Tuesday, March 18, 2014

From Kiev to Beijing...and Taipei

[This piece was also posted at Asia Times Online on March 18, 2014.  It can be reposted as long as China Matters is credited and a link provided.]

 A certain amount of attention, and rightly so, has been paid to the discomfiture of the People's Republic of China (PRC) with Crimea unilaterally declaring independence from Ukraine. The PRC abstained on the UN Security Council condemnation of the vote, instead of supporting Russia with a "nay". The PRC possesses or covets several significant territories whose inhabitants, if given the opportunity, might eagerly defy the One China policy to announce, organize, and pass a referendum of independence: Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Inner Mongolia, Macau, and Taiwan.

Certainly, the PRC would have preferred that Russia persisted in its relatively principled and consistent opposition to the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo (which the West engineered at the expense of Serbian sovereignty and in order to get around footdragging by Russia on the adoption of a Kosovo constitution that would have led to independence anyway in pretty short order). Instead, Russian diplomats cited that instance of unilateral Western high-handedness to excuse the shenanigans of Crimea's parliament.

However, the PRC regime has more reason to worry about what happened in Kiev, not Sevastopol.

In Kiev, the United States took another bite out of the regime change apple, openly abetting the overthrow of a democratically elected president, the hapless and hopelessly corrupt Viktor Yanukovych.

Back on February 19, the Ukrainian government was slogging toward an EU-brokered agreement with the opposition for a transitional government and an early presidential election. I tweeted that it looked like the US had overreached itself and had no Plan B to deal with the unwelcome contingency of peace breaking out. I sarcastically opined that US Beltway think tanks were already hard at work pitching studies on how America could find a way to leap the troublesome gap in regime change tactics from non-violent NGO subversion to direct violent overthrow a la Libya in the name of "responsibility to protect".

Well, it looks like the United States did have a Plan B, one that relied on violent provocateurs to undermine the agreement and accelerate the collapse of the government. The US government, in the person of Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for Europe, apparently laid the foundations for the coup by threatening Ukraine's oligarchs with Western financial sanctions in case the demonstrations turned violent - and the demonstrations did turn violent as extremists among the demonstrators declared the EU-brokered truce "a ruse" and charged police lines. The snipers did their bloody work, oligarch-backed deputies bailed from Yanukovych's Party of Regions en masse, Yanukovych fled, and the EU's transition agreement ended up in the trash together with any Russian influence in the new regime.

The sinister possibility that the anti-Yanukovych forces did not passively rely on a violent reaction by Ukraine's embattled security forces is, of course, is implied by the intercepted phone call between Estonia's Foreign Minister, Urmass Paets, and the EU's Catherine Ashton, in which Paets passed on suspicion from the opposition that the massacres carried out by snipers in Maidan were the work of a faction in "the new coalition", not Yanukovych. A good indication of the seriousness of these allegations is the unwillingness of Kiev, Western governments and the Western press to investigate them beyond eliciting some dodgy denials and reporting the rather dubious allegation by the Ukraine government that the snipers were actually sent by Russia in order to justify an invasion.

The extent that the United States has gone all-in on the current Ukrainian government is also noteworthy. No attempt to put some space between the United States and the new government, even for the sake of tactical convenience in order to leave some geopolitical space for playing "honest broker" with Russia. Instead it's We Are All Ukrainians, accompanied by a rather flailing and dishonest attempt to paper over the dubious legality of the new regime's accession to power and, also, heroic efforts in the press to either minimize the healthy fascist component of the new gang or blame the Russians for its emergence.

The fact that the United States is also encouraging a similar campaign against a legitimately elected but anti-American and vulnerable government in Venezuela is another indication that the Ukraine coup itself (if not the befuddled response to the subsequent Russian pushback) was a matter of careful design, and not backed into by the Obama administration in a fit of improvisation.

Another smoking gun, as it were, concerning Western tactics, was the appearance at Maidan of Mikhael Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky had served 10 years in prison in Russia on politically motivated tax charges. Putin, in a decision he might now be regretting, pardoned Khodorkovsky on the eve of the Sochi Olympic Games in order to burnish Russia's soft power image, in return from an undertaking by Khodorkovsky to abstain from politics.

