Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Trump Effect? Voters in Bulgaria & Moldova Dish Local Hillaries and the Euro-Atlantic Consensus

13th November was as unlucky for stalwart backers of the foreign policy-line embodied by Hillary Clinton just as 8th November was for her domestic supporters. In both Bulgaria and Moldova, the voters rejected women candidates for president who had been openly endorsed by Washington and Brussels. Despite this patronage and boosting by the Euro-Atlantic power-centres neither woman broke through the glass ceiling. Or was it both were seen as token females put up for the highest office by shadowy male oligarchs anxious to keep power in countries blighted by poverty and corruption?
Do Bulgaria or Moldova matter?
Having witnessed how small states with tiny electorates but vital Electoral College votes dealt body- blows to Hillary Clinton's hopes of winning the US Presidency, it would be short-sighted and arrogant - as the Euro-Atlantic establishment has so often been - to dismiss voters in small East European states as irrelevant.
Having presumed that Bulgaria was irretrievably anchored in the Euro-Atlantic power-structure by its accession to both NATO and the EU, the choice of an openly pro-Russian candidate for president of the country is a wake-up call to Brussels and Washington. Similarly, the Moldovan elite had seemed locked into an "irreversible" course as its premier put it to integration - better said subordination - to the Euro-Atlantic model. In both cases, the majority of citizens thought different.
Until the implosion of the neo-con regime-change foreign policy embodied by Hillary Clinton and her attack-dog for Eastern Europe, Victoria Neuland, we could have been confident that the heavy-hands of Washington and Brussels would have pressured both Bulgaria and Moldova to reverse such results. Yet even cash inducements like the IMF's sudden dole of US$36 million to the Moldovan regime just six days before the poll could not buy enough support . Even more striking was the Bulgarian public's rejection of the pro-EU candidate who had boasted about how much EU aid to the poverty- stricken Balkan EU member was at stake. What ordinary Bulgarians and Moldovans know, and what the Euro-Atlantic elites and media never admit, is that EU funds have been a motor of the corruption suffocating their economies. Precisely because of the easy pickings EU and IMF cash provides to the ruling elites, they have no incentive to act in the majority's interests. Real reforms are tough to enact and make the people richer not the insiders in the political class.
Until Trump's election, the USA and EU deployed their massive power and influence to making any vote against their policy-options seem futile despite popular recognition of how they had gutted the productive aspects of both the Bulgarian and the Moldovan economies. Sunday's elections in both countries may be straws in the wind. They are victories for the genuine people power of the ballot box, not the street-based populism of crowds favoured by Washington and Brussels to impose "people power" on the people. It is striking that the Bulgarian premier, Borisov, who is often criticised as "authoritarian" by state media in the EU like Deutsche Welle and the BBC as well as by Euronews, immediately resigned. He drew the democratic consequence of the defeat of his own candidate, the lady speaker, Tsetska Tsatcheva. But the premier of Moldova, Filip, who has been boosted by Euronews etc. as a model European, immediately said the popular vote against his candidate, the ex-World Bank official, Maia Sandu, would have no effect on his policies!
Even so, the election of advocates of better ties to Russia is a small geo-political earthquake in states NATO and the EU saw as securely-controlled bases for launching anti-Putin policies. No-one has died in these tremors in Bulgaria and Moldova. But the fact that the upheaval has been peaceful through the ballot-box leaves only violence as a viable way of reversing the will of the people. Both Bulgaria in 1997 and Moldova in 2009 saw violent Putsches from the street enthusiastically endorsed in Brussels and Washington as "People Power". If the kind of Soros-sponsored protests Americans themselves are now witnessing at home against Trump are switched on in the East European dissident states the counter-explosion could destabilise the whole EU-NATO project in the vast post-Communist region which had seemed willing to lick the West's hand no matter how often the West had imposed destructive poverty-promoting policies.
But now it would be unwise to think that the East European dogs can be kicked with impunity. They could turn vicious as the French say and bite back. A change of course in Washington could re-earn the pro-American consensus squandered over the last twenty-five years by the cynical Euro-Atlantic consensus. But can Western elites swallow their pride and learn the lesson of popular alienation. Or will they sink into denial and double-down on the policies which have rendered them despised by ordinary folk who see through phony rhetoric about swallowing touch economic medicine for their own good. East Europeans know that playing the reform politician not the entrepreneur is the way to get rich in their societies. Sadly, a lot of people in the West are coming to a similar conclusion.
