as John McCain, and far right political movements considered unacceptably extreme in most countries. So on that basis it is understandable that it should seek to establish more mainstream connections.
But who is the new government turning to for advice? None other than Mikheil Saakashvili, the former President of Georgia. True, he is not considered a political extremist. But he has little credibility left with the people who ought to know – the people of Georgia, who lived under his rule for too long.
Saakashvili has never repudiated his conduct in Georgia, and it can therefore be assumed that he will be advising Ukraine’s rulers to adopt, or at least consider using, similar methods. These include murder, torture, ballot rigging, violence against peaceful demonstrators, imprisonment of opponents on false and politically motivated charges, institutional fraud and embezzlement, seizures of businesses and properties and turning the country into an illegal arms trafficking hub.
Whitewash sordid pasts
Acting in this way will hardly succeed in ‘laundering’ the pasts of some of Ukraine’s new rulers. But by openly taking on Saakashvili as an adviser, when the whole world is offering them advice and support, they are presenting him and his regime as the model they wish to follow. What is more, they are calling the bluff of the EU by doing so, and once again getting away with it.
One of the problems with the Saakashvili regime was that he and his friends were seen as staunchly pro-European. Even when the multitude of crimes his regime committed were pointed out to European leaders and ambassadors, and abundant documentation supplied to support these claims, the international opinion of his regime did not change, at least in public.
Georgia did not gain the genuine international support it needed because it was dismissed as a “young democracy”. If crimes were being committed by its government this was because Georgians did not know any better than to behave this way. It was implied that any other government there would do the same due to some congenital democratic defect in the people.
Of course if this is true, Georgians who live and vote in other countries would be proportionally more guilty of committing electoral violations than other people in those countries. When asked to provide evidence that this is so, no government or ambassador has ever done so. Nevertheless, as long as Saakashvili was seen as European he was seen as the antidote to his own conduct – as if he had been inexorably dragged, kicking and screaming, into abusing his own people due to the sub-European mentality of those he was abusing.
Why turn to Mikheil Saakashvili?
World leaders are now queueing up to support the regime change in Ukraine. Everyone is offering advice, and taking the advice of countries with long and indisputable democratic traditions would obviously win the new government greater favour in the eyes of these countries. Yet Ukraine is publicly turning to Mikheil Saakashvili, in preference to leaders with democratic records who might presume themselves better models. Why?
Saakashvili has long and well documented connections with Ukraine. To start with, it is widely believed he had an affair with former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and this is believable when you know his track record in Georgia, about his bodyguards hospitalizing the husband of a waitress in Batumi who objected to him trying to take his wife back to his hotel for dessert, the woman who died during a botched abortion of his baby, etcetera.
It is undeniable that Saakashvili supported Tymoshenko during the 2010 presidential election, which Yanukovych won, and sent a team of over 60 observers to monitor the electoral process in the regions where Yanukovych had the greatest support. When Yanukovych’s team, and other observers, checked the credentials of the Georgian team they discovered that most of them had no electoral observation experience but were in fact wrestlers, boxers, judokas, gangsters and others with experience of using force against opponents. None of this was actually denied even by the Georgian government of the time.
Georgia and Ukraine were long considered one package by international organisations. It was stated several times that if they joined NATO or the EU they would do so together, and they were encouraged to apply together and progress at the same rate towards integration. This was during Saakashvili’s presidency, although Georgia was only allowed to sign an Association Agreement with the EU after his departure.
Paying Lip Service to European Values
If Saakashvili maintains his Ukrainian connections he maintains his reputation as a European. If the new Ukrainian government adopts him as an adviser they are also saying they are pro-European, but in the same way as Saakashvili. They will pay lip service to European values to gain support and investment but do the opposite at home while Europe does nothing because it is too embarrassed to admit that its overinflated sense of mission and importance have put it in bed with the wrong partner.
The new Ukrainian government is saying, if this guy is a European, you cannot object to us doing the same as him. The EU does not like being dictated to by people it thinks it is trying to help, so this would seem a foolhardy approach. But via Saakashvili the EU is once again being effectively sidelined by having its own words used against it, just as it was when this conflict began.
We have come to this point because the EU demanded that Ukraine choose between Russia and itself. When Ukraine chose neither it was forced by its own words to act, though it did not have any means to act. The US was glad to get another chance at achieving its objectives after its Orange Revolution had been democratically overturned and so took over leadership of the anti-Russian forces. What has happened since had little if anything to do with the EU, which is precisely why it keeps saying that this is what the protests were about.
