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Unfiled December 24, 2004
 
Russia's Fifth Column
What's in it for Yanukovich supporters in the West? By Jake Rudnitsky Browse author Email
 
 

One of the more disturbing developments to come out of the situation in Ukraine is watching Anglo-American dissidents shamelessly defile themselves. Leftist media like counterpunch.org and The Nation, horrified by what they mistakenly see as a Bush victory in Ukraine (rather than a victory for millions of Ukrainians), have come down hard on Yushchenko’s crowd, attempting to legitimize Yanukovich, and basically toeing the Kremlin’s hysteric spin. Admittedly, it’s never pleasant finding yourself on the same side of the debate as the likes of William Safire, Anders Aslund and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, but they’ve actually got this one right. The left needs to come to terms with the fact that, regardless of what horrific crimes American policy has perpetrated in other parts of the world or how they feel about Bush, Americans have generally been a force for good in the former Warsaw Pact countries (with the obvious exception of Yugoslavia, not a Warsaw Pact country anyway). There’s a reason that half of the members of the Coalition of the Willing are from Eastern Europe. They like us. Which isn’t all that hard, after the Russian experience.

But instead of accepting this, the left’s been cozying up with shady groups and corrupt journalists to find proof of evil American meddling. They’d have it that US putschists rather than massive electoral fraud and state corruption inspired Ukraine’s protests. Most of these reports have one thing in common — they’re all within a couple of degrees of separation from the Guardian and Jonathan Steele, probably the single most corrupt Western journalist writing about this region today.

Taking money or favors to write articles is pretty much the bukkake shot of journalism. It is the most debasing thing a journo can do. And Steele, the Guardian’s senior foreign correspondent, wasn’t content just having several splashes drip down his face; he did it for cheap.

Steele has gone on at least two 5-star Kremlin-sponsored junkets in the last four months, and not surprisingly, he is also taking the Kremlin’s line. Yet he keeps getting printed in the Guardian and in The Nation. His first junket was the Valdai Discussion Group in early September, in which several journalists and Russia experts were invited by the state-owned RIA-Novosti news agency to a plush conference that featured meetings with Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Ivan Ivanov. Steele, who at the time was criticized by Evgenia Albats in Yezhenedelny Zhurnal, defended himself on Johnson’s Russia List by writing, "There is no blanket ban [on accepting paid trips at the Guardian]. If they provide unique access which would not otherwise be attainable, they are acceptable — provided the invitation is acknowledged at some point in the material which arises from it."

So, what "unique access" was offered during his expense-paid October trip to Kiev? As Steele admitted in the Guardian, this trip, taken in between the first and second rounds of the Ukrainian election, was paid for by the Russia Club. (Note that he didn’t say who paid his way when writing for The Nation.) What Steele did not mention in the Guardian is that this club was a Russian-financed think tank created this spring exclusively with the goal of getting Viktor Yanukovich elected. It was the brainchild of Gleb Pavlovsky, the powerful Kremlin spin doctor and one of the chief propagandists of the Yanukovich campaign. Any doubts about what the Russia Club’s agenda was should be erased by the fact that, after months of organizing weekly roundtables, it has completely vanished in the weeks following the elections.

Pavlovsky probably picked Steele because he’s an old school America basher. His pet issue these days is dismantling NATO and creating a pan-European force in its place. Pavlovsky must have calculated that Steele already had an anti-American disposition that only needed a little coddling at the Premier Palace Hotel to toe his line. Not surprisingly, Steele’s articles, "Where the cold war never died," "Ukraine's postmodern coup d'etat," and, in The Nation, "Ukraine’s Untold Story," completely parrot his sugar daddy. One indication that Pavlovsky was pleased with his investment in Steele was that gazeta.ru, a site linked to the spin doctor, published an article summing up Steele’s writings that gleefully led, "The Western media’s views of the political crisis in Ukraine have become less single-minded." Steele’s articles have been quoted repeatedly on Russian TV as proof that the Orange Revolution is little more than an American coup d’etat, that the events in Ukraine were illegal and the result of a vast anti-Russian conspiracy. These same reports give little mention the massive falsification that caused the protests in the first place, or the hundreds of millions that the Kremlin poured into Yanukovich’s campaign. Steele’s article, not surprisingly, also downplays the electoral fraud in favor of evil American conspiracies.