So the Trump Effect has emboldened the ordinary voters of Eastern Europe to demand that their elite put the people first. Maybe the Donald didn't mean that to be the outflow of his victory in the USA, but that's how people there see it. If the rigid and impoverishing policies promoted by the US-EU consensus cannot be revised, then more results like those in Bulgaria and Moldova can be expected.
What should worry the US-EU establishment is that elections are coming in countries which won't be so easy to ignore as small East European states. Next spring, the Dutch and the French vote. The anti-establishment tide in those two important EU and NATO states is running strongly. Years of rhetoric about reform and anti-corruption strategies across the New Europe of the old Soviet bloc coincided with rampant influence-peddling and bribe-taking.

"Drain the Swamp!" was one of Trump's most effective slogans. Across Europe, it echoes powerfully precisely because of the hypocrisy and cynicism of domestic and Brussels-based elites who talked so loudly about their commitment to the right kind of anti-corruption strategies but, as East Europeans say, have their left hand cupped behind their backs. 

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Strange Silence of Neo-Con Trolls as Saakashvili Stabs His Patron Poroshenko in the Back

The sudden resignation of Mikhail Saakashvili as Governor of Odessa and his accompanying tirade of accusations of corruption and treason against the Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko and his coterie in Kiev came as a bombshell for the Western media on 7th November. But it was a strangely bland bombshell.
Yes, the voices of the West - the BBC, CNN, Wall St. Journal, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – mentioned that the former Georgian President, who had been brought in to combat corruption in Ukraine’s key port and one of its major Russian-speaking cities, had resigned, even that he criticised his patron and old university chum, Poroshenko, for being on the take. But the reportage has been strangely opaque.
Remember both Saakashvili and Poroshenko had been routinely characterised as the epitome of anti-corruption campaigners by Western neo-con voices whose echo-chamber is the supposedly liberal media, CNN, NBC in the USA and BBC and Channel Four News in the UK. No mention of Poroshenko’s past service to the “notoriously corrupt” regimes in Ukraine before 2014 is permitted, nor reference to his alleged business dealings with pariahs like Iran before he came on board for the regime-change of the decade in February, 2014. As for the reality that to most Georgians their ex-president, President, Mikheil Saakashvili,  was the personification of a brutal, loud-mouthed demagogue that too was passed over in silence by those who boast that “they tell truth to power” from the editorial suites of Western newsrooms and newspapers.
Saakashvili’s  own people remember how it was exactly nine years ago on 7th November, 2007, that his Western equipped para-military police smashed demonstrations against him in Tbilisi with a mixture of high-tech ultra-low frequency disorientation weapons and good old-fashioned swagger sticks and jackboots. The anniversary of Lenin’s seizure of power ninety-nine years ago has strange fascination for Saakashvili as his day for decisive coups.
After his fall from power in Georgia four years ago, Saakashvili had become a kind of post-Communist Flying Dutchman albeit inverted. Abandoned by his Dutch wife after revelations of the crudest kind of tax-payer-funded infidelities on the Georgian presidential jet, he roamed the West trying to find sanctuary. Even the USA quietly but firmly denied him a haven as revelations that underneath his glass-fronted police stations – much-vaunted in the Guardian and Transitions online as model reforms - secret dungeons housed torture and sexual abuse against his opponents have shattered his reputation at home and were known to insiders abroad.
Saakashvili has of course embarrassed his US sponsors before by launching unilateral action without consulting them and getting full permission in advance. Remember how in August, 2008, he thought he could overrun South Ossetia before Russia could react and would earn the plaudits of the neo-cons in the West for his “courageous leadership”. Instead, he provoked a Russian backlash and the disintegration of his army. In a grand strategy worthy of Mussolini’s placement of his best troops in Ethiopia before invading Greece and Libya with badly equipped conscripts, Saakashvili had sent his 6,000 US-trained troops to do garrison duty in Iraq for his American sponsors when he decided to provoke Russia in 2008.