No dice, as Khodorkovsky, his person and personal wealth by now safely ensconced in Switzerland, assured Kievans and a sizable crowd of Western journalists that not all Russians supported the adventure in Crimea, declared "Ukraine must become a European state" and drew a direct parallel between the doomed reign of Yanukovych and Putin's authoritarian ways.

It should be noted that Khodorkovsky probably owed his incarceration both to his intention to challenge Putin politically 10 years ago and his willingness to further his agenda by advancing US geopolitical interests through the attempted sale of a 25% share of Yukos, at the time Russia's largest oil empire, to a consortium of ExxonMobil and Chevron Texaco. In 2003, I opined that Khodorkovsky's arrest thwarted hopes of the Bush administration and neo-conservatives (both of whom vociferously agitated for his release) that he would provide decisive influence for the US both to Russian politics and in the strategic issue of the export of Russia's energy surplus. Today, Khodorkovsky looks and sounds like he is auditioning for the role of "good oligarch" who is expected help guide (and fund) Russia to a better, de-Putinized, pro-Western tomorrow. [1]

Given the stampede of the oligarchs in Ukraine anxious to protect their Western wealth from sanctions by cooperating with the United States, it is not too surprising that Putin promptly put the Russian opposition/activist community on lockdown, to try to ensure that there would be no Maidan Squares-ie no determined, NGO-funded, Western-supported, Khodorkovsky-encouraged, increasingly confrontational, goon-infiltrated opposition chipping away at the patience of security forces, the legitimacy of the government, and the resolve of key oligarchs while Western governments hooted from the sidelines and threatened sanctions-in Moscow.

Same message received, I expect, in the People's Republic of China.

As part of the crackdown on social and political activism and free expression that the PRC's Xi Jinping has instituted to help him navigate through some treacherous economic waters, the PRC has shown itself markedly hostile to local millionaires, particularly those who have a big following on the Chinese microblogging platforms and display some kind of independent political posture and social conscience.

With Ukraine and Venezuela apparently demonstrating the US determination to exploit popular discontent, political opposition, and oligarch anxiety to overthrow target regimes, it would not be surprising if the PRC regime decides it has more pressing priorities than expanding political participation, loosening the leash on opposition parties, allowing increased freedom of expression, or assisting the journalists of Western prestige media in their practice of adversarial soft power reporting inside China.

The real Asian game, however, might not be inside the People's Republic of China, where the regime still keeps a firm thumb on things. The PRC's most apparent vulnerability to a Ukraine-style coup is on Taiwan.

Taiwan de jure independence is an existential threat to the PRC. That is not because the PRC would "lose" the province of Taiwan which is de facto independent and enmeshed in an intimate economic relationship with the mainland.

It is because if Taiwan, a Han Chinese bastion, formally disassociated itself from the PRC, and especially if/because independence was understood to represent a repudiation of US and Western adherence to the One China policy, PRC sovereignty would be fair game for the regime's adversaries inside and outside of China, and ethnic regions such as Tibet would be emboldened to demand independence themselves.

Today, the PRC leadership's attention is unhappily focused on Taiwan, the dismal approval numbers of the mainland-friendly president, Ma Ying-jeou, (18%) and the possibility that he will be replaced by someone from the indigene-heavy independence-inclined Democratic People's Party in the 2016 election.

As circumstances and polls permit, the DPP dabbles in calls for independence-friendly initiatives as a matter of principle and in order to fire up the base.

So far one DPP candidate, Chen Shui-bian, has been elected, and served two terms from 2000 to 2008. (As part of Taiwan's democratic transition, a native Taiwanese and ardent nationalist, Lee Tenghui, was made president as chairman of the KMT in 1988. After leaving office in 2000, he became a fixture in the independence movement). When Chen Shuibian took office for his second term in 2004, he flirted with a referendum constitutional reform (which would have inched Taiwan toward a more lawyerly version of independence) until he was dissuaded by the US government.

Actually, he was dissuaded by secretary of state Colin Powell, only after Powell was able to gain the upper hand over that enthusiastic pot-stirrer, creative destroyer, and regime-changer, vice president Dick Cheney. Lawrence Wilkerson, a senior staffer with Powell, told the story to Jeff Stein of Congress Quarterly:
"The Defense Department, with Feith, Cambone, Wolfowitz [and] Rumsfeld, was dispatching a person to Taiwan every week...essentially to tell Chen Shui-bian ... that independence was a good thing."

