Ousting democratically elected leaders in Ukraine and elsewhere

By Chandra Muzaffar,

If Ukraine is on the brink of a catastrophe, it is mainly because the present regime in Kiev and its supporters, backed by certain Western powers had violated a fundamental principle of democratic governance. They had ousted a democratically elected president through illegal means. President Viktor Yanukovich who had come to power through a free and fair election in 2010 should have been removed through the ballot-box.

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His opponents not only betrayed a democratic principle. They subverted a ‘Peace Deal’ signed between them and Yanukovich on 21 February 2014 in which the latter had agreed to form a national unity government within 10 days that would include opposition representatives; reinstate the 2004 Constitution; relinquish control over Ukraine’s security services; and hold presidential and parliamentary elections by December 2014. According to the Deal, endorsed by Germany, France and Poland, Yanukovich would remain president until the elections.

His co-signatories had no intention of honouring the agreement. Without following procedures, parliament, with the backing of the military, voted immediately to remove Yanukovich and impeach him. The Parliamentary Speaker was elected interim President and after a few days a new regime was installed. One of the first acts of parliament was to proclaim that Ukrainian is the sole official language of the country, thus downgrading the Russian language, the mother-tongue of one-fifth of the population. Anti-Russian rhetoric which had become more strident than ever in the course of the protest against the Yanukovich government has reached a crescendo in the wake of the overthrow of the government.

The protest gives us an idea of some of the underlying issues that have brought Ukraine to the precipice. There was undoubtedly a great deal of anger in the Western part of the country, including Kiev, over the decision of the Russian-backed Yanukovich to reject closer economic ties with the European Union (EU) in favour of financial assistance from Moscow. It explains to some extent the massive demonstrations of the last few months. Police brutality, corruption within government circles, and cronyism associated with Yanukovich had further incensed the people.

But these legitimate concerns tell only one side of the story. The protest movement had also brought to the fore neo-Nazis and fascists sworn to violence. Armed and organised groups such as the Svoboda and the Right Sector provide muscle power to the protest. They are known to have targeted Jewish synagogues and Eastern Orthodox Christian Churches. It is the militias associated with these groups that are in control of street politics in Kiev.

Elites in Germany, France, Britain, the United States and within the NATO establishment as a whole are very much aware of the role of neo-Nazi and fascist elements in the protest and in the current Kiev regime. Indeed, certain American and European leaders had instigated the demonstrators and were directly involved in the machinations to bring down the Yanukovich government. The US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, Victoria Nuland, had in her infamous telephone conversation with the US Ambassador to Ukraine admitted that her country had spent 5 billion US dollars promoting anti-Russian groups in Ukraine. For the US and the EU, control over Ukraine serves at least two goals. It expands their military reach through NATO right up to the doorstep of Russia, challenging the latter’s time-honoured relationship with its strategic neighbour. It brings Ukraine within the EU’s economic sphere. Even as it is, almost half of Ukraine’s 35 billion dollar debt is owed to Western banks which would want the country to adopt austerity measures that would remunerate the banks.

It is largely because of these geopolitical and geo-economic challenges that Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is flexing his military muscles in Crimea, in the eastern Ukraine region, which not only has a preponderantly Russian-speaking population but is also home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet. Besides, Ukraine is the cradle of Russian civilisation. This is why Putin will go all out to protect Russian interests in Ukraine, but at the same time, there is every reason to believe that he will avoid a military confrontation and try to work out a political solution based upon the Peace Deal.

The catastrophe in Ukraine reveals five dimensions in the politics of the ouster of democratically elected governments. One, the determined drive to overthrow the government by dissidents and opponents which is often uncompromising. Two, the exploitation of genuine people related issues and grievances. Three, the mobilisation of a significant segment of the populace behind these mass concerns. Four, the resort to violence through militant groups often with a pronounced right-wing orientation. Five, the forging of strong linkages between domestic anti-government forces and Western governments and other Western actors, including banks and NGOs, whose collective aim is to perpetuate Western control and dominance or Western hegemony.

Some of these dimensions are also present in Venezuela where there is another concerted attempt to oust a democratically elected government. Some genuine economic grievances related to the rising cost of living and unemployment are being manipulated and distorted to give the erroneous impression that the Maduro government does not care for the people. President Maduro, it is alleged, is suppressing dissent with brutal force.

The truth is that a lot of the violence is emanating from groups linked to disgruntled elites who are opposed to the egalitarian policies pursued by Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. They are disseminating fake pictures through social media as part of their false propaganda about the Venezuelan government’s violence against the people — pictures which have now been exposed for what they are by media analysts.

Support for this propaganda and for the street protests in Venezuela comes from US foundations such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). It has been estimated that in 2012 alone, the NED gave more than 1.3 million dollars to organisations and projects in Venezuela ostensibly to promote “human rights,” “democratic ideas” and “accountability.” The majority of Venezuelans have no doubt at all that this funding is to undermine a government which is not only determined to defend the nation’s independence in the face of Washington’s dominance but is also pioneering a movement to strengthen regional cooperation in Latin America and the Caribbean as a bulwark against the US’s hegemonic agenda. It is because other countries in the region such as Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua, Uruguay, and Paraguay know what the US elite is trying to do in Venezuela that they have described “the recent violent acts” in the country “ as attempts to destabilise the democratic order.”

A third country where a democratically elected leader is under tremendous pressure from street demonstrators at this juncture is Thailand. Though some of the issues articulated by the demonstrators are legitimate, the fact remains that they do not represent majority sentiment which is still in favour of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her exiled brother, former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. As in Ukraine and Venezuela, violence — albeit on a much lower scale — has seeped into the struggle for power between the incumbent and the protesters. However, foreign involvement is not that obvious to most of us. Both Yingluck and the protest movement are regarded as pro-Western. Nonetheless, there are groups in Washington and London who perceive the current government in Bangkok as more inclined towards China compared to the opposition Democratic Party or the protesters. Is this one of the reasons why a section of the mainstream Western media appears to be supportive of the demonstrations?

There are a number of other instances of democratically elected leaders being overthrown by illegal means. The most recent — in July 2013 — was the unjust ouster of President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt. In 1973, President Salvador Allende of Chile was killed in a coup engineered by the CIA. Another democratically elected leader who was manoeuvred out of office and jailed as a result of a British-US plot was Mohammed Mosaddegh of Iran in 1953.

It is only too apparent that in most cases the ouster of democratically elected leaders have been carried out directly or indirectly by the self-proclaimed champions of democracy themselves! It reveals how hypocritical they are. What really matters to the elites in the US, Britain and other Western countries is not democracy but the perpetuation of their hegemonic power. Hegemony, not democracy, has always been their object of worship.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).