The worthless adventure shattered Saakashvili’s value to the West less than a year after it had ignored his brutal suppression of opposition and had endorsed yet another rigged presidential election in his favour.
Ousted by even some of his ex-cronies after 2012, it was his old university contemporary, Petro Poroshenko, who threw a lifeline to the ex-Georgian President and a slew of his ex-enforcers from Georgia. Rather as the old Soviet Communist Party had deployed loyal apparatchiks from outside each republic to enforce the Kremlin’s will on the multi-ethnic population of the USSR, so Washington now backed a strategy of parachuting outsiders from other ex-Soviet republics and of course the children of Nazi-era emigres from Ukraine itself into key positions to control the Ukrainian people themselves in case they took it into their heads to take democracy seriously.
The Americans often overlooked the internal contradictions of this parody of Comintern tactics. Saakashvili was notoriously anti-Armenian in power in Georgia, when he bulldozed scores of ancient Armenian buildings in Tbilisi to make way for his Reichstag-look-alike presidential palace. So it wasn’t by chance that he got into a brawl with the ethnic Armenian interior minister of “independent” Ukraine last year.
Saakashvili’s arrival in largely-Russian-speaking Odesa was a red rag to the locals. They resisted his attempt to massage local elections in favour of his preferred candidates for mayor and so on as he had done back home in Georgia. He denounced the opposition as corrupt but at best this was the pot calling the kettle black. Saakashvili’s own tarnished reputation went before him across the Black Sea even if seminars in Oxford or Harvard took his credentials as “Mr Clean” at face value.
Now his wrestling match with the Ukrainian mafia and his attempt to impose his own Georgian clan in Odessa has come into the open.
The publication of the Panama Papers was supposed to tarnish Vladimir Putin but in reality the dirt spewed out of Poroshenko for his murky Caribbean cash pile. Just as the revelation of David Cameron’s family ties to offshore accounts fatally undermined his standing in the run-up to the Brexit referendum. Poroshenko’s claims to represent Westernization for Ukraine were not without an ironic plausibility.
Then to compound Poroshenko’s credibility gap as an anti-corruption campaigner, an MP of Soros-sponsored Afghan Communist background got a bill passed with American backing requiring politicians and officials to publish declarations of their wealth. The published amounts commonly enraged ordinary, poverty-stricken Ukrainians even if they were often a shadow of the real wealth stashed away by the representatives of the people.
Having come to power by decrying Viktor Yanukovich’s alleged “orgy of corruption”, the Poroshenko crew looked odiously bloated with inexplicable wealth.
Into the scandal stepped the unpopular, alien governor Odessa. Despite being appointed by the President, Saakashvili chose to denounce him personally for betraying the Ukrainian people, Western values and the anti-mafia crusade which Saakashvili claimed to personify.
Western media express surprise at the ferocity of Saakashvili’s attacks on the integrity of his old university friend, Poroshenko, who had rescued him from exile and given him his new lease of political life in Odessa. Don’t these hacks remember how Saakashvili had been raised up by Georgia’s Eduard Shevardnadze, who became godfather to his protégé’s son, Eduard, while he was Minister of [In]Justice in that cruelly corrupt regime, before Saakashvili turned on his patron and ousted him in the so-called “Rose Revolution” in November, 2003? Now thirteen unlucky years later, Saakashvili has bitten the hand that fed him in Ukraine.
Part of the Western media’s amnesia is of course that until yesterday both Saakashvili and Poroshenko were portrayed as model reformers, anti-corruption campaigners and so on. Suddenly, one paragon of civic virtue smears the other. CNN, BBC and Wall St. Journal can’t compute it. Clearly, no-one in the Central Information Agency had distributed the script in advance of this crisis – so unlike the well-signalled abandonment of a Western darling like Shevardnadze in 2003 or the preparations for the Maidan uprising in 2013-14. Then of course, the Amanpours et al. were on hand with the moniker and mood music to encapsulate the propaganda line. Yesterday’s hero was now a villain but forget about Shevardnadze or Kuchma, here comes an English-speaking motor-mouth spewing out all the New World Order guff about civil society, anti-corruption and, of course, Russophobia.
