08.02.2005
Ukraine: Check or Checkmate?
№1 2005 January/March

“Eurasia is… the chessboard on which the struggle
for global primacy continues to be played, and that struggle
involves geostrategy – the strategic management of geopolitical
interests.”
Zbigniew Brzezinski, 1997

Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, which swept away the
crumbling edifice of President Leonid Kuchma’s 10-year-old
political fiefdom, was a profound civic movement and a classic
example of people’s power. That epic story, however, will be
forever tainted by a conspicuous footnote: the story of Victor
Yushchenko’s ascendancy is not complete without understanding the
role that outside powers played in the election process, and how
that participation did more to injure democracy than preserve
it.
The following is not meant to deny the Ukrainian people their due
in toppling a clearly corrupt political regime (one that may have
had a hand in the death of dissident journalist, Georgy Gongadze,
for example, as well as other possible crimes). Rather, it is meant
to shed light on the problem of international meddling in local
politics – a risky game that could backfire at the expense of
democracy.

Western commentators insist that U.S. interest in
Ukraine’s recent presidential election was an altruistic gesture
with the purest intentions; it merely wanted to crack open the
blackened windows of the former Soviet frontier to some democratic
sunshine, to the benevolent breeze of the Western hemisphere, and
other such poetical pretensions. In other words, the West had no
ulterior motives whatsoever for casting its hefty weight behind
NATO-friendly Victor Yushchenko and his orange brigade. Moreover,
Western aid to Ukraine was only marginally responsible for toppling
the other Victor, citizen Yanukovich, from his Kuchma-built
political pedestal. 

It would be heartwarming if this was really the whole
story, but unfortunately it is not. Geopolitical analysts have been
touting the strategic importance of Ukraine for many years, and now
that the big-game trophy has finally been mounted above the
fireplace, the West argues that its primary concern all along has
been the oppressed people of Ukraine. Yet, NATO’s unfurled map,
complete with little red flags across much of Europe, continues to
overshadow those lofty democratic ideals.
The premier Western analyst on geopolitical affairs, Zbigniew
Brzezinski, recently reasserted the strategic importance of Ukraine
for fulfilling his slightly deranged dream of America becoming “the
first, only, and last truly global superpower.” (After all, even
Hitler had enough sense to put a 1,000-year limit on his Third
Reich empire fantasy.)

In an interview with Kiev’s Weekly Digest in May,
Brzezinski conceded that Ukraine “is certainly not a pawn; it may
not be a queen, but it certainly is an important element on the
chessboard – one of the most important.” One does not normally make
allusions to the greatest game of strategy when deliberating on the
question of democracy; that is because democracy in Ukraine, while
certainly important to the Ukrainians, is only of secondary
importance to foreign geopolitical strategists. Democratic rhetoric
merely opens otherwise closed doors.

Yet most Western commentators, not to mention the
housebroken Western media, ignore this more problematic side of the
debate, despite the fact that several U.S. congressmen, some of
whom are red, white and blue-blooded Republicans, are fiercely
opposed to any sort of horseplay in Ukraine, and elsewhere.

Ron Paul, a ‘traditional’ Republican congressman from
the state of Texas, told the House International Relations
Committee that American taxpayers should not be supporting election
campaigns halfway around the world. Now there is a novel idea.

“Simply, it is none of our business who the Ukrainian
people select to be their president,” Paul told his fellow
congressmen. “It is up to them to work it out.” Obviously, even in
the U.S., it is no longer enough to just quack like a duck about
democracy and fair elections.

Paul is feeling the heat of the new political
realities now blazing over the American horizon. The unilateralist
policies endorsed by the U.S. neo-Conservatives, unprecedented in
the history of the Republican party for its hawkish tendencies, are
not only redrawing the political map in the U.S. – they are
frightening a lot of folks around the world and giving rise to
unprecedented levels of anti-Americanism. Thus, considering the
brash policies of George W. Bush’s first term, the international
community feels a bit compelled to scrutinize as never before the
true motives behind U.S. activities abroad. After all, even the
guardians need guardians, as the mess in Iraq has proven.