Wilkerson said Powell would then dispatch his own envoy "right behind that guy, every time they sent somebody, to disabuse the entire Taiwanese national security apparatus of what they'd been told by the Defense Department".

"This went on", he said of the pro-independence efforts, "until George Bush weighed in and told Rumsfeld to cease and desist [and] told him multiple times to re-establish military-to-military relations with China".
Wilkerson's account was supported by Douglas Paal, former head of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy in Taipei.
"In the early years of the Bush administration", Paal said by e-mail last week, "there was a problem with mixed signals to Taiwan from Washington. This was most notably captured in the statements and actions of Therese Shaheen, the former AIT [American Institute in Taiwan] chair, which ultimately led to her departure".
Sheehan was the previous head of AIT - and was married to Larry DeRita, Rumsfeld's chief press flack at the Pentagon. She used her bully pulpit to push for Taiwan independence and support the credibility of the DoD approach until Colin Powell demanded her resignation and she was removed in 2004.

So, chalk up US support for the One China doctrine as a "sometime thing", to paraphrase George Gershwin. As the anecdote quoted above demonstrates, US allegiance to the One China principle is, as most of our undertakings with our geopolitical adversaries, conditional, laden with formal and unspoken caveats, and ripe to be discarded once a geopolitical opportunity is perceived.

Under current circumstances majority opinion in Taiwan does not favor de jure independence (or, for that matter, unification); despite the dismal personal poll numbers for Ma, the KMT's engagement-friendly and independence-averse policy with the PRC is favored by a majority of voters.

But judging by events in Kiev, the US appears to be increasingly unwilling to respect democratically expressed preferences (or ambivalence) when it sees an opportunity to roll up a geopolitical win against an important adversary. Any window of opportunity for the United States in the matter of the People's Republic of China may, in fact, be fleeting.

In the United States, I detect a frustration that extends up to the Oval Office with the slipperiness of the PRC as a top-tier strategic competitor. The PRC has become bigger and more threatening and harder to lick; at the same time it has persisted with has its policy of bobbing and weaving, avoiding direct conflict with the United States and thereby denied the US. the opportunity to wield its unmatched military power in order to put the PRC in its place and confirm America's place at the top of the Asian hierarchy.

At some uncomfortably close date, the PRC will be strong enough and the US protestations of resolve and capability will be suspect enough that front-line states like Japan and the Philippines and Vietnam will seek their own, independent mix of confrontation and accommodation with the PRC while US leadership is increasingly honored "in the breech".

One of the awkward truths of US China policy is that it appears to be increasingly driven by an anxiety that the PRC is becoming stronger and more aggressive, and the United States is under a certain amount of pressure to make a move to cut China down to size "before it's too late".

If the United States-either the Obama administration or the even more confrontational outfit that will take over if, as expected, Hillary Clinton claims the presidency in 2016-wants to stick it to the PRC, quickly and on the most favorable terms, and despite the PRC's determination to avoid a direct contest with the United States-Beijing's key point of vulnerability is Taiwan.

With the precedent of Ukraine, let's say that Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT decide to insulate Taiwan-mainland relations from the possibility of a KMT defeat in the 2016 polls and accelerate the development of cross-strait ties. This shall not stand! Declare the hard-core independence militants. Crowds appear before the presidential palace and refuse to disperse until their demands-maybe for reduction of cross-strait ties, maybe for a new unity government, maybe for a referendum on independence-are met. In Chen Shuibian, currently about halfway through a twenty-year sentence for corruption, there is even an imprisoned leader whose release could be demanded. Things get violent as the government, with its approvals hovering near single digits, encounters angry defiance as it tries to put an end to the crisis.

Taiwanese yearning for democracy and freedom outside the baleful shadow of communist China becomes a cause celebre. NGOs, politicians, celebrities, journalists, and money from the West and Japan come in. Japan, in particular, remembers its locally very popular history as the colonial ruler of Taiwan from 1895 until 1945, and offers moral and tangible support to the markedly pro-Japanese and anti-PRC elements in the Democratic People's Party.