The Saakashvili-Porodshenko spat not only casts a garish light on the sleazy reality of Western-backed regime change on either side of the Black Sea – Georgia as well as Ukraine – but more importantly it illustrates the dangerous tailspin into which the casual promotion of corrupt and unstable post-Soviet politicians as paragons of civic virtue has plunged Western policy in Eastern Europe. The recent uptick in sabre-rattling by NATO reflects the bankruptcy of the political options promoted by the Euro-Atlantic regime-changers. Having toppled and re-toppled post-Communist regimes, promoting and then pulling down successive corrupt and brutal “heroes of the street”, the West now faces the grim reality that its reputation is as tarnished by this sleazy process as much as its former local heroes.
Maybe one of the youthful Najibullahs of Kiev will be pushed to fill the void. But don’t underrate the ability of Ukraine’s oligarchs to navigate the storms of post-Communist politics and never ending flow of embarrassing revelations of hypocrisy and corruption which the Dnieper can never wash away. Saakashvili has declared war in a most Hobbesian environment on the most powerful and odious characters in the country. Above all, he has denigrated the President of Ukraine himself whose authority cannot survive allowing his former protégé to abuse him with impunity.
This cannot end well for both men. No-one should be surprised if Saakashvili and Poroshenko are suddenly reconciled, but any embrace of these two old comrades from the Komsomol can only follow Lenin’s dictum: put your arms around the enemy’s shoulders so you get your hands closer to his throat. Saakashvili may be counting on the Americans to save his bacon. He seems to have forgotten what President Sarkozy told him in August, 2008: “The Seventh Cavalry is not coming over the hill to rescue you.” Ultimately, even the global nation par excellence does not believe that a Georgian political clan can takeover Ukraine and rule it for Washington against the will of the Ukraine’s own mafias.
Saakashvili’s impulsive detonation of this crisis might lead other Ukrainians to pose as champions of probity against Poroshenko, but the West’s international brigade of reformers who failed at home sent in to transform Ukraine have had their day. Some slink back home to the Baltic States or Chicago, but Saakashvili has no homeland anymore.
With his Georgian citizenship revoked, and Tbilisi demanding his extradition for a host of alleged crimes in office from 2003 until 2012, Saakashvili has few places to run to. Remember the USA wouldn’t give him permanent residence which was why he jumped at the chance to serve Poroshenko’s bogus anti-corruption but very real anti-Russian drive in Odessa. With the boss-of-bosses’ backing in Kiev, Saakashvili could find himself facing extradition back to Georgia – or even to Russia which accused him of genocide for killing so many civilians in his madcap invasion of South Ossetia in August, 2008.
The West can afford to throw away Saakashvili. Poroshenko and his prime minister, Groysman – godson of Poroshenko’s father – have been Washington’s key allies in Kiev. If they were to fall, or, if fearing Washington was about to push them, they jumped ship back to their old comrades in Moscow, the neo-cons’ house of cards in Eastern Europe could collapse.
Maybe the strange silence of the West’s normally vocal media analysts about Saakashvili’s bombshell reflects their bewilderment that the best-laid plans for domination in the East are beginning to crumble like one of the stale cookies handed out in Kiev by that pin-up for regime-change, Victoria Neuland. After all the hullaballoo about Donald Trump being the cat’s paw of pro-Russian interests who had backed Viktor Yanukovich in the swirling crisis in  Ukraine three years ago, that none of the hacks decrying his “hidden Kremlin links” have explained how Saaki and Porky Poroshenko fell out so spectacularly or what it means for Western grand strategy. Their silence is very revealing. Even Google’s Orwellian approach to news-management has rarely been so crude: the story was a bombshell, headlined with “live updates” – but not anymore.
Amnesia not analysis is increasingly the Western media elite’s response to the crisis besettin its most cherished policies. Does this silence imply retreat or will the West lash out after Tuesday’s US Presidential election? Maybe Saakashvili’s tantrum will set the Seventh Cavalry in motion, not to rescue him today any more than in 2008, but to mask the failure of regime-change with open war in the East. Now that is something the Western media has been talking about a lot recently.