Ukraine’s orange revolution: the Western liberal brand versus the Kremlin’s micro-management

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The latest poll done by the Levada Center agency indicates that Russian citizens don’t know what to make of current events in Ukraine (findings reported in a Moskovskii Komsomolets newspaper article). Forty-five percent of respondents didn’t know which of the two presidential candidates they would support if they were able to vote in Ukraine’s election; 48% didn’t know which candidate’s position is more in line with Russia’s interests.

In fact, opinion polls indicate that ordinary citizens in Russia aren’t very interested in the news from Ukraine.

Members of Russia’s elite, however, are taking every opportunity to express their opinions about what is happening; as a rule, these opinions are not only well-argued, but also emotionally colored – even if no preference for either candidate is being expressed.

When Kommersant-Vlast magazine asked Vladimir Kulistikov, general director of the NTV network, if he prefers Viktor Yanukovich or Viktor Yushchenko, Kulistikov replied evasively that he doesn’t see much difference between them: “That’s because no matter who is elected president in Ukraine, he will cooperate with Russia anyway. If he wants to preserve Ukraine’s integrity, that is.”

Academician Vitaly Ginzburg, a Nobel laureate, admits that although he doesn’t really understand “who’s right and who’s wrong over there” or whether the election was honest, but still notes: “Yushchenko may be a democrat, but it was very wrong of him to proclaim himself president.”

In contrast to Academician Ginzburg, Alexander Osovtsov, project manager at the Open Russia Foundation, says that Ukraine’s election was “90% fraudulent.” Osovtsov is a Yushchenko supporter: “He’s more convenient for Russia than Yanukovich. After all, Yanukovich would have to keep trying to prove that he doesn’t owe Russia anything.”

In general, liberals in Russia are active supporters of Yushchenko.

Boris Nadezhdin, secretary of the political council of the Union of Right Forces (URF), admits that he would prefer “the head of state of our nearest neighbor to be a person who holds democratic views.” After all, says Nadezhdin, Ukraine deserves to have a president who is “a decent person, not a Kremlin protege with a criminal record.”

Similar views are expressed by Vladimir Lysenko, well-known democrat and president of the Contemporary Politics Institute. According to him, a liberal and democratic Ukraine headed by Viktor Yushchenko “would facilitate closer ties between Russia and Europe.” A Yanukovich victory, however, would facilitate “the development of authoritarian regimes in Russia and Belarus.”

Military officers think otherwise. Admiral Vladimir Valuyev, commander of the Baltic Fleet, says that “Yushchenko’s antics” can only be described as “a crime.” Valuyev has only one question: “Why isn’t the incumbent president restoring order?”

Admiral Eduard Baltin, former Black Sea Fleet commander, told Kommersant-Vlast: “As far back as 1993, the United States adopted a strategy of disrupting cooperation between Ukraine and Russia. That strategy is being implemented.”

General Alexander Rutskoi, former vice-president of Russia, was even more categorical: “Yushchenko looks to NATO, so my personal preference is for Yanukovich. And if we don’t want to destroy our economy, we need to support Yanukovich.”

Contrary to Rutskoi’s opinion, business leaders were just about the only respondents in the Kommersant-Vlast survey to be very restrained in their assessments of the situation.

Grigori Tomchin, president of the Russian Association of Privatized and Private Enterprises, says that “any president of Ukraine would have to find a common language with us.” For Russian business, it doesn’t matter who wins – Yushchenko or Yanukovich – because “the administration system is far from perfect, and decisions depend on individual state officials.” Moreover, Russia has already dealt with both Yushchenko and Yanukovich as prime ministers, “and there was no difference in relations.”

Sergei Bayev, vice-president of VneshtorgBank, is personally acquainted with both presidential candidates: “Both of them are regular guys. It’s just that Yanukovich is more compatible with our system. It’s like software – more convenient. In general, though, it doesn’t make much difference who gets elected.”

It’s also interesting to note a comment made by Yevgeny Saburov, a former prime minister of the Crimea, currently director of the Investment Institute: “The people of Ukraine are protesting against the state’s efforts to ensure a win for Yanukovich. It’s a shame that the people of Russia will never have this kind of self-awareness.”

Overall, the Russian press is full of articles about Ukraine; with enthusiasm almost equal to that of the “orange revolution,” the press is attempting to predict further developments. In the past few days, Russian news has been pushed into the background as politicians and political analysts discuss the probability of Ukraine breaking up, the possible outcome of the second round of voting, the West’s reaction to events in Ukraine, and – of course – the lessons Russia might learn from Ukraine’s crisis.

