During Cold War times we were all very aware of the “Domino Theory”. This was the idea that the democratic states would fall like dominoes do when pushed, as the Communist states took them over one by one. Such a lesson was not lost on those working in such organizations as NED, National Endowment for Democracy who thought, albeit naively, that they had down pat the play book for colour revolutions.
Like most things from Cold War times, the Domino Theory has not disappeared. It has simply been taken over by the US. Former Soviet allies, glad to be free, have been taken into the US orbit one by one. But the game has also become more complicated: when one line of dominoes is set falling, it sets another one off, and so on ad infinitum until every sudden move sets off so many lines you can’t follow each one with your eye, and some lines have to be left to fall before anyone can stop them.
You would expect things most closely associated with the US to be part of the domino game. It is therefore hardly a surprise that US golden-boy-turned-international-embarrassment Mikheil Saakashvili’s latest exploits put him at the junction of two lines of dominoes which are now toppling simultaneously. Firstly, there is the line of countries which have kicked him out of their territory. Secondly there is the line of countries the US wants to keep under control by testing their loyalty.
Having failed to provoke a second comeback coup in Georgia and had his Ukrainian citizenship revoked, Saakashvili had popped up in several places. He gave a news conference from Hungary with his family, claiming to have settled there, and then tried to cross back into Ukraine from Poland, being shepherded over the border by alleged supporters.
Now he has been deported back to Poland by the Ukrainian authorities, despite the fact those same authorities gave him instant Ukrainian citizenship and made him Governor of Odessa not so long ago. In response he has flown to the Netherlands, on the basis of his wife’s nationality, with no idea how long he will stay or what he will do there, a strange situation for a senior politician.
It seems no one wants the great anti-corruption warrior and saviour of democracy for very long. But why was he inflicted on these particular countries to begin with? The fact that there is a list of such countries, rather than one or two, will lead them to think they are being targeted.
So what do Saakashvili’s CIA protectors have against those countries, and why?
Saakashvili is still being described as a political leader, despite the outstanding international arrest warrant and multiple Georgian warrants. It must be nice to live in a world where everyone who rumbles your criminal schemes is a Russian stooge or more corrupt than you are. But anyone who has any doubt about what this man is just needs to look at his track record, not the interpretations and spin put on it but the actual facts.
Saakashvili makes a lot of his Western education, but in fact this was minimal, auditing some classes at best and never even competing course work. He was given a fellowship to study law by the US State Department, which should have raised suspicions in itself. After graduating from a “shortened” course he began an internship, rather than legal practice, before returning to Georgia to stand for parliament for Eduard Shevardnadze’s Citizen Union party, thereby supporting the mass corruption through which Shevardadze regained power in Georgia and held on to it for so long.
When the US finally decided that Shevardnadze was no longer a friend, because everyone had to be his friend rather than the other way round, State Department “scholar-in-waiting” Saakashvili was sponsored to remove him. He had become a popular enough figure to carry the public with him, but by doing the opposite of what he was alleged to have done.
As Georgians “only-too-soon” discovered, his independent judiciary and non-political police were only independent of Shevardnadze and his party, not Saakashvili and his party cronies, and the corruption he had suddenly discovered everywhere reached all the way up to Shevardnadze but not Saakashvili, and that was his problem.
The Georgian public have been brought up on doublespeak and newspeak, like in Orwell’s 1984 since the Bolshevik takeover of 1921. The more the US and its allies told the world what a good job Saakashvili was doing, the more Georgians understood that the opposite must be true. Politicians expect to lose elections once in a while. But few have seen their party removed from office by a force which stood on the simple platform of putting all the members of the government in jail.
Saakashvili was driven out of Georgia in disgrace by the people with a trail of arrest warrants following him, only to suddenly become Ukrainian, as if he had some sort of right to that nationality. He was put in charge of Odessa due to his success in organising, and profiting from, arms and oil smuggling operations in Georgia’s analogous port cities. This action switched the regional CIA dirty tricks base from Georgia to Ukraine. It also prevented Poroshenko from thinking he could actually run the country: if he wanted US support he had to take in the US’s rubbish as well, a test of loyalty it would have to pass at the cost of what remained of its sovereignty, and even his minions of money launders and CIA assets that were more a threat than a help to their former sponsors.
This has been the theme running through Saakashvili’s misadventures since. Still subject to those warrants and jail sentences waiting for him should he be extradicated, he should have been arrested in Ukraine and many places, even before having his citizenship legally revoked, meaning the buck was passed to others. Hungary should also have arrested him, but didn’t because it was subjected to the same loyalty test: keep Mischa safe, or face the consequences of your newfound radical nationalism.
If that was the message being sent to Hungary, the only other European country it could be addressed to is Poland, which has gone down the same political route. It was no surprise that, Hungary having been temporarily neutered, Mischa suddenly found himself at least tolerated there. Now that option is also closed to him, Western education and government experience or not, he finds himself in the Netherlands and a threat to everyone.
Yes, it is his wife’s country. It is also at the heart of the EU, which has the most to gain from Hungary and Poland being controlled by Washington, but will not be allowed to gain at the expense of Washington itself, particularly when the Dutch have their own radical nationalists, who promote the “Europe of Nations” idea alongside Hungary and Poland.
