US Disappointment For The Rose And Orange Revolutionaries In Georgia And Ukraine

MOSCOW, Russia -- Georgia and Ukraine were eagerly awaiting the arrival of US vice-president Joe Biden, hoping he would use his visit to signal support for their post-coloured revolution yet troubled governments. And, even more importantly, that he would give a clear message about America's intolerance of Russia’s influence over their affairs.

Georgian (L) and Ukrainian flags.

But despite the high hopes of these two former-Soviet countries, Biden’s words broke through their rose- and orange-tinted hopes to draw attention to their own internal setbacks. [Georgia’s “Rose” revolution was in November, 2003; Ukraine’s “Orange” revolution lasted from November, 2004, until January, 2005.]

Biden’s speeches in both former-Soviet countries were lacking the anti-Russian rhetoric typical of his predecessor, Dick Cheney. The United States seems to have a different policy toward Russia, as was made clear by President Barack Obama when he visited Moscow. During his stay, Obama mostly looked to future cooperation with the former Cold War enemy, and tried to avoid rocking the boat by not mentioning the less pleasant internal problems of the country.

Does this mean that Georgia and Ukraine are now included in Russia’s domestic problems, as far as the United States is concerned? Not quite. Biden stressed during his trip that America will stand by their independence. But his careful rhetoric with regard to Russia has intensified the former-Soviet countries’ worries about the consequences that closer US-Russian relations could have for eastern Europe.

Biden expressed his support for Ukraine, but warned that the country’s future would depend on its own efficiency. “Ukraine, in my humble opinion, must heed the lesson of history. Effective, accountable government is the only way to provide a stable, predictable and transparent environment that attracts investments… the economic engine of development,” he said in a speech to Ukraine leaders.

The vice-president also emphasised the breakdown of communications within the Ukrainian government that has destabilised the country in the last several years. This willingness to mix words of support with criticism, the now famous “reset”, demonstrates the current administration’s departure from the George Bush administration’s foreign policy regarding Russia and former Soviet states.

In Georgia, Biden claimed that the improving of US-Russian relations should not be done at the expense of Georgia. Addressing the Georgian government, the vice-president condemned Russia’s actions toward its southern neighbour.

“We call upon Russia to honour its international commitment, clearly specified in the April 12 ceasefire agreement, including withdrawal of all forces to their pre-conflict positions and ultimately out of your territorial area,” said Biden.

Indeed, the time of friendly relations with ex-Soviet countries at the expense of the relationship with Russia is now over for the United States, believes Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Centre. America wants to be able to get on with both. But Biden’s cooler approach toward Ukraine and Georgia also has a lot to do with the internal problems in the two countries.

In Ukraine this has to do with a lack of an economic infrastructure and a heavy reliance on Russia both politically and economically. But it also has to do with the internal split in the country’s government, between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

“The politicians themselves are destabilising the country,” said Lipman, “especially in the very difficult economic crisis that Ukraine faces. This provides more foundation for the more removed approach of the United States.”

Georgia also has difficulties, as this year’s protests calling for the resignations of President Mikheil Saakashvili have shown. The country was strongly supported by the United States under Bush, but this intensified Russian mistrust of both, leading to accusations that America backed Georgia in last year’s August war.

The concerns that Ukraine and Georgia share, of Russian aggression, are shared by other nations. Last week, 22 former east European leaders signed an open letter to Washington, in which they stated that the threat from Russia was still very real for them.

Lipman believes that these fears have substantial foundations.

“I think that this letter has been dictated by the war with Georgia and the change of the US administration,” she said, “which no longer has the policy of supporting countries of the former Soviet Union if that jeopardises its relationship with Russia.”

“This is clearly a concern for countries who believed that their main ally and protector was the United States.”

The letter voices a serious concern for the future of US plans to place elements of a missile defence shield and radar in the Czech Republic and Poland. Obama has so far been much more sceptical than his predecessor about the plans for the construction of the missile system. The talks between Russia and the United States in the last couple of months have shown that both countries are willing to put off the project. But the east European countries – or at least their former leaders – warned that they should have more say in the process.

“Abandoning the programme entirely or involving Russia too deeply in it without consulting Poland or the Czech Republic can undermine the credibility of the United States across the whole region,” read the former leaders’ letter, which was republished on the Open Democracy human rights website.

The letter is, however, somewhat of an anomaly, as its interpretation of the reasons for the missile defence system is at odds with the official position in Washington. It implies that the system is needed to protect Europe from Russia, an idea Washington denies, claiming instead that it is needed as protection against Iran.

But security against Russia is of paramount importance to Georgia after August’s confrontation. Georgia, like Ukraine, wants to be part of NATO, but Biden’s words on the subject were noncommittal. Although this may ease US-Russian tensions, perhaps a bigger reason for America’s reluctance to have these countries in NATO is simply that they are not yet ready.

“This is not a matter of America’s preferences, but of the desire of these countries and their lack of compliance to NATO standards,” Lipman said.

Source: Russia Now