Above all, newspaper articles are displaying a long-forgotten amazement at the sight of public protests. The Russian press hasn’t seen such emotional reporting since the early 1990s.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta says: “The Soviet regime tried to organize rallies and demonstrations, but rarely succeeded, because the public enthusiasm just wasn’t there. It was all about orders from superiors and being happy at getting an extra day off. Real popular celebrations were rare – like Victory Day in 1945.”

But Yanukovich has succeeded where Brezhnev failed: “Kiev has become the site of the biggest and longest-running demonstration in CIS history. More and more people keep arriving in Kiev – they’re coming in from all over Ukraine, from Lugansk to Lviv, from mountain villages to Simferopol… This has been going on for a whole week.”

“We’ll stay here until we win! Peace to all Ukrainians. Enemies from Donetsk, come over and have some pie.” That’s an image of the protests presented in the Russkii Kurier newspaper. “Indeed, there are no problems with food. The protestors have organized supplies of sandwiches – cheese, ham, sausage. Tea and coffee. Piles of warm clothing. Groups of musicians perform in turn; central Kiev is full of bright lights and rejoicing. It’s a festival of life and youth.”

The Vremya Novostei newspaper quotes Viktor Yushchenko: “God forbid that the authorities should resort to using force. Then there wouldn’t be 500,000 people rallying in Kiev – there would be ten times as many.”

The Novye Izvestia newspaper claims there are around 800,000 people rallying in central Kiev, and the opposition aims to double that number within the next few days.

Actually, other publications report that no fewer than 1.5 million people are involved in the protests on the streets of Kiev.

“What has happened in Ukraine is a real revolution,” says Stanislav Belkovsky, leading political analyst and head of the National Strategy Institute, in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “Russia’s political elite, accustomed to living in the clouds of its own cliches, still hasn’t fully realized that.”

According to Belkovsky, the assumption that events in Ukraine “are no more than a handsomely-paid coup organized by political consultants” is deeply mistaken: “Hundreds of thousands of people aren’t rallying in the streets because somebody has paid them to do so. And they aren’t even protesting because of any great liking for presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko. It’s simply that they knew in advance that the voting results would be rigged, and therefore the new stage of Ukraine’s history would begin on the streets.”

This revolution was inevitable, says Belkovsky, “because in one former Soviet country, the old model of governance reached its limits.”

Leading journalist Viktor Shenderovich has no doubts about that either.

In an article for the Gazeta newspaper, Shenderovich quotes one of his colleagues, “quite well-informed about the situation in Ukraine,” as asking: “Why do you like that Yushchenko guy so much? What makes him any better than Yanukovich?” And Shenderovich answers: “Only one thing: the fact that Yushchenko is the people’s choice.”

Shenderovich goes on to say: “The point is that the president’s name is a minor detail. I’ll go even further and say that even his policy program is a minor detail. What really matters today is how the president comes to power – because that is what will essentially determine the winner’s policies, and consequently Ukraine’s future.”

Shenderovich adds: “Just as our future has been determined – for a long time to come, I fear – by the way a certain Vladimir Putin came to power.”

And therefore, says Shederovich, “the outcome of events centered on Independence Square in Kiev is far more significant for the people of Russia than it is for the Poles, let alone the Americans. Failing to understand that is worse than being apolitical – it’s stupid.”

Dmitri Furman takes up this theme in Novaya Gazeta: “The fact that Putin doesn’t want the opposition to take power in Ukraine is natural and normal. If a democratic system based on the rule of law becomes established in the neighbor-state of Ukraine, with different people and political forces able to come to power within a framework of common rules of the game, that would have an impact on other CIS countries, and eventually on Russia as well.”

On the other hand, says Furman, there is no direct danger for Russia as yet: “As Kuchma said, Ukraine is not Russia. Ukraine’s experience is not directly transferable to Russia – our society is completely different. It will take us at least 15 years to develop to Ukraine’s level.”

At present, the Kremlin cannot have any particular cause for concern. All the same, until recently it has acted as if it saw a personal threat in Ukraine’s orange opposition – as if a Russian election campaign was witnessing “a clash between a national myth and a phantom generated by political consultants,” to quote Stanislav Belkovsky. As Belkovsky explains in his article for Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the “national myth” is Yushchenko, and the “phantom” is Yanukovich.

In Belkovsky’s view, Yushchenko “embodies vagueness and non-subjectivity – qualities that reflect the Ukrainian people’s deep-down convictions about what an ideal leader ought to be.”

Ukraine is indeed different from Russia, and Ukraine’s leader cannot be “an all-powerful master whose stern yet fair gaze is on everyone, day and night.” Ukraine’s leader is more of a moderator, a mediator between all layers of society and various regions of the country. “What a president of Ukraine needs is flexibility, not unshakeable certainty about a certain direct path being right.”