The protesters in Ukraine did not travel to Kiev from every corner of the country because they wanted to hear rock concerts or to wave orange flags designed by American PR firm Burson-Marstellar. They came out because they are sick of living in a vicious kleptocracy. They came out because the election was blatantly stolen by Yanukovich. This is not an "alleged truth" based on American financed exit polls, as Steele would have it, but a fact. There are over 10,000 documented cases of violations, such as election observers being severely beaten and of districts where 103 percent of the population voted for Yanukovich.

Unfortunately, the only violations Guardian readers are likely to hear about are from western Ukraine, despite the fact that there hasn’t been any convincing evidence of systematic violations there. That’s because in the last month Steele’s paper has printed two opinion pieces ("The price of People Power" by Mark Almond and "The revolution televised" by John Laughland) by trustees of the obscure Oxford-based British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG). Not bad for an organization that has about five members. In spite of what its name suggests, this group has absolutely no connection to the International Helsinki Federation, and in fact, couldn’t be farther from it. Joachim Frank from the IHF Secretariat wrote about BHHRG in a letter on Dominique Arel’s Ukraine List, "We can only disassociate from this group, but not hinder them to use the "Helsinki" in their name."

The name itself is a lie meant to dupe the public. The BHHRG was founded in 1992 and, according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, spent nearly half a million pounds from 1997 to 2003, mainly defending Eastern European dictators like Milosevic and Lukashenka. Basically, their activities consist of sending election observers to cover elections and posting reports that are both counter-intuitive and the knee-jerk opposite of the mainstream Western consensus, whatever that may be.

Interestingly, they don’t make a big deal out of the massively corrupt elections in Azerbaijan, ones that the US cynically approved of. Instead, they prefer to send observers to places where the West supports the democratic opposition (like Georgia and Serbia) and declare that there were no violations. Their role is purely in opposition to the West, and generally only in support of dictators. Opposition movements only earn their ire when they are backed by the West.

The British Helsinki Group’s love for Milosevic apparently got them into trouble, and Wikipedia reports that their funding has dropped by 99 percent since 2001. Still, somehow they had the funding to send several observers to western Ukraine, where their observers reported witnessing low-level intimidation of Yanukovich supporters. The tameness of the violations they report, like using transparent ballot boxes, speaks for itself.

The real issue BHHRG has is with what they call the New World Order, a name that far right libertarians, Pat Buchananites and Lyndon LaRouchians give to what they see as the dawning of a world government run by men in black helicopters. These guys’ paranoia makes Ames seem downright rational. Almond explicitly refers to this worldwide conspiracy in his piece, while it lurks in the shadows of Laughland’s.

It’s the same libertarian position that informs Chad Nagle’s article for left-wing counterpunch.org, titled, "In Ukraine's "Redneck" Regions, People Like Yanukovich." Nagle is one of the main contributors to the right-libertarian antiwar.com (along with Pat Buchanan), a site which Wikipedia also links with the BHHRG.

In his article, Nagle argues that "support for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich was widespread and enthusiastic." So enthusiastic, in fact, that it reaches 103 percent in some places. One of his main arguments is that Yanukovich’s brilliant management skills, rather than the market rise in commodities that Ukraine produces, has improved the lots of Ukrainians everywhere. He also denies the thuggish tendencies of Yanukovich supporters, in spite of the well-documented and often filmed footage of them kicking the shit out of Yushchenko supporters. One might think that, since he was in Donetsk, he just didn’t get a chance to watch Channel 5 (since it’s been shut down in peace-loving Donetsk) and the reports it had on such violence, except for the fact that Nagle’s story was datelined Kiev. So he really has no excuse for putting on his blinders. And really, the left has no business cozying up to paranoid far-rightists like Nagle.

Why is it that literally the only Western critics of the Orange Revolution are linked to the BHHRG?

In their blind anti-American and anti-Western positions, these jerks ally themselves with regimes like Putin’s, Milosevic’s and Lukashenka’s. Reputable leftist media, ones I have always looked up to, have now, in a knee-jerk response, aligned themselves with a truly odious group of people. The suffering and hopes of Ukrainians don’t mean anything to them, which is why they’re so willing to sell out the Ukrainian public. But what’s worse, the left has shown that it is willing to sell out its own ideals just to take a cheap jab at the things it hates back home.

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