Recall that the President Lee Teng-hui, a fluent Japanese speaker from colonial days, has retained close ties to Japan, Shintaro Ishihara, and Japan's right wing; after he left office, Lee visited Japan and made a pilgrimage to Yasukuni where his brother, who died in Japanese colonial service, is enshrined. Recall also that the DPP as a whole has little patience with PRC claims over the Senkakus; for that matter, Lee in fact stated that they belong to Japan.

In February 2013, the chairman of the DPP (and presumptive 2016 presidential candidate Su Tseng-chang) roiled relations with the mainland by visiting Japan to hail the Taiwan-Japan bilateral partnership as members of a democratic alliance, which would make the Asia-Pacific a region of security, stability and prosperity. Under unfavorable scrutiny, Su was compelled to avoid a meeting with nationalist firebrand and long-time friend of Taiwan Shintaro Ishihara, but one can safely say that Japan is prepared to give the DPP a favorable hearing if things turn ugly with the mainland. [2]

Back to our scenario. Somehow, as in Ukraine, the elected government is delegitimized by some fatal combination of violence, disunity, and ineptitude, driven from office, and replaced by a new coalition, which declares undying loyalty to liberal democracy and implores diplomatic recognition and military and economic support from the West and the Asian democracies.

And it declares independence. And the United States and Japan, instead of sticking with the pragmatic precedent of US-Taiwan-PRC relations, honoring the One China policy and screwing over the Republic of China once again, decide to seize this once in a lifetime opportunity to force the PRC into a crisis on favorable terms…and they recognize the independent Republic of China.

In the best case, PRC backs down and sees its clout and prestige diminished. In the worst case…well, the United States is remarkably cavalier about the consequences of its strategic gambits, especially since the direct human costs are borne largely by America's unlucky local adversaries and allies.

Far-fetched scenario?

Remarkably, J Michael Cole, a defense journalist in Taipei who used to work at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, has already played with this idea in the National Journal.

He starts his scenario with a domestic political crisis, in what looks like a conscious parallel between Yanukovych's attempt to tilt toward Russia and Ma Ying-jeou's initiatives on cross-strait ties:
What is truly worrying when it comes to Taiwan is the fact that these developments occur at a time of intensifying Chinese pressure on Taipei, which is being compelled into signing various agreements that risk being detrimental to Taiwan's ability to retain its sovereign status.

Facing elevated opposition by legislators and civil society, the Ma administration has hardened its line with increased reliance on law enforcement to counter peaceful protesters and has frequently made a travesty of public hearings and other mechanisms associated with liberal democracies. This, in turn, has served to exacerbate frustrations within the country, with possible repercussions for social stability.
[G]rowing disillusionment with political institutions and heightened fears that current trends could curtail their ability to determine their destiny could eventually compel Taiwanese to take action which risks destabilizing the government. Recent incidents, such as the crashing of a thirty-five-tonne truck into the Presidential Office by a disgruntled former Air Force officer, are a sign that things are coming to a boil, with escalation all the more likely between now and 2016, when the next presidential elections are scheduled.

Should Taiwanese decide that their country's democracy is no longer sufficient to protect their interests and adopt nonpeaceful means to resolve the matter, the resulting instability would provide Chinese with justification to intervene militarily. [3]
Cole echoes the "snipers enabled Russian invasion" interpretation of the chaos in Ukraine, and takes the tack that the PRC would encourage violent subversion, perhaps through a pro-mainland gangster, Chang An-le, in order to give it an excuse to invade while Democracy, Freedom, and the Seventh Fleet stand cravenly to one side. My personal feeling re Chang is that Beijing is sponsoring a pro-unification goon squad so anti-independence politicians can draw on a reserve of street muscle to provide a riposte to the more radical independence activists, who rely on street protests and stunts like pulling down a statue of Sun Yat-sen in Tainan City for political traction.

It is possible that the PRC, faced with the prospect of the DPP winning the presidency in 2016, might take the momentous step of fomenting political chaos in Taiwan, assume US fecklessness, and invade. But I should say that the PRC, based on its previous experience with the Chen Shuibian regime, is more likely to believe it can manage the awkwardness with a DPP regime through the usual mix of threats and inducements-if it believes that the US will uphold the One China policy.