That is precisely why Yushchenko is so well-suited for the role of “national myth.” Belkovsky says: “During the campaign, the people’s candidate didn’t say anything new or come up with a single thesis that might clarify his image as a politician and the future ruler of Ukraine.”

It’s worth bearing in mind that these accusations – being too restrained, refusing to define policies clearly – were also leveled by the media of Ukraine’s neighbor-state against another popular politician, Vladimir Putin, especially during his first term in office. Russian observers explained over and over again that a politician – especially one on the crest of success – is sure to remain popular as long as he refrains from making any definite statements, since all of his supporters will remain convinced that the leader shares their particular point of view.

As for Yanukovich, he should be viewed as “essentially the creation of political consultants,” according to Belkovsky. “is campaign was based on the principle of ‘lots of money plus the state’s support can achieve anything’ – a very popular principle in Russia today. It’s no coincidence that the Yanukovich campaign relied on hiring political consultants from Russia, who flaunted their ability to disregard any and all ethical restrictions.”

In terms of “disregarding ethical restrictions,” it seems no one has outperformed Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation. The Russkii Kurier newspaper comments: “Rather than talking President Putin out of supporting Viktor Yanukovich, Pavlovsky took on the assignment and failed.” Once the mission of setting Yanukovich on the throne of Ukraine proved to be mission impossible, Pavlovsky returned from Kiev to Moscow in a state of “mild depression,” according to Russkii Kurier. However, this didn’t stop him from making some fairly strong statements about the orange opposition in an interview on the NTV network on November 28.

Russkii Kurier quotes Pavlovsky as saying: “Yushchenko is a fascist-like person. He stands at the head of a disgusting ideology. Yushchenko’s team has split the nation. All Yushchenko supporters are beasts and fascists.”

And it got worse: “In dealing with Yushchenko, we – Russia – are dealing with a person suffering from paranoia, a severe mental illness.”

Some of Pavlovsky’s comments indicated that he had completely lost control of himself: “The color of the revolution in Kiev is the color of a child’s toilet-training accident.”

Other comments seemed mysterious to the Russkii Kurier journalist. For example, Pavlovsky said that for Russia, “preparing a counter-revolution would be more productive than intervening in the election.”

Finally, Pavlovsky said: “If the West succeeds in overthrowing the elected president, Yanukovich, it will turn Ukraine into one large testing-ground for techniques aimed at regime change in Russia.”

Pavlovsky’s last comment overlaps with the conclusions of an article published in The Guardian (a Russian translation was published in Komsomolskaya Pravda). It claims that the orange revolution is entirely “an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing.”

The Guardian says: “If the events in Kiev vindicate the US in its strategies for helping other people win elections and take power from anti-democratic regimes, it is certain to try to repeat the exercise elsewhere in the post-Soviet world.” But the places to watch, according to The Guardian, are Moldova and “the authoritarian countries of central Asia” rather than Russia.

The Guardian names Yugoslavia, of course, as the first of four countries where these miraculous American techniques have been applied over the past four years. In the Balkans, a campaign “funded and organized by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organizations,” toppled Slobodan Milosevic. “Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role.”

And last year, as US ambassador in Tbilisi, Miles “repeated the trick in Georgia, coaching Mikhail Saakashvili in how to bring down Eduard Shevardnadze.”

Ten months later, Michael Kozak, the US ambassador in Minsk – “a veteran of similar operations in central America, notably in Nicaragua” – tried to organize one of these campaigns against “the Belarus hardman, Alexander Lukashenko,” but this was defeated.

However, as The Guardian points out, the experience gained in Serbia, Georgia and Belarus has been useful in Kiev: “The operation – engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience – is now so slick that the methods have matured into a template for winning other people’s elections.”

The Guardian goes on to list the elements of this methodology. The first is an organized student movement with a brief, catchy name (Otpor in Yugoslavia, Khmara in Georgia, Zubr in Belarus, Pora in Ukraine). Next, the opposition needs to be united behind a single candidate, “selected on pragmatic and objective grounds.” Then, of course, there is “parallel vote tabulation” and exit polls. The latter are especially important, because they make it possible to seize the initiative in the propaganda battle with the regime, “invariably appearing first, receiving wide media coverage and putting the onus on the authorities to respond.”

All this requires money, of course. According to The Guardian, the US government’s official spending on the operation to get rid of Milosevic was $41 million. Ukraine has required much less spending so far: only about $14 million.

But for Russia, which as a consequence of its own “barbarous lack of cunning” (as Stanislav Belkovsky puts it) has found itself in difficulties with regard to both Ukraine and relations with the West, the costs may be substantially greater.