The new government, despite being very vulnerable and seemingly powerless, has stood up to the EU just as the old one did and the EU has no choice but to let it get away with it. If the EU had insisted that a European like Saakashvili should behave like one, this situation would not exist. The EU knows that too, which is another reason it is covering this conflict so intensely through its media oulets, afraid that the very purpose of its own existence will slip out of its hands.
Saakashvili as Consulant
Saakashvili has no official position in Georgia now, but he is now advising the Ukrainian government as a private consultant. It has been reported by intelligence sources, and confirmed by current Georgian Prime Mnister Irakli Gharibashvili, that he has asked members of his party to help him. These include his uncle, Temur Alasania, a former KGB colonel, and alledged weapons dealer with “well-connected” friends in the halls of the UN.
Two other names mentioned are former ministers Zurab Adeishvili and Dato Akhaliaia. Both these men are wanted in Georgia on a multitude of charges relating to their time in office. Like their boss, these are people who have lost power in Georgia and want to find a way back by stressing their European credentials to win friends and protection there.
The EU is playing ball, too embarrassed to do otherwise, by saying that the charges against these men are political. Under the same logic, the executions of Nicolae Ceaucescu and Saddam Hussein were equally political. It will be interesting to see who will be brought to justice for these political murders, and how long this will take.
The EU was founded to prevent European nations being able to wage war against each other. This has not stopped wars taking place in Europe, while the EU does little more than talk about “European values” and then happily support those who ignore them on the grounds that EU integration will help them improve.
Attempts to widen the EU have led to proxy wars being inflicted on populations who didn’t vote for them and residents of EU aspirant countries asking why the EU doesn’t allow them the same freedoms they see EU citizens enjoying. All of this undermines the EU, but backing away from the policy of regarding its values as an irresistible force for good would undermine it even more in its own eyes.
The EU wanted regime change in Ukraine and is now seeing that this will put Ukraine further away from the EU than ever because it has no need to take any notice of what the EU wants. By bringing in Saakashvilki as an adviser the new government is saying that it must be European if he is, so it can behave the same way at home. If Saakashvili is the model leader it is turning to in preference to all the others offering to help, we can assume that it will.
Georgian PM (Irakli Garibashvili)
The Georgian PM (Irakli Garibashvili) is often accused of being the mouthpiece of his former boss, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili but some of the things he has recently said about Saakashvili should be listened to in the West. Garibashvili told how the former president “feeds on crisis situations … and to have such people beside you at the time of crisis amounts to suicide,” and to invite “such radicals” like Saakashvili as advisors “will bring disastrous results” in Ukraine.
Garibashvili has come out and told how it was a “huge mistake” for Ukraine’s interim authorities to have such an “advisor” …“I am surprised how the current authorities in Ukraine can even speak with Mikheil Saakashvili. I am informed that he’s invited as an advisor and I’ve watched a video… of head of the [Ukrainian SBU] security service [Valentyn Nalyvaichenko] speaking with Saakashvili and asking him for advice. Saakashvili is the man who failed to prevent the 2008 war and yielded to provocations,” Garibashvili said in an interview with the Georgian Public TV on March 6.
Tbilisi based journalist, Bureau Chief for Veterans Today, Jeffrey Silverman, former US Army tells “for those who weren’t keeping up, Bidzina (Boris) Ivanishvili, who is a Georgian oligarch who made most of his money in Russia. After living a secluded but highly philanthropic life (he paid for new roofs and free gas supplies to his entire home village, paid for a new cathedral in Tbilisi, bought all the new police cars – generally coughed up cash to keep the country afloat and make the former president look good but his patience finally snapped with the way Saakashvili and his minions were busily carving up Georgia for themselves. The war with Russia brought in $4.3bn in aid which provided a welcome boost to an already flagging Georgian economy which had peaked in 2005. Street protests were on the rise and Saakashvili had no problem with protestors getting beaten to dead or disappeard.”
The League of Nations no longer exists because it could not stand up to Hitler. It could not stand up to Hitler because he used its own words and deeds against it in exactly the same way Ukraine is doing now. By taking Saakashvili’s Georgia as its model Ukraine is using the EU’s impotence to achieve its own ends. The EU has no choice but to be Ukraine’s friend now, but Ukraine has chosen its actual friends, and a very disturbing choice it has made.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.