Was the Euromaidan a ‘Colour Revolution’? Liberal Revanchism in the post Pax Americana

September 9, 2015 at 5:21 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , )

Marten's_Poltava

Battle of Poltava – powers foreign to Eurasia have always elicited the help of locals against Russia. In the Great Northern War, it was Sweden enlisting Poles and Cossacks. Today it is the Anglosphere doing the same.

The Colour Revolutions of the early 2000s, styled to be Eastern Europe’s logical succession to Central Europe’s Velvet Revolutions of the 1990s, were the response of Eurasia’s Liberal elites to the narrative of the ‘end of History’. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and others around Russia’s periphery, were meant to replace leaderships and regimes still populated by CPSU cadres and Kremlin apparatchiks. The hope was, that just like it had occurred in the Visegrad countries, this would lead to closer ties to the Washington Consensus, renewed Western investment, the West’s military umbrella and more accountability and transparency from the new leaders.

The problem inherent to all of this is the belief that post-communist Europe was fundamentally transformed by the Washington Consensus. It was not: free markets of course bring more prosperity but Bulgaria and Romania still lag behind Poland and the Czech Republic, slavic countries are still more corrupt. Culture doesn’t change that easily.

The fall of the Milosevic regime in Serbia was the proto Colour Revolution. It was led by youth movements, inspired by Western values, and finally led to an EU path for Serbia. As with Ukraine, the EU path came at territorial cost: Belgrade was forced to abdicate its more than pristine claim to Kosovo, just as Ukraine’s Liberals compromised the country’s territorial cohesion by forcing an alignment with the West and a destruction of the neutrality consensus.

The problem is not the existence of Liberal movements in Eastern Europe since the proximity of the great Western capitals would have always led to some soft power and ideological influence in its periphery. The problem is the artificial expansion of the elites dependent on the Liberal narrative, through private and public Western funds flowing to societies  where the natural  Liberal instinct is small. Had it not been for the think-tanks, scholarships, NGOs and an elite dependent on Western funding for social and political relevance, the Colour Revolutions would have ended up in the same place as the Arab Spring.

Indeed, as soon as Moscpaintedmaidan003-10ow decided to match Western efforts and act as a spoiler to Western soft power in its near abroad, most Colour Revolutions either collapsed or burnt themselves out. The Orange Revolution, originating in the Liberal pro-Western intelligentsia of Kiev and Lviv, lost momentum and Moscow was even able to sponsor Viktor Yanukovych into the Presidency. The Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan lost steam and the Rose Revolution in Georgia achieved so little, other than in symbolic terms (new flag, Bush avenue) that Saakashvili decided  to escalate politically by trying the military path, hoping for a quick victory and a rally-to-the-flag wave. The war turned to blunder and soon the hero of the revolution was ousted from power and is today on the run from Georgian judicial authorities.

Unlike what Russian propaganda will seek to infer, the revolution was not planned by the White House or the Pentagon. Most liberal democracies have no capability to think strategically or plan long-term and if some did, the incompetence of politicians would guarantee the planning went nowhere. It was most certainly not the European Union to arrange it as utopian Brussels has no notion of what ‘national interest’ actually means. What the West contributed, it did without planning and out of ideological obsession and cultural arrogance or condescension. 

The Euromaidan Revolution was a different animal but was it a Colour Revolution? There is a case to be made that it was not.

If on one hand, the revolution brought little in the way of a change of paradigm, it cannot be denied that the ruling regime has fundamentally changed. Ukraine was largely a free-market economy and a liberal democratic system before the revolution, and remained so after the revolution. What changed was its foreign policy and geopolitical alignment. The approach to the EU may yet bear fruit in terms of increased democratic transparency and less economic protectionism but for the time being, the oligarchic cliques are still in power and corruption did not magically disappear. Russia’s economic war on the country can keep it impoverished resulting in continued corruption levels. Moreover, the artificial attempt to homogenize a territory that was never autonomous or cohesive will either result in Russophones becoming second class citizens or renewed conflict. Nonetheless, the structural impediments to a more prosperous economy, will not go away with EU para-membership, just as they did not in the Balkan countries which joined the EU.  