Like the stinking carcass of a dead animal, Saakashvili is being flung from one country to the next to cause as much trouble as he can for governments which might otherwise start resolving their own problems in their own ways. He has never been anything other than a low level US intelligence asset, and only the US stands to gain from his antics.
Is such a figure a politician or just a crook? The majority in each of the countries he has been evicted from would answer the latter, but that is precisely why he is still useful to those who don’t want those countries actually acting like countries.
Doing it to yourselves
One of the reasons the far right has gained popularity in Hungary and Poland is that the US is held responsible for knocking those countries down rather than picking them up. They claim they don’t want the Russians back, but neither do they want the US calling the shots when they are still trying to establish themselves as national states and “genuinely” independent nations. The far right isn’t tainted by Communism and wants to kick out the US and make everything indigenous, a concept which strikes so many chords that people are prepared to put up with the racism, xenophobia and crackpot economics which usually accompany it.
In the film F.I.S.T. (1978) Sylvester Stallone plays a trade union organiser who accepts help from mobsters to achieve his goals and the aspirations of his members. As a result, the good work of the union is compromised by illegal activities it conducts itself, which ultimately bring it to the attention of Congress. The union itself recognises the problem, but the mobsters then take matters into their own hands by murdering all the union people who oppose their influence, a fate the deceased could have avoided by tackling the problem earlier.
Saakashvili isn’t going round murdering and raping people, unlike he once did in Georgia through various state agencies. But he is the mobster sent in to preserve the corrupt practices at the heart of US relations with countries like Georgia, Ukraine, Hungary and Poland. However flashy these lines of falling dominoes may seem at the time, the end result is still fallen dominoes because the US only put them there to knock them over. This is inherently corrupt, but the only option such countries have in a unipolar world.
If these countries realise the only future they have is as fallen dominoes, and try and pick themselves up or find friends to do it for them, they are confronted with the likes of Saakashvili, and the fact they can do little to stop the guy entering their country with all the protection he still has. The more undesirable all these deportations make him, the more Saakashvili can be used as a threat to the next domino on the list.
Mischa has shown no shame in meddling in the politics of anywhere he pitches up, despite his dismal track record in Georgia and all those arrest warrants, so all these countries know what they will be getting if he is spirited across-their-borders. They also know why they will be getting it, but that doesn’t do them any good in realpolitik, and this merely confirms that the US is ultimately in charge, which is the point of the exercise from the US point of view, regardless of the consequences.
There is another link between the countries Saakashvili is sent to and US policy imperatives. In Georgia Saakashvili was backstopped by Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, partly due to the longstanding US-Israel link and partly because Israelis were openly courted by Saakashvili by being offered benefits such as visa-free travel. The fact that drug addict Davit Kezerashvili, the former Defence Minister, was both the link man with Shin Bet and also Saakashvili’s probable drug supplier also played a part. We too must not forget all the Georgian civilians and green untrained soldiers killed by “friendly fire” due to the faulty Israeli made cluster bombs dropped on their heads when the Georgians missed their targets.
Georgia has one of the best records of all countries when it comes to treating its Jewish population decently. But the same cannot be said of Ukraine, Hungary, Poland or the Netherlands. Stepan Bandera’s role in the Holocaust has been much quoted, and both Hungary and Poland either supported Nazi Germany or did its dirty work for it in various concentration camps. The Dutch also largely did as they were told by the Nazi occupiers, not resisting to anything like the extent the number of public monuments to anti-fascist heroes in their country would suggest they did.
Poland recently passed a law banning accusations that any Pole was involved in the Holocaust, or any reference to Nazi death camps as Polish. Obviously both the US and Israel have denounced this move, but Poland has good reasons for not listening if it wants to play more of a role in the world. Holocaust denial may be inexcusable, but admitting your part in it could be equally devastating. Even long after Germany had turned its back on such things individuals could not publicly acknowledge what they had once done, for fear of destroying their careers and the lives of their family members.
If Poland, Hungary. Ukraine and the Netherlands want to be respected countries there are things they cannot admit. If they did, the actions of other countries towards genocides or within them might also be exposed. One confession would mean dragging your friends down too, and however morally right such a confession would be it would not be tolerated by those who had he most to lose themselves.
The US is not going to tolerate attempts to deny a culpability which can be used to keep the offender in line, as Germany has been since 1945 even when divided between East and West. However it won’t allow countries to admit it ether. The US must set the agenda on these issues, its own version subscribed to by all.
If anyone tries to go in one direction or another, they will suddenly find that Saakashvili still takes his claim to be “anti-corruption” seriously, to save himself, and can be imported to make a country appear as bad as him by making these timeworn allegations in the context of a new policy being adopted.
Mikheil Saakashvili may no longer be an intelligence asset worth protecting but he still has his uses. He can always be sent to another country to show them what they will become if they step out of line. As each domino falls the reasons the US knocked them over will become ever clearer. But the more they try to pick themselves up, or ask others to do so, the more they will be subject to crooks like Mischa being imported to keep them flat on their backs.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.