In contrast to Cole's opinion (and more in keeping, I might say, with the drift of his scenario and the propensity for mischief displayed by China hawks in the US), I think a more likely scenario for violent political unrest in Taiwan is that pro-independence forces, if egged on by the United States and Japan with the promise of recognition, might foment a political crisis in Taiwan, overwhelm the current government, declare independence, and dare the PRC to respond. That's pretty much what happened in Ukraine.

A Taiwan declaration of independence backed by Japan and the United States would force an existential choice on the PRC: does it swallow the humiliation of backing down on Taiwan, revealing itself to be a paper tiger in front of its Asian interlocutors? Or does it make good on its bluster and launch an attack to subjugate Taiwan?

Time will tell.

But it doesn't matter who you think the bad guy would be; whether you think the PRC would take the enormous geopolitical risk of fomenting chaos in Taiwan in order to justify an invasion, or if you think the United States would roll the dice on its future in Asia by egging on pro-independence radicals in Taipei, or you simply hope that nobody starts World War III during your lifetime…

Any way … consider Taiwan in play.

1. See here
2.See Visiting Su touts closer ties with Japan, Taipei Times, Feb 5, 2013.
3. See Taiwan Watching Crimea with Nervous Eye Toward Beijing, The National Interest, March 14, 2014.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

America's Oligarch Strategy

a.k.a. Empire in the Age of the 1%

At US behest, Austria arrested a Ukrainian oligarch named Dmytro Firtash in Vienna on some corruption and bribery charge that appears to be involved tangentially with the United States. 
Apparently, Firtash was small fry, 14th on the Ukraine list, worth only $673 million.  Being an oligarch is, in itself, no crime in Ukraine.  Yulia Tymoshenko is an oligarch (the “Gas Queen); the new Ukrainian government openly appointed oligarchs Igor Kolomoisky and Serhiy Taruta as governors in two western provinces in order to keep a lid on pro-Russian sentiment; and the great white hope of the Maidan activists, the “good oligarch” Petro Poroshenko, a.k.a. “The Chocolate King” is the seventh-richest man in Ukraine, worth about $1 billion.

Firtash’s problem is that the US identified him with the Yanukovych camp and close to Russia because of his gas dealings.  It also looks like Firtash moved into Tymoshenko’s gas interests while she was in prison, which may account for the FBI obligingly dropping the hammer on him.

More importantly, I expect, Firtash’s arrest is meant to send a message to another oligarch-heavy area, Russia, in anticipation of Western sanctions for the Crimea referendum.

And, I think, the message is “Work with the US and against Putin if you want your Western assets to be protected and respected.”

This message is likely to be heeded.  After all, most oligarchs are laser focused on their personal wealth and their personal interest.  In an era of globalized finance, the dependence of the wealthy on the nation states that spawned their biological integument is less important than the matrix of trans-national institutions that sustain their finances and cater to their need for personal impunity.  Personal profit, in other words means more than patriotism or even national prosperity.

This state of affairs is magnificently illustrated by the story of a magnificent yacht currently docked in New York, courtesy of  the town herald of the globalized wealthy, CNBC:

New Yorkers have been tweeting, instagraming and posting countless photos of a gleaming blue megayacht docked off midtown Manhattan. It's called "Serene." At a staggering 436-feet, with five levels, several swimming pools, two helicopter pads and soaring chrome exhaust pipes at the top, it nearly outshines the Intrepid Museum next door. (Its best amenities are inside: the "underwater viewing room," an indoor climbing wall, children's playroom and cabins for 24 guests and 52 crew, according to the yacht builder.) Anyone doing a quick Google search learns that the owner of Serene is Yuri Scheffler, the vodka-and-spirits magnate behind the Stolichnaya brand. And with the turmoil in Ukraine and Russia , many have also speculated that Serene's sudden presence is a sign of the worried oligarchs-the Putin-connected, Russian super rich who now face a financial backlash from the West for Russia's actions. But they would be wrong. Scheffler is no Putin oligarch. And he has a surprising perspective on Ukraine.

In an email interview, Scheffler said he is in New York on business-hence the boat.
Although Scheffler's company, SPI Group, started in Russia, it's now based in Luxembourg. Scheffler is now a British citizen who spends much of his time abroad and hasn't been to Russia in 12 years. Scheffler has publicly battled President Vladimir Putin for years as the Russian government tried to seize the company and "renationalize" its assets. The government even issued a warrant for Scheffler's arrest in 2003 after he refused to hand over the company. So when asked about his views on Ukraine, Scheffler was highly critical of Russia's government.

