Red Line: Global protests, the death of Gaddafi and Viktor Yanukovich

Source: Reuters / Vostock Photo

Source: Reuters / Vostock Photo

Each week, Voice of Russia hosts Red Line, a discussion about global events as seen from Moscow. In this edition: protests take over the globe, Muammar Gaddafi dies and Viktor Yanukovich faces challenges on all fronts.

Participants: Ekaterina Kudashkina, Sergei Strokan, Dmitry Polikarpov, Franco Oliva, Sergei Demidenko

Ekaterina Kudashkina
: This time we will start with the spread of the Wall Street protests around the world. We will then move on to discuss the prospects of the international involvement in Libya reconstruction after the death of Muammar Gaddafi and we will finally look at Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who, it appears, has lost much of the favor of his Western allies.

Let us proceed. In our first section, Beyond the Headlines, It seems that the spirit of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which we have scrutinized closely in one of our previous programs, is rapidly spreading around the globe. Protesters call for political and economic change not only in the United States, but in places ranging from Japan and New Zealand to Italy and Great Britain. While the scale of these protests is different in each particular case, the frustrations felt by the lost generation of young people with poor job prospects prove to be the same in New York or in Rome.

 

The protestors’ rallies are designed as a peaceful show of global solidarity for economic change. Among the common themes, we can distinguish the need for jobs and the desire to make governments better represent average citizens. The message "We are the 99 percent," associated with Occupy Wall Street, has become visible in other nations as well. While most recent actions in Europe were small and barely held up traffic, the march in Rome was really impressive. It drew over 200,000 people. Unfortunately, it took a violent turn, with some people donning masks and setting cars ablaze or breaking bank and shop windows. But, on the other hand, this is something always accompanying mass protests. 

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: Definitely. Let me remind you, colleagues, that the Occupy Wall Street movement, which formally launched on Sept. 17, was inspired by the Arab spring protests that spread over the past year through North Africa and the Middle East. So, as far as I understand, the new wave of anger and protest is currently welling up in western democracies?


Sergei Strokan: I believe that despite some evident similarities, there is a serious difference between the Arab spring and the “Western autumn.” TV images of thousands of angry people pouring to the streets of world capitals to fight for their basic rights create an impression that we are witnessing the global revival of a public resistance movement. However, I think these are entirely different stories.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Isn’t it just an overall wave of anger and exasperation rolling around the globe? The anger can be caused by different factors, but most of it boils down to unemployment and to worsening living conditions.

 

Sergei Strokan: I believe that the difference is much deeper; let me elaborate on this. Look, the basic slogan of the Arab Spring is the demise of the authoritarian rule, restoring basic human rights and building democratic institutions, sometimes from scratch, so this is a political agenda. The protests in the United States and in Europe are mostly about consumption and quality of life, taken in different spheres – jobs, education, medical care, ecology – everything. But those protests do not target the political system, because it is the political system that gives those protestors the ability to protest without being killed, jailed, tortured.

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: I agree with Sergei. While revolutions in North Africa and Middle East were mainly targeting obsolete political regimes, one of the key sensitive topics for the Europeans is their governments’ determination to keep the banking system afloat at the expense of average taxpayers.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Isn’t this a political dimension?

 

Sergei Strokan: No, this is totally related to socio-economic politicies. This has nothing to do with the political system.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina:But anyway this is a political situation, this is the political position of the European and western governments.

 

Sergei Strokan: Do you want to say that the protestors in Europe and the United States want to change political institutions, basic foundations?

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina:I think that both protestors in the Arab world and in the western world are actually looking for a better life, whatever that matters.

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: It is important to see that the signs carried in different cities around the world said the same thing: “Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.”

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: This is not an economic decision to buy out banks, it