Are you familiar with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)? No? Well, have a look at their website. Not to be a spoiler or anything, but let me quote briefly from it: “Inspired by the role American think tanks played in helping the US move from isolationism to global leadership, ECFR’s founders set about creating a pan-European institution that could combine establishment credibility with intellectual insurgency.”
Intellectual insurgency – now, there’s a phrase that should inflame your mental ganglia with mingled interest and suspicion, and you’re going to see an inspired example of intellectual insurgency in just a moment.
“The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is a pan-European think-tank which conducts research and promotes informed debate across Europe on the development of a coherent and effective European values-based foreign policy.” Having, hopefully, established its affinity for intellectual insurgency, I’d like you to take the next step with me, and think about the target of all this intellectual insurgency. The formation of a coherent and effective European values-based policy.
Once again, please expore the website and draw your own conclusions; I have no wish to apply undue influence to your development of a viewpoint – but might I draw your attention to the membership?
Oh, the hell with it. Timothy Garton Ash, obsessive non-participatory warmonger and the biggest, knobbiest Russophobic prick in a waving pink field of turgid Russophobic pricks? Carl Bildt, Psychotic Pswede of the year and compulsive tweeter of everything anti-Russian? Ivan Krastev, Mr. Moscow-is-trying-to-split-the European Union when the European Union gleefully colluded in the manipulation of Euromaidan which started the cycle of violence in Ukraine? Radoslaw Sikorski, who needs no introduction? Toomas Ilves, fourth president of Estonia, who thinks current Russian wages are close to what they are in Ukraine? Russian average wages are more than three times as high as Ukraine’s – assuming people are actually getting paid in Ukraine – when both are converted to a common U.S. dollar value. Heidi “The EU is not trying to extend its sphere of influence to its eastern neighbours ” Hautala? Do tell. Come on, for Christ’s sake – don’t you think people can read?
You might imagine from this that the ECFR’s delight in the appointment of a foreign leader would be directly proportional to how anti-Russian his policies are, and the extent to which he is an irritant to Moscow. And you would imagine correctly (thanks, Tim).
With that in mind, let’s examine the ECFR’s continuing moonie and swoony support for corpulent criminal Mikheil Saakashvili, which I frankly find incomprehensible through any filter except his value as an irritant. Can the ECFR actually believe he is a suitable candidate to fight corruption? Seriously? Using that standard of measure, such a think tank could reliably be expected to endorse Keith Martin, Europe’s fattest man, for Equestrian Jumping in the 2024 Summer Olympics. And that’s even allowing for the fact that he died last year, poor soul. Not to belabor the point, but Mikheil Saakashvili is about as ill-suited – by both his nature and his proclivities – to fight corruption as a cricket bat is unsuitable for cleaning your ears.
Holy Hannah; I’m torn between the urges to scream out the window in frustration, and guffaw like a Seinfeld laugh-track. Well, let’s look at it.
Immediately, the author indulges in wild supposition – one of the reasons, he says, that the Russians did not move on Tbilisi in 2008 was their assumption that the Georgians would finish off Saakashvili themselves. There is no reason at all to believe this, and Sharashenidze is the only person in the world who has ever postulated such a ridiculous theory – it is particularly ludicrous in light of the fact that Tornike Sharashenidze was one of the earliest voices to admit Georgia started the war by attacking Tskhinvali. He voiced his opinion at that time that Saakashvili had listened to dunces in his government and expected the United States to intervene on Georgia’s side. That’s hard to imagine, considering the U.S. Secretary of State visited him less than a month before, and told him he had to “put a non-use of force pledge on the table” in negotiations wih the separatist provinces. No word on whether she winked broadly and significantly at him as she said it, but there’s no particular reason to imagine so. The Assistant Secretary of State and other American officials also reportedly warned him not to escalate the situation right up until just hours before the conflict went hot. Both Saakashvili’s response to direction and judgment must be viewed as reliable like a chocolate teapot. A brilliant choice for governor. I guess “loose cannon” was already filled.