Finally, there is the issue of external agency. If in the case of the Arab Spring and the Colour Revolutions, the West was not active in the process of regime substitution, that was certainly the case with Euromaidan where the West quickly endorsed the demonstrations and then the new regime. Similarly, Libya and Syria are not the best examples of the Arab Spring because the West intervened. These two along with Ukraine, should instead be regarded as a new phase of Liberal Revanchism after Iraq. 2003 Iraq, 2011 Libya and 2014 Ukraine belong in a separate category of conflicts and regime-changes with active Western agency, which is motivated by a perceived distinct failure of the Liberal model in the casein question. In Iraq, the ‘rogue regime’ had not been overturned by its shia and Kurdish rebellions, in Libya the rebellion was faltering and in Ukraine, Russia had actually seized the opportunity to kowtow Yanukovych into joining the Eurasian Economic Union.

artist's rendering of a fictional Ukrainian (Euromaidan regime) conquest of Donetsk

artist’s rendering of a fictional Ukrainian (Euromaidan regime) conquest of Donetsk

Liberal Revanchism is a particular type of revisionism which translates an inability to cope with the failure of the ‘end of History’ narrative. Coping would require pragmatism and ideological concessions which elites in Washington D.C. and Brussels find too distasteful and inconvenient, for their own agenda and personal standing.

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Red Lines Aren’t For Everyone

June 13, 2013 at 10:42 am (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Artwork:  "Alaska Air Command F-15's From Galena FOB Intercept a Soviet TU 95 Bear Over the Berlng Sea".  Artist:  Marc Ericksen (SF)

The conflict in Syria has raised many questions about international intervention. Critics from the right and left alike have berated President Obama for staying America’s hand and thus preventing any form of intervention. Indeed without US capabilities, as much as other states like France and the UK would like to intervene, they are unable to.

The Obama administration came under media fire especially when its self-imposed catalyst for intervention was reached: the use of chemical weapons by the regime. Obama’s red line was discovered to be more hazy than expected and the press cartoonists had a field day.

However, it is not unusual for democracies to display incoherent foreign policies given the political representatives’ dependence on popularity with the public. Other countries do not face the same level of scrutiny and Russia has been particularly coherent throughout the length of this conflict and even throughout the past decades. Vladimir Putin has himself drawn lines in the sand before, the difference being he tends to keep them. The West might want to borrow a few lessons from Putin’s playbook.

Chechnya

The first indicator of such an attitude was Chechnya. In the primordial days of Vladimir Putin’s top level political career, the PM was touted by President Boris Ieltsin as a prodigal son to bring order to Russia. The most distinctive legacy of Vladimir Vladimirovich’s first stint as PM was undoubtedly the 2nd Chechen War. Under his premiership Russia adopted a very clear policy of rejecting any secession that was not based on the territorial precedents of the USSR administrative divisions. The Russian Federation itself, while the self-proclaimed successor state of the SU, based its legitimacy for independence on self-determination for all the Soviet Socialist Republics.

Until then there was no consensus or doctrine on where the limits for self-determination should be drawn and Moscow had even briefly recognised the Chechen Republic. At the end of the first Putin government, Chechnya was subdued and Russia’s territorial integrity was no longer a matter for debate.

Missile Defence

With the internal front consolidated, Putin turned to foreign affairs. Unlike what Russian leaders had always pleaded, NATO progressively encroached into Eastern Europe by extending membership and similar agreements to central and Eastern European states. Russian leaders claimed that Eastern Europe should be left as a neutral buffer zone but Moscow was politely ignored and given the NATO-Russia Council as a reassurance.

In the 2000s, with Putin now President and Russia reeling in considerable oil profits, the tone changed and soon enough so did the actions: NATO’s plans to establish a missile defence system for Europe which was partly based in Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania met with considerable Russian resistance and counter-pressure. Russia still maintains its Cold War nuclear armed intermediate-range missile deterrence, which makes Russian diplomatic outrage somewhat bewildering (as NATO’s limited systems could never hope to best Russian capabilities) but even if only motivated by Moscow’s preference to keep Eastern Europe as unimportant for NATO as possible, this has however been a battle that Vladimir Putin has chosen to fight.

L-39s seem to be a weapon of choice in small scale civil wars and certainly proeminently featured in the Arab Spring in both Libya and Syria

L-39s seem to be a weapon of choice in small scale civil wars and certainly prominently featured in the Arab Spring in both Libya and Syria

It is difficult to assess whether it is being won since NATO’s system is yet to be made operational but officially the deployment continues. Will Russia’s threat to redirect the targeting of its own ballistic devices towards Eastern European sites be fulfilled and will it persuade NATO to recede? It would seem Moscow is attempting to put forth objections to further fading of the geostrategic neutrality of Eastern Europe but given these countries inclusion into NATO, it is too late for that.

