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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2005

October 3, 2005

Last December, Ukraine appeared headed for a brilliant democratic future. The Orange Revolution, a popular, democratic national uprising, had overthrown the old Communist regime, with its corrupt, pro-Russian politicians, crooked business cronies, brutal security forces, and rigged elections.

Ten months later, Ukraine has been engulfed by political fratricide, a vicious feeding frenzy to gobble up former state assets, and ferocious personal vendettas. As was said during the French revolution, `the revolution is devouring its children.’

Of course, Ukraine’s Orange revolution was never the black and white, good v. evil struggle between western-oriented democrats and wicked pro-Moscow communists that was portrayed in the foreign media. It was an extremely complex struggle for power and control of economic resources between various rival factions. More of a division of the spoils than a political revolution.

President Viktor Yushchenko, who is still not recovered from a mysterious, near fatal poisoning last year, sacked his fiery prime minister, Yulia Timoshenko, the co-leader of the Orange Revolution, and her entire cabinet for abuse of power and misuse of funds.

This palace coup came after the president’s chief of staff resigned and accused Petro Poroshenko, head of the powerful national security council, and original financer of the Orange Revolution, and other high government officials of corruption, graft, obstruction of justice, and influence peddling.

Yulia Timoshenko and her allies had been bitterly feuding with Poroshenko’s men and billionaire Viktor Pinchuk over control of billion worth of former state property, including Europe’s second largest ferro-nickel complex. Pinchuk is son-in-law of former disgraced leader, Leonid Kuchma, and the nation’s second richest man who well deserves the title of `Ukraine’s Mr 20%.’

President Yushchenko finally had enough. Unable to control or reconcile his squabbling allies, he fired them all and cobbled together a shaky new government under a little-known prime minister, Yuri Yekhanorov. But to get his new prime minister elected, Yushchenko had to eat crow and beg the support of his bitter rival, and the man he defeated last year, Viktor Yanukovitch. The man Yushchenko had not long ago denounced as a corrupt tyrant was now his newest political ally. Very, very embarrassing. The best one can say is that parliamentary democracy, however sleazy, was at work in Ukraine.

Naturally, this sordid carnival of rivalry and greed undermined Ukraine’s western-oriented democratic forces and gave a boost to Yanukovitch’s pro-Russian forces.

Yushchenko was left looking weak and unable to control his own political family. His popularity dropped to 19.8% and Timoshenko’s to 21.4%. Like Mikhail Gorbachev, Yushchenko is a hero abroad but increasingly disliked at home.

Yulia Timoshenko has now turned against former ally Yushchenko and will challenge him in upcoming elections, thus splitting their former party.

It’s hard to know what to make of the beautiful, brilliant and passionate Timoshenko. I admit to finding it sometimes difficult to stay icily neutral when dealing with beautiful female politicians. Critics in Pakistan have accused me of being `bewitched’ by Benazir Bhutto. I was not, but spending a good deal of time with her allowed me greater understanding of her positions without changing my previous views on her family’s often murky finances.

I met Timoshenko in late 2003 and confess to indeed feeling a touch of bewitchment. But then I began receiving letters from Moscow charging multi-millionaire Timoshenko had been deeply involved in corruption when she headed her own power company. She was purported to own four aircraft and have 22 ex-commando bodyguards.

More mail followed from Ukrainian prosecutors and police officials. Timoshenko claims these were fake charges cooked up by her many enemies, who call her the `Robber Baroness.’ A film made in Moscow, likely by ex-KGB people, shows a porno actress playing Timoshenko being intimate on board a private jet with a man playing the President of Georgia.

Still lightly bewitched, I prefer to believe only the best of the exquisite Yulia - until proven wrong. But these charges do raise disturbing questions and will continue to haunt her career. However, it’s interesting to note that as soon as Timoshenko broke with Yushchenko, the Russian propaganda campaign against her abruptly ceased. This indicates that the Kremlin sees her as a potential ally, or at least a weapon against pro-western forces.

Though mostly Slavic by race, Ukrainians often seem more cheerfully Italian by spirit and politics than eastern European. Perhaps that’s why I like them so much. But like Italians, Ukrainians are unfortunately not always at the head of the class when it comes to good government or public finances.

This huge mess leaves Ukraine diminished in the world’s eyes and weakened by internal political chaos, which is scaring away badly needed foreign investors. Ukrainians are rightly disgusted that one thieving elite appears to have simply replaced another.

What a tragedy for a people that suffered 6-8 million victims murdered by Stalin, and struggled so long for independence from Soviet-Russian domination.

Hopefully, President Yushchenko will pull his nation though its current crisis and keep the spluttering economy going -if scorned political ex-wife Yulia lets him, which I doubt.

Political and economic chaos in Ukraine only benefits Moscow. Russians have long insisted that Ukrainians were incapable of governing themselves and needed their iron hand. Lately, Ukrainians have done much to support this nasty claim.

No wonder normally gloomy Vladimir Putin is looking rather cheerful. Reclaiming highly strategic Ukraine is his number one priority in building a new Soviet Union.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2005


  • This week’s Bali bombings were aimed primarily at Australia. Bali is to Aussies what Tijuana and Acapulco are to Americans and Canadians. The bombers, very likely members of the amorphous Jemma Islamiyah movement, were intent on punishing Australia for its military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Australia’s Conservative prime minister, John Howard, has allied himself to George W. Bush and Tony Blair and adopted what many see as a hostile and aggressive stance towards the Muslim World.

    Australia has become America’s surrogate cop in Southeast Asia. Add to this 50 years of simmering hostility between Australia and neighbor Indonesia, worsened by the common belief among Indonesians that Australia was behind the detachment of former Indonesian province of East Timor.

    Other Southeast Asian nations – Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore – are at risk.

  • Meanwhile, a far greater threat, avian flu, is brewing up across that region. Doctor’s fear it’s only a matter of time before it mutates and begins infecting humans. Talk of another 1918 Spanish flu that killed 40 million seems overblown, but the danger is real. Vaccines cannot be prepared, however, until the new deadly strain is identified.

    Americans had better hope that if and when avian flu strikes, their government does a better job protecting public health than it did last winter, when supplies of flu vaccine ran out. There was not enough money to lay in adequate stocks and get them distributed, though there was $200 billion plus to keep bombing and blasting Iraq.

Published at Bigeye.com since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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