Note the generous use of the passive voice in excusing Saakashvili’s more glaring failures – some people lost their jobs, some people were sent to jail, Georgian protesters were dispersed by force, the television station which backed them was raided. Nothing in there suggests Saakashvili directly participated in any of these things – they just… sort of…happened. Imagine such things just…sort of…happening in Moscow. The ECFR would scream as if it were being cooked in a giant microwave.
But the author contends confidently that Saakashvili stands a good chance of success in straightening out the situation in Odessa, in the complete absence of any reason to think so. And that is the most maddening thing of all.
Let’s take a stroll together down memory lane, shall we, and have a non-partisan look at Saakashvili’s previous corruption-fighting record. Beeeeeoooowwwowww (that’s supposed to represent a time-bending sound effect). Okay, here we are in Warsaw; March 4th, 2008. The OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission’s final report on the Extraordinary Presidential Election in Georgia on January 5th has just come out – you can smell the photocopier blistering from all the way down the hall, and the pages are still warm. Just before we open it, I want you to imagine two things – one, that the events and actions we read about took place during a presidential election in Russia, and two, whether the ECFR would regard them as examples of corruption in those circumstances. Ready? Here we go.
Oh, dear. It doesn’t kick off very positively, I’m afraid. “The campaign was overshadowed by widespread allegations of intimidation and pressure, among others on public-sector employees and opposition activists, some of which were verified by the OSCE/ODIHR EOM. The distinction between State activities and the campaign of the ruling United National Movement (UNM) party candidate, Mr. Mikheil Saakashvili, was blurred.” Intimidation and pressure of public sector employees and opposition activists, in Moscow, benefiting Vladimir Putin and his party – examples of a corrupt and rotten government? What say you, ECFR? I think you know. “Opposition parties were underrepresented in managerial positions in Precinct Election Commissions, and the ruling UNM (United National Movement, President Saakashvili’s party) held a de facto majority“. Is that how Putin runs Moscow? Not on our watch, Sunny Jim. Is that a model for governance in Odessa? I guess it doesn’t need to be – regional governors in Ukraine are appointed, not elected – pretty democratic, I think you’ll agree.
Amendments to the election code were adopted only weeks before the election, and their meaning was sometimes subject to interpretation. “[G]overnment distribution of social benefit vouchers was perceived to overlap with the campaign of Mr. Saakashvili, and raised the concerns about an unequal campaign environment.” You could say that – vouchers for utilities and medical supplies were distributed by authorities ahead of the election to pensioners and the poor; a clear case of use of state funds to buy votes, especially as the vouchers were prominently marked as being from Mr. Saakashvili and incorporated his trademark “5” (He was number 5 on the presidential ballot). Some voucher recipients were asked by distributors if they planned to vote for Mr. Saakashvili and were asked to sign documents confirming their intention. How do you think that would go over at the ECFR kaffeeklatsch if it were benefiting Putin in a presidential election? Like a turd in a punchbowl, I suspect.
“The last presidential election, held in January 2004, was won by Mr. Saakashvili with 96 per cent of the vote, in a largely uncontested race in which the main opposition figures did not stand.” Well, ‘pon my word; that’s democratic, surely, and just about as non-corrupt as…say…Zimbabwe. I can easily imagine a president elected on such a believable tide of national optimism turning into a finely-honed corruption fighter, especially when the same country issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of abuse of power.
As mentioned just a couple of posts ago, Saakashvili’s reign in Georgia coincided with record high unemployment and record low wages. You can shake and stir that as much as you like without ever being able to pour it out as success. He built himself a multi-million dollar palace that dwarfs the White House, while the Georgian per-capita GDP for a year was less than $6,500.00. His Defense Minister ran an offshore business for three years, right under his nose, that grossed nearly a Billion dollars in 2012. If all of that does not smell to you like c.o.r.r.u.p.t.i.o.n in three-part harmony, your stink-recognition rectifier may need replacement.
The efforts by this author, through “intellectual insurgency”, to repackage the Georgian Misfortune as Georgiy Washingtonvili are insulting, sophomoric and deserving of nothing but ridicule. I am frankly surprised that even a parcel of pernicious partisan peckerheads like the ECFR would print it.