Georgia

Another important red line was that drawn against the colour revolutions which Putin has now succeeded in reversing in practically every country they struck: the Orange coalition is out of power in the Ukraine, the Tulip revolution’s leaders were driven from Bishkek and then there was Georgia, the original sin. The Rose revolution was the first in which a Russophobe pro-Western regime came to power through civil society pressure. Saakashvili wasted no time in switching allegiances and soon found himself at loggerheads with Moscow. These tensions would eventually culminate in the 2008 Ossetian War, trade embargoes declared against Georgia, Russian occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and finally Saakashvili’s own defeat in Georgia’s national elections.

Moscow was thus conveying a clear message: while Russia’s advanced Warsaw Pact buffer zone was now lost, the new buffer’s politically neutral integrity is sacrosanct. In other words, regardless of regime or leadership, no European state east of the ‘near abroad’ curtain – east of Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova – has permission to adopt an anti-Russia geopolitical positioning.

The US, the French and the Germans understood and backed off; Georgia’s and Ukraine’s accession to NATO was indefinitely postponed. It is not as if they could do much seeing as how their forces were not only tied in the Middle East but the campaign in Afghanistan actually depended on Russian air routes.

So far Putin has successfully drawn 2 out of 3 red lines against the West. There are those who would criticise Putin for his anti-Western stance and actually accuse him of anti-Western bias. Secretary Brzezinski notably stated as much last April in Bratislava, outraged that Moscow cannot see its interest in cooperating with the West against more dangerous foes like China. Putin however is flexible and has a keen strategic mind. Putin only cooperates with China as long as it is the West trying to encroach on Moscow’s sphere of influence; China on the other hand, attempts nothing of the kind. Putin probably does not believe that Russia can rely and trust in Beijing ad eternum, or even that Russia’s culture should be viewed as Eastern rather than Western, he however understands that were China to make any menacing moves towards Siberia, it would be as much a Russian interest to fight back as it would be a Western interest in general.

Syria

Syria is Putin’s latest attempt at drawing a line in the sand. This time Putin is not securing its domestic legitimacy or its hegemonic sphere of influence, this time Russia is claiming back a chief role in world affairs. Russia would never attempt something similar in Latin America, Africa or Southeast Asia. The Mashreq though is of vital importance to a number of Russian strategic and geoeconomic interests. Russia is then drawing a line in which world affairs it perceives itself to be too weak to influence and those where it simply cannot allow its stakes to be overlooked by ultra-voluntaristic Western forces.

If Putin succeeds it will have proven once again that the new Russia is not to be trifled with. If he doesn’t, he will understand he overstretched his country’s projection abilities.

For the time being however, Russia’s actions cannot be criticised since the West rhetorically entrapped itself into being unable to negotiate with the Syrian regime. The time to negotiate was when the regime was on the defensive, but last year the West was too busy making arrogant demands for Assad to step down and surrender unconditionally. Now it may be too late.

If Putin can be accused of making mistakes, then the S-300 delivery to Syria would be one of them. If this actually takes place rather than being used as a bargaining chip, then Putin will be escalating the strategic implications of the conflict by risking that Syria delivers such systems to its patron Iran. This would incur the rightful wrath of both Israelis and Westerners and would unnecessarily broaden the conflict.MARCH 8, 2013 - Syria  illustration. Illustration by Chloe Cushman

One reason why the US has stayed its hand is because Barack Obama prioritises Iran and China over small sideshows like Syria. While defeating Assad would deal Iranian projection a severe blow, it would do nothing against the Iranian regime and its nuclear programme. Syria is also very much a regional power game rather than a global one. For the US to intervene would be to ask the Chinese to drop their cooperative diplomatic attitude in the UNSC.

Democracy is Geostrategy-adverse

One of the sad conclusions of the whole ‘red lines’ affair is once again that democracy does not deal well with long term planning. In a way, it is precisely because Russia has kept the current leader in place for over a decade, that such red lines can be drawn and successfully implemented. As much as liberal democracies would like to do the same, their emphasis on soft power undermines their red lines, as do their ever-changing geopolitical doctrines. There is much to be said for stability and coherence. Putin is not a firebrand, quite to the contrary he has remained remarkably steady in the course he set for himself and for Russia, and done so in the face of explosive interventionism by the West as well as unforeseen shifts like the Arab Spring.

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