By Ameen Izzadeen
Democracy is politically victimised, especially when it poses a danger to the interests of big powers. In recent years many a government that has come to power through democratic elections has been overthrown by people’s power — a process that appears to be legitimate, but beneath whose surface one finds big power politics.
Ukraine is one such case. The rapidity with which the government of President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown last Saturday is mind-boggling. It was, in a way, as Russian President Vladimir Putin called it, a Brown revolution – a German phrase that describes the handover of power to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party. In Ukraine, it was a virtual handover of power to the Fatherland Party led by Yulia Tymoshenko, the West’s chosen messiah whose task is to free Ukraine from the Russian grip and make it a Western vassal state. Although, the West saw the overthrow as the culmination of the Ukrainian people’s struggle for democracy, it is largely a fascist putsch by those who had no faith in democracy or the democratic process which involves free elections.
True, democracy recognises the people’s right to rise in a revolution and overthrow a government. But that is only when the government turns oppressive and makes a mockery of democracy and turns elections into a farce. Since Yanukovych, despite his mistakes and misdeeds, had not closed the door on democracy and he was even ready to hold an early presidential election within months, the Ukrainian power grab by the rightwing Fatherland Party, the Svoboda party and the neo-Nazi Right Sector group lacks legitimacy and is immoral.
Certainly, the crisis over Ukraine’s ties with the European Union could have been sorted out at a presidential election or a countrywide referendum. But the opposition probably fears the outcome of a referendum. A recent opinion poll indicates that only 40 per cent of the people back the country’s membership in Nato. No wonder, the putschists kicked the democratic option away and resorted to the short-cut to power in their attempt to install a pro-West puppet regime.
Apart from pressure from Russia, President Yanukovych had his reasons not to sign a deal with the EU. With Ukraine’s economic woes and its foreign debts increasing, the country was fast losing its creditworthiness. Major international banks would offer loans only at high interest rates while the European Union and the International Monetary Fund demanded tough austerity measures such as slashing of subsidies on oil and gas in exchange for one or two billion dollars in aid. Yanukovych saw the EU-IMF prescription as a conspiracy to make him unpopular or bring down his government because a cut in subsidies would push the prices of most goods and services up.
When this method failed, the regime changers in the West resorted to Plan B. They rallied behind the opposition to overthrow the government and called it a people’s power revolution.
Regime changing is a key feature of international relations practised by powerful countries, including the United States and Russia. The process is part of the post-colonial world order, with neo-colonialist policies helping big powers to continue their domination and rob the resources of developing countries.
But if democracy brings in governments hostile to the West, then such governments are removed through a process that is seen to be democratic. It is in this context that methods such as people’s power revolutions are seen to be helpful.
Ukraine is not the only country where the regime change formula has worked. In July last year, Egypt’s democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi was overthrown in what was described, over and over in the Western media, as another people’s power revolution, though it had all the features of a military coup. The West feared that Egypt under Morsi was drifting away from its sphere of influence as his government had curtailed ties with Israel and improved relations with Iran, China and Hamas. It later transpired that the Egyptian putsch was funded by the United States’ democracy-hating West Asia ally, Saudi Arabia, and Washington itself had played a key role in the run-up to the overthrow.
Another example of democracy being dealt a serious blow was Palestine. Here the West implemented a different plan – Plan C – when Hamas swept the elections to the Palestinian Authority’s legislative council in 2006. Instead of respecting the people’s verdict in a free and fair election, the West refused to recognise a Hamas-led government, halted the peace process and suspended aid. Moreover, the West forced Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the Hamas administration in a move that saw bloody clashes between supporters of Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah group. As a result, Palestine is today politically divided with Hamas governing the Gaza Strip and Fatah the West Bank. Since Hamas’ victory in 2006, the Palestinian territory has not seen a national election though the presidential and parliamentary elections should have been held in 2010.
Decades ago, the West implemented another formula – Plan D — to overthrow a democratically elected government. This happened in Iran in 1953. When Mohammed Mossaddeq nationalised the country’s oil industry which was in the hands of British Petroleum and Shell, he was overthrown in a military coup orchestrated by Britain’s MI6 and the American CIA at the behest of these transnational oil giants.