One might think that, the feelings of a British citizen with a Luxembourg company about Russia might not be newsworthy, even if he is a rich fuck who owns a yacht longer than a football field.

Well, you’re wrong.  Oligarchs are not only rich guys and gals.  They also invest in media and politics to give their interests the greatest possible weight.  So they can bring down governments.

One of the most interesting takeaways of the Ukraine crisis was the report that Victoria Nuland had threatened sanctions against the Western interests of key Ukrainian oligarchs if violence was used against protesters…which erupted with suspicious alacrity.  Since the various oligarchs controlled dozens of deputies in the Ukrainian parliament, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions imploded and the rest is regime change history.

It is safe to say that the US has a similar strategy to pressure Russia’s 19 billionaires, first indirectly through sanctions against Russia and then, if British squeamishness over attacking one of the props of London’s prosperity are overcome, against the oligarchs’ personal wealth.

We even have a “good” oligarch, Mikhael Khodorkosky, the oil tycoon who was imprisoned by Putin ten years ago on the well-founded suspicion that he was ready and willing to serve as the vehicle for American interests and mischief in Russian politics and the strategic Russian oil industry.  

Khodorkovsky, although he had promised to eschew politics in return for a pre-Sochi Olympics pardon, emerged in Maidan Square recently with an impassioned attack on the Russian adventure in Crimea, and on Putin personally.  Khodorkovsky, prior to his imprisonment, had spent lavishly on think tank funding and PR in the West and he apparently still has his soft power mojo; his remarks were recorded and broadcast to the world by a small army of prestige media scribes.

Apparently the Forbes list of the world’s richest people had 424 billionaires on it with $1.1 trillion worth of wealth ($2.5 billion per capita and about 3% of global world product) in 1996;  now it’s 1,565 billionaires with $6.5 trillion ($4 billion per capita and around 10% of the global nut).  In case you’re wondering, the growth in billionaires and their wealth is outrunning inflation (about 50% since 1996), real GWP  (about 40%), and my 401K (don’t ask). All I can say is, “Waiter!  I’ll have what they’re having!”

I suppose it’s good that the United States is keeping up with global economic trends and has a strategy to exploit the proliferation of oligarchs who view national governments as just another item in their portfolios of assets and interests, to be rebalanced as pressure from the United States indicates.

Even though the PRC has largely maintained the Communist Party’s political and media monopoly, China has an oligarch problem, too, and has been aggressive in making sure that rich people with reformist inclinations and large followings on social media are cut down to size.  The PRC also cares about rich people who have evaded capital controls and stashed their ill-gotten gains in the West, making them vulnerable to US and EU extortion.  The PRC has to tread carefully in its anti-corruption drive, since the threat of local prosecution will drive the rich to put more of their money overseas and out of the Party’s reach and within range of US sanctions.  I expect some thought is being given to identifying and cultivating a safe overseas haven for cash and investments, to deal with the headache that the West is still the most attractive destination for investment, liquidity, and the free movement of capital.  

In passing, I might note that for lefty liberals it is one of those inconvenient truths that the countries that occasionally attempt to subordinate the interests of the wealthy to those of the state (and possibly to the occasional benefit of the huddled masses of the 99%) are often, by a funny coincidence, America’s most detested enemies, i.e. Russia, China, Cuba, and Venezuela.

The United States also has an oligarch problem.  Rich guy Michael Bloomberg ran New York for several years.  We’ve got the Koch brothers lavishly funding political candidates at the state and national level, and turning Wisconsin into a petri dish for their economic agenda.  A California billionaire, Tim Draper, is engaging in the oligarch version of nation building, funding a ballot initiative to split California into six states.  And of course Tom Perkins came straight out and said it: it should be one dollar not one person one vote.  I suppose we should be grateful that some oligarchs are still interested in restructuring the balky United States operation instead of just “going Galt” and abandoning it outright.

Maybe you haven’t noticed the oligarch problem because the rather dubious decision has been made to shield the identities of the malefactors of great wealth behind the anonymizing “1%” tag, allowing their defenders to deploy the “class warfare” trope and talk about economic growth and tweaks to the minimum wage as a solution for the “income inequality” crisis.  

