Are the leaders of the pro-Western "color revolutions" fulfilling the freedom-loving aspirations of their people, or are they merely servants of a NATO plot to dominate the world, with key support from Britain's Financial Times newspaper?
Until a few weeks ago, the answer to that question depended on whose propaganda you believed: the West's, or the Kremlin's.
But then the Ukrainian press got ahold of secretly recorded telephone conversations between Ukraine's pro-Western president Viktor Yuschenko, who led the Orange Revolution and his pro-Western counterpart in Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, leader of the Rose Revolution. Not since the salad days of Russia's "kompromat wars" have we mere citizens been treated to such an unobstructed view into how Powerful People in this part of the world talk to each other. In fact the last time something this juicy was leaked, it was when former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma was taped swearing like a lowlife thug to his security chiefs to "do something" about journalist Giorgi Gongadze, whose headless corpse was subsequently discovered in the Dniepr River in 2000.
So how different are the pro-Western leaders from those they overthrew? The Yuschenko-Saakashvili tapes aren't as overtly evil as Kuchma's, but if you're a Westerner, they do kind of turn your world upside down. They're also quite funny in how they reveal the enduring spirit of sovok. For one thing, it takes forever for Yuschenko's secretary to negotiate the labyrinth of bad phone lines and the heavily-accented Georgian secretaries before connecting her boss to Saakashvili. For another thing, the two anti-Russian leaders communicate in the only language they're both comfortable in: Russian. Here is how it starts:
Good afternoon, this is Ukraine calling.
SAAKASVHILI'S SECTY: Yes, hello.
YUSCH SECTY: Good afternoon. Is it you who talked with us, or was it someone else?
SAAK SECTY: No, no, I didn't speak with you today.
YUSCH SECTY: Well maybe, well, it was also a woman's voice that spoke to us.
SAAK SECTY: Yes, well, so what are you calling about, excuse me?
YUSCH SECTY: Well the presidents wanted to discuss... Mr. Saakashvili wanted to speak with Yuschenko.
SAAK SECTY: Ah, President Yuschenko? With Yuschenko our president he wanted to speak?
YUSCH SECTY: Yes, yes.
SAAK SECTY: And you this morning spoke with our people?
YUSCH SECTY: Well the thing is your side called ours several times this morning but our president wasn't available.
SAAK SECTY: No, it wasn't from us. Maybe it was from the President's secretary's office, if you hold on I'll find out. Just one minute please...
From there the tape lapses into long pauses as secretaries are put on hold, transferred to other secretaries for another round of comedy-of-hijinx, like something out of a Voinovich satire from the 1970s, until finally, after several long minutes, the two great hopes of the former Soviet Union are finally connected.
This is where the tape goes from light comedy to what-the-fuck paranoia fuel. Remember, so far no one has denied the authenticity of the tapes, they've only accused the enemies of the pro-Western leaders, namely The Kremlin, of trying to discredit them. In the great kompromat days, this was how victims of leaked conversations used to essentially confirm the tapes' authenticity: by blaming the leak on their enemies, rather than denying that the conversations ever took place.
Also note that while the Ukrainian media, particularly the pro-Yanukovich media, made much of the tapes, the government-controlled Russian press largely ignored it, as did the free Western media. One reason might be the way that Saakashvili praises the Financial Times' role in the larger propaganda war, not so much the war between Russia and the West as the battle between Europe's democratic peaceniks who might recoil at Yuschenko's authoritarian tactics, and hard-asses like NATO, who want Yuschenko to win no matter what.