While the actual amount of U.S. financial support in
Ukraine’s “democratic movement” – brought to you by the
U.S.-Ukraine “strategic partnership” endorsed by Brzezinski –
remains a mystery (figures range from tens of millions to over one
billion U.S. dollars), there is no doubt that the amount was
staggering. But Westerners have become numb to the million-dollar
sticker shock that is required to prop up candidates, while
political opportunities are increasingly reserved for the
super-rich (the combined wealth of John Kerry, John Edwards, Dick
Cheney and George W. Bush, for example, has been estimated at
around half a billion dollars); such a war chest in a place like
Ukraine, however, would buy a lot of campaign pins and balloons,
not to mention smart Western consultants, ads and dubious exit
polls – the raw material of any campaign victory. Theoretically
speaking, it would even be possible to employ a not insignificant
number of university students – who incidentally made up the bulk
of Yushchenko’s campaign ‘volunteers’ – with such massive infusions
of hard cash.  

Michael McFaul, a senior fellow at the Hoover
Institution who should know better, forwarded the question in an
article for The Washington Post: “Does this kind of intervention
violate international norms?” McFaul insists the answer to his
question is “not anymore.” (In another one of these dangerous
question and answer sessions with himself, McFaul answers: “Not to
my knowledge” when asking himself: “Did the U.S. government fund
the Yushchenko campaign directly?”)
But this only begs a further question: Should the United States, as
the self-anointed solitary superpower, merely follow “norms” like
the latest MTV fashions, or should it strive to honor time-proven
principles? McFaul bawls in his article that tinkering in
democratic due process “occurs everywhere now,” so the almighty
U.S., to follow his logic, should indulge itself with a candidate
or two, as well. After all, to follow principles is so, you know,
old fashioned and Greek sounding. So, when you suddenly find
yourself a big, bad superpower, principles, not to mention allies,
tend to get shoved aside in order to make room for haphazard
norms.

Is the Western hemisphere really doing democracy any
favors by getting itself entangled in foreign elections, especially
in a ‘sphere of interest’ that is already the subject of intense
debate between Russia and the EU? The only answer can be no. If the
U.S. could prove beyond a doubt that its interest in the Ukrainian
elections (for example) was purely plutonic, then there would be no
problem. Unfortunately, given the obvious sensitivity of the
region, this is mission impossible. Thus, the result is democracy
becomes the unintended victim in this geopolitical game of
charades.

Once again, it is only necessary to consider the
scholarship of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who really did write the book
on U.S. geopolitical strategy in The Grand Chessboard, to
understand why relatively small Ukraine received more attention
from U.S. government-sponsored assistance programs than the entire
African continent combined.

The geopolitical wizard does not mix his words when
he defines what role NATO – which will inherit a toll-free road
from Lisbon to the Russian border should Ukraine become its 27th
member – plays in U.S. geopolitical strategy.

“Indeed, a comprehensive U.S. policy for Eurasia as a
whole will not be possible,” Brzezinski warns, “if the effort to
widen NATO, having been launched by the United States, stalls and
falters.” It should be added that since these words were penned
(1997), Brzezinski has demonstrated some low-level alarm at the
willingness of the Bush administration to ‘go it alone.’ NATO,
while not yet redundant, is presently idling at a dangerous
crossroads. Russia, however, smells danger, and has placed great
emphasis on its nuclear strategic forces – just in case. This, of
course, is enough to trigger another arms race.  

Brzezinski then offered up some strong advice for the
fledgling European Union as it continues to absorb new member
states. Those nations “that are in a position to begin… accession
talks with the EU should automatically also be viewed henceforth as
subject in effect to NATO’s presumptive protection,” Brzezinski
writes. Thus, every nation that is subsumed under the EU banner
falls under the de facto guardianship of Washington, as opposed to
Paris, Berlin, Brussels, or (please stifle your laughter) the UN
Security Council.    

Obviously, there is no place in Brzezinski’s
international order for a military contender to the U.S.; even the
multi-nation EU will be dependent on U.S. military superiority for
its ultimate survival.
In the long run, Ukraine may find itself dependent again, as
well.