The Izvestia newspaper, citing some authoritative experts, claims that from now on, shaping a positive image of Russia abroad could take three to 20 years and $1-1.5 billion a year. And the image-building efforts will have to focus primarily on the West, not the CIS.

Izvestia says: “Oddly enough, $1.5 billion is similar to the sums which the West, headed by the United States, invested in Georgia every year from 1992 onwards – successfully creating a positive image for itself on a territory that is strategically important for Russia.” As a result, Georgia’s “revolution of roses” was far less costly.

And according to Izvestia, the Tbilisi revolution, which Russia essentially let slip, was precisely what drove the Kremlin to act so directly in Kiev.

As Belkovsky notes, “utter confidence in the power of the ‘steamroller’ made the idea of Yanukovich’s defeat unthinkable. Well, the political consultants had a record of helping far worse candidates to victory.” So Yanukovich, in Belkovsky’s opinion, cannot be viewed as a Russian protege: “He was a laboratory animal, intended to demonstrate the omnipotence of Russia’s political consulting machine.” Alas, the machine failed; what’s more, “it largely worked in favor of Yushchenko.”

Alexei Pankin, chief editor of Sreda magazine, says in an article for Izvestia: “Russia’s biggest mistake in this election was not that it backed the wrong person, but the fact that it backed anyone at all, and actually took active measures in his favor. And even if we admit that we were not the sole or main force to set off the landslide, the Ukrainians and the international community still view us as a combatant. In other words, we have disqualified ourselves from what could have been our most useful role – that of a neutral mediator. Others are performing the mediation function now.”

According to Pankin, “the reasons for such incautious behavior by the Kremlin are rooted not only in a misunderstanding of the Ukrainian situation” but also in the peculiarities of the current Kremlin administration’s “management culture.” Pankin says: “The ‘heightened sense of personal responsibility’ characteristic of these officials may be an undisputed virtue in officers, but it easily becomes a flaw when applied to complex multi-factor political processes.”

What’s particularly dangerous is a persistent tendency to “micro-manage” – that is, striving to install a “reliable person” even in places where no interference is required at all, and where it would be best to rely on “the natural course of events.”

Thus, we are looking at a failed attempt to apply the Russia-tested practice of creating a “hierarchy of governance” in another country.

In Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Stanislav Belkovsky claims there was at least one other player with an interest in seeing Yanukovich lose: incumbent President Leonid Kuchma. “What he needed was an official candidate who couldn’t possibly win – in order to lead the situation into a stalemate, where he could call on society for constitutional change.” That would mean transferring real political power from the president to the prime minister, with Kuchma hoping to become prime minister himself. But it seems that Kuchma has outsmarted himself this time.

His new successor, says Gazeta, could be Sergei Tigipko – Yanukovich’s former campaign manager, who resigned in protest at his candidate’s separatist activities in eastern Ukraine.

Tigipko said: “I am ashamed that we have divided the nation with our presidential campaign. I was categorically opposed to Yanukovich taking part in the Severodvinsk congress.”

At the same time, Tigipko decided to resign as chairman of the Ukrainian National Bank and “remain in politics” – that is, take part in a repeat presidential election.

According to Gazeta, he does have a chance: “For a repeat election, candidates would have to re-register and campaign all over again. In that event, the opposition would find it hard to compete, since the first campaign has drained the funds of Yushchenko’s supporters. But the authorities could decide to field a different candidate in Yanukovich’s place. And Tigipko would be a perfect choice as such a candidate – he has close ties to the incumbent president’s family.”

Gazeta explains that Sergei Tigipko the banker, aged 44, is a member of the “Dnepropetrovsk group” which was given economic development preferences after Leonid Kuchma won the presidential election in 1994. These days, the Dnepropetrovsk group is considered a leading force in Ukraine. It is headed by Viktor Pinchuk – the president’s son-in-law. His Interpipe conglomerate owns virtually all of the state’s pipe-making assets, including the Novomoskovsk Piping Plant, the Nikopolsk plants producing rust-resistant seamless pipes, and over 40 other enterprises in the machine-building, petrochemicals, petroleum products, construction, and energy sectors. Among the most valuable assets of Pinchuk’s group are eight metals plants and combines, including the giant Azovstal (Azov Steel). The clan also owns a non-ferrous metals giant, the Zaporozhskii Aluminum Combine, and several mining and enrichment combines.

Obviously, with financial capacities such as these, it won’t be difficult to find a new candidate to replace Yanukovich, currently the focus of all the opposition’s criticism. Thus, the final conclusion to the crisis in Ukraine is still a long way off.

And Russia, according to most observers, will need to concentrate on the “unpleasant but essential task” of learning some lessons from Ukraine’s election.

If we are capable of doing so, of course.

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