Georgia protests revive charges of foreign meddling

Embattled President Saakashvili has accused Russians of financing a popular movement to oust him.

Shakh Aivazov/AP
Demonstrators in Tbilisi, Georgia, marched toward President Saakashvili's residence Monday, in the fifth day of protests against his government.

MOSCOW – A fresh cycle of "colored revolutions" appears to be shaking the former Soviet Union, and once again fingers are pointed all around at nefarious "foreign interests" aiming to profit from the turmoil.

Over the past week the post-Soviet states of Moldova and Georgia have both erupted in angry street protests aimed at overthrowing an elected government, which demonstrators claim came to power through fraud and seeks to impose a dictatorship.

It's not the first time for Georgia, which has regularly deposed every elected president since gaining independence from the USSR in 1991.

But Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who himself came to power in the "Rose Revolution" of 2003, sees a Russian conspiracy in the wave of street protests that have been rocking Tbilisi since last week. (For details click here and here.)

Some 20,000 people gathered in Tbilisi's main square Monday, for the fifth day running, to demand Mr. Saakashvili's resignation.

“Most of the money [to finance the protests] comes from Russian oligarchs," Saakashvili told Newsweek correspondent Anna Nemtsova over the weekend. “Whether the money is being sent from Russia under the supervision of the Russian government, that, I do not know.”

Russia rejects blame

Russia denies any involvement, and many Russian experts bristle at the suggestion that the Kremlin could be involved in Georgia's internal politics.

“It's foolish to blame Moscow of being behind these protests, only Saakashvili can possibly believe that," says Mikhail Alexandrov, an expert with the Institute for Commonwealth of Independent States Studies, which is funded by the Russian government. "These protest leaders in Georgia are Saakashvili's former comrades-in-arms and well-known pro-Western politicians."

Similar allegations are flying in Moldova, where Communist President Vladimir Voronin says next-door Romania – a NATO member – orchestrated last week's political rampage through the capital Chisinau by text-messaging and Twittering groups of youths challenging the validity of recent parliamentary elections. Mr. Voronin has defused the crisis for now, by agreeing to a full recount Wednesday.

Fingerpointing redux

If all the conflicting allegations of outside influence sound familiar, they ought to. When pro-Moscow regimes were overthrown in Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), and Kyrgyzstan (2005) in very similar upheavals, the Kremlin loudly complained that Western governments were behind the revolts.

As the first wave of "colored revolutions" was breaking, many experts believed that many countries in the former Soviet Union, including Russia, were vulnerable to a sharp political shock delivered by democracy activists taking action in the streets.

In a 2006 meeting with Russian secret services, then-President Vladimir Putin urged them to be vigilant, especially concerning the activities of Western-funded nongovernmental organizations, to prevent “attempts by foreign states to use these organizations to interfere in Russia's internal affairs.”

But an investigation by the Monitor at the time of Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" found that while Western institutions were funding some Ukrainian NGOs that had programs in democracy education and civil society-building, there was no discernable evidence that they were subsidizing any subversive or politically partisan activities.

The continuing tendency among most political experts in Moscow is to view political turmoil in any far-flung corner of the former Soviet Union as a Western-orchestrated attempt to undermine Russian influence.

"Moldova was doomed to see an anti-Russian revolution, and an attempt at changing power was a mater of time and of a convenient occasion," the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda editorialized after the riots in Chinisau last week.

"For the past few years the West kept poking a finger into Russia's perimeter border to test if for reliability. The real aim of this is clear to all – surrounding Russia with a ring of states affiliated with the same military and political alliance [NATO],” it added.

Outside pressure vs. anger from within

Most experts say the tumult in the region is caused by internal pressures and part of the historical readjustment process for nations that were locked inside the USSR for 70 years.

“The reasons for these colored revolutions, whether successful or not, are purely internal,” says Alexander Iskanderyan, director of the independent Center for Caucasian Studies in Yerevan, Armenia. “Outside forces may be present, but they cannot initiate a revolt unless the local preconditions are already present.”

But others, such as the head of the Russian nationalist International Eurasian Movement, Alexander Dugin, argue that there's a geopolitical war going on for dominance in the post-Soviet space, and that Russia is losing it.

“Russia doesn't show any capacity to be an equal to the US in this battle,” Mr. Dugin says. He says that pro-Western groups, including disaffected young people and “globalist” NGOs, are employing the latest information technology to “network” and stage flash revolutions that have the potential to rapidly overwhelm legitimate but slow-moving established regimes.

“We are seeing just the first stage of these revolts,” he says “The whole world, including Russia, is becoming more vulnerable to this method of revolution. I think it will repeat itself in many places, including Russia.”

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