In the case of Algeria, the West-backed military coup – Plan E — scuttled the democratic process in the midst of a parliamentary election when the results of the first phase of the polls showed that the anti-West Islamic party, Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), was in the lead.
There is yet another regime change formula, Plan F: Assassinations.
Cuba’s legendary leader Fidel Castro has survived hundreds of assassination attempts by the CIA. A 2006 Channel 4 documentary titled ‘638 Ways to Kill Castro’ quotes Fabian Escalante, the former head of Cuba’s Intelligence Directorate, as saying that they had busted more than 600 plots and conspiracies to assassinate Castro.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro accused Washington of infecting former President Hugo Chavez with the cancer which eventually took his life. He was repeating the allegations made by Chavez himself when he was battling the cancer.
The regime changers’ Plan G is military intervention which we have seen in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya in recent years.
There may be other sophisticated formulas which elude scrutiny. For example, as a long- or mid-term plan for regime change (Plan H), a foreign state could secretly groom an agent in the target state to achieve its agenda. He could be a public figure from the opposition, civil society or even from the government itself. One never knows whether Mikhail Gorbachev, who presided over the mighty Soviet Union during its final collapse in 1991, was such a person.
Then there is the International Criminal Court process for regime change (Plan I). Through this process, a leader of the target state is slapped war crime charges and tried at the ICC. This happened to Liberia’s Charles Taylor.
But these regime change plans entail consequences which, sometimes, go counter to the objectives of the regime changers. Take for instance, Iraq. Much to the disappointment of the United States, the government in Baghdad is friendlier towards Iran than to the US and supports Syria’s Bashar al-Assad government which Washington seeks to overthrow. In Libya, though the regime is pro-West, the country is in bloody political chaos that has claimed thousands of lives, including that of a US ambassador.
Even the Ukrainian case is also saddled with problems and uncertainties. Many do not know how Russia will respond to what it sees as hostile events in neighbouring Ukraine. Questions are being asked about Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Already the Ukrainian putsch has increased military tensions with Russia. Besides, Russia is livid that the interim pro-West coalition government has removed the official status granted to the Russian language. Russia also keeps a close watch on Ukraine’s Crimean region where the Russians form the majority.
As this article was being written yesterday, Reuters news agency flashed a breaking news items to say that pro-Russian armed men had taken over Crimea’ Parliament building and raised the Russian flag over it. Reports also said that ethnic tension was on the rise in Crimea with Tartars who are Muslims, backing the new government and fighting the Russians. In response, the new government in Kiev summoned a Russian diplomat to the foreign ministry to lodge its protest while the interim president Olexander Turchynov warned Russia that its troops from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet should not move outside their naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea.
These developments in Crimea came even as Russian President Putin ordered a sudden and massive military drill close to Ukraine’s border in a move that underscored Russia’s determination to keep Ukraine within its orbit. Russia has also tightened security in its Crimea naval base, amid reports that Ukraine might send troops to the region. If this happens, will Russia send troops to Crimea as it did in the South Ossetia case when Georgia sent troops to the region?
Questions also arise as to whether the new anti-Russian government will allow Moscow export gas to Europe via pipelines that go through Ukraine. Will there be Russian military intervention if Ukraine decides to close the pipelines? Russia on its part has said it would honour legally binding energy contracts to provide Ukraine with natural gas. But there is also a possibility that the new government in a bid to distance itself from Moscow, may look to other sources of energy supplies.
Russia is also worried that that the regime change formula that worked in Ukraine could be tried out in other countries in Russia’s backyard. Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think-tank in Moscow, told German magazine Süddeutsche Zeitung early this week that pro-Western opposition forces are preparing for operations like the Ukrainian putsch throughout the territories of the former USSR, including in Russia itself.
It was only a few months ago that Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan is reported to have warned Putin that if Moscow stopped supporting the Syrian regime, he (Prince Bandar) would prevent Russia’s Islamic rebels from carrying out terrorist attacks aimed at scuttling the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. But it now appears the game against Putin is bigger than Sochi.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)
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