I doubt that giving burger flippers an extra two dollars an hour will restore prosperity and dignity to the working poor.  But there is no mainstream constituency for redistributing oligarch wealth to solve our problems, on the valid basis that any attempt to mess with the oligarchs will simply send them and their billions scampering to a more amenable jurisdiction.  

When Bill Clinton went whole hog on globalization, we pretty much let the oligarch cat out of the bag.  Now the national government of the United States has committed to globalization with the idea that the America’s globalization-related problems of employment and investment can be solved…with more globalization, a rather dubious assertion that resembles the voodoo-economics mantra of Republican conservatives that the problems encountered in cutting taxes will be solved by…cutting more taxes.

So we have a solution for manipulating and exploiting oligarchs overseas.  Too bad we don’t have one for oligarchs at home.  Welcome to the 21st century.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Nuland, Ashton, "Klitsch", "Yats" and...Oleh Tyahnybok?

Pepe Escobar put me onto these pictures, both taken a few weeks before the new ruling troika’s accession to power in late February.  Victoria Nuland in the first, Baroness Ashton in the other.  Pretty clear from these formal portraits that a formal anointment by the US and the West was underway.  The three are Yarsenyi Yatsenyuk, Vitali Klitschko, and Oleh Tyahnybok.  


Tyahnybok, the one least familiar to Western readers—and for very good reason, as shall be seen-- is the leader of the Svoboda Party and a real piece of work, according to his Wikipedia entry:

Political career
In October 1991 Tyahnybok became a member of the Social-National Party of Ukraine.[9] He is characterised as representative of Ukraine's far right. From 1994 till 1998, Tyahnybok served as a member of the Lviv Regional Council.[10] In 1998, Tyahnybok was first elected to the Ukrainian Parliament as a member of Social-National Party of Ukraine,[9] in the parliament he became a member of the People's Movement of Ukraine fraction.[9] In 2002, Tyahnybok was reelected to the Ukrainian parliament as a member of Victor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc.[9] In parliament he submitted 36 motions for debate, but the parliament adopted only four of them.[11] In the majority of his motions he opposed the introduction of the Russian language as the second official state language, proposed recognition of the fighting role of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and Ukrainian Insurgent Army during World War II, called for the lustration of former communist officials, security service officers and undercover agents, and demanded the prohibition of communist ideology.[11] None of these motions were adopted.[11]
On July 20, 2004, Tyahnybok was expelled from the Our Ukraine parliamentary faction[9][12] after he made a speech in the Carpathian Mountains at the gravesite of a commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.[12] In the speech, which was aired on television in the summer of 2004, he made comments like:[13]
"[You are the ones] that the Moscow-Jewish mafia ruling Ukraine fears most"[12]
"They were not afraid and we should not be afraid. They took their automatic guns on their necks and went into the woods, and fought against the Moskali, Germans, Kikes and other scum who wanted to take away our Ukrainian state."[11]
In his defence Tyahnybok said he had not offended Russians by calling them an occupying force as this was based on historical fact. He also denied that he was anti-Semitic, saying he was rather pro-Ukrainian.[14][15] The head of the State Committee of National Migration (Derzhkomnatsmihratsia) Hennadiy Moskal published an open letter with insulting content towards the head of the AU Freedom. The Prosecutor's office filed criminal charges of inciting ethnic hatred, but later closed the case for lack of offense. Since that time Mr. Tyahnybok has won nine court cases in that regard. By the decisions of courts it was recognized that the criminal case was raised unlawfully, and the actions of TV-channel "Inter" that showed the footage of the Tyanybok's speech as well as the Head of the Derzhkomnatsmihratsia H. Moskal were recognized as ones that insult the honor and dignity Oleh Tyahnybok and caused him a moral damage. The actions around that issue led to creation of the "Program in defense of Ukrainians". Tyahnybok stated in 2012 "this speech is relevant even today" and "All I said then, I can also repeat now".[4]
Since February 2004 Tyahnybok has headed the All-Ukrainian Union "Freedom".[10]
In April 2005, Tyahnybok co-signed an open letter to President Yushchenko calling for a parliamentary investigation into the "criminal activities of organized Jewry in Ukraine."[4][16]
Tyahnybok stood as a candidate for the post of Mayor of Kiev during the Kiev local election in 2008.[11] In the elections Leonid Chernovetskyi was reelected with 37.7% of the vote, while Tyahnybok received 1.37% of the vote.[11][17]
Tyahnybok's results in the presidential elections of 2010
Tyahnybok was a candidate for President of Ukraine in the 2010 presidential election for the All-Ukrainian Union "Freedom". He received 352,282 votes, or 1.43% of the total.[18] Most of his votes he received in the historic Halychyna oblasts - Lviv oblast, Ternopil oblast and Ivano-Frankivsk oblast accounted to 5% of the vote.[19] In the second round, Tyahnybok did not endorse a candidate. He did presente a list of some 20 demands second round candidate Yulia Tymoshenko had to fulfil first before gaining his endorsement - which included publicizing alleged secret deals Tymoshenko had with Vladimir Putin and ridding herself of what he called Ukraine-haters in her close circles.[20]
During the 2010 Ukrainian local elections his party won between twenty and thirty percent of the votes in Eastern Galicia where it became one of the main forces in local government.[6][21]
During the 2012 Ukrainian parliamentary election Tyahnybok was (re-)elected (he was top candidate on his party list) into the Ukrainian parliament; when his party won 38 seats.[22][23][24] Tyahnybok was elected leader of the party's parliamentary faction.[25]
In December 2012 Tyahnybok was voted Person of the Year by readers of Ukraine's leading news magazine, Korrespondent.[4]

Political positions

Tyahnybok regards Russia as Ukraine's biggest threat.[13] He has accused the Medvedev presidency of "waging virtual war on Ukraine along many fronts – in the information sphere and the diplomatic sector, within the energy trade and throughout the world of international PR spin.".[6] He is pro-NATO and critical of the European Union, but supports a Europe of free nations. According to polls both stances put him at odds with the majority of Ukrainians.[13] Tyahnybok also wants to deprive Crimea of its autonomous status and Sevastopol of its special status.[26][27]
Tyahnybok wants to introduce a “nationality” section into Ukrainian passport, a visa regime with Russia, and for Ukrainians to pass a Ukrainian language test to work in the civil service.[28]
Tyahnybok wants to re-establish Ukraine as a nuclear power.[28] He believes this would stop the "Russian virtual war on Ukraine" (mentioned above).[6]

Here's a picture of Tyahnybok doing what looks like national socialist, excuse me, social-national calisthenics:

Thanks, Wikipedia.  I guess Khodorkovsky neglected to read Wikipedia before he declared there were no fascists or Nazis in Maidan.

As to why Victoria Nuland and Catherine Ashton cherish Tyahnybok, or at least hold their noses, ignore his blatant anti-Semitism, Ukraine ethnic chauvinism, and flirtations with fascism, the explanation can be found within the final passage in his Wikipedia entry:

In an opinion poll conducted on December 7–17, 2013, respondents showed that in a hypothetical presidential election between Viktor Yanukovych and Tyahnybok, results found that Tyahnybok would win with 28.8% of the popular vote, versus Yanukovych's 27.1%.[31] Another poll taken on January 42–February 2, 2014 across all regions of Ukraine showed that in a presidential race between Tyahnybok and incumbent Yanukovych, 54.% of the population would vote for Tyahnybok.[32]

In other words, with pro-Russian candidates off the ballot, Tyahnybok is a dominant political power in Ukraine.  He certainly is a bigger votegetter than Yatsenyuk, whose main responsibility is to negotiate with the West over financial aid and the EU package, and Vitali Klitschko, who is seen as a political tyro.  In recognition of Tyahnbyok's clout, Svoboda members got the posts of Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Ecology, and a acting prosecutor general.  A founder of the Social Nationalist party was made secretary of the Ukraine National Security and Defense Council.

Looks like Ukraine might be in for a prolonged session of Strategic Patience (TM), my shorthand for the US persisting with spectacularly flawed policies because 1) the pain and cost is mostly borne overseas 2) the United States can step in and claim credit for confronting the problems itself created, but without ever addressing or removing the underlying causes and 3) there is always the hope that things will get so bad that everybody will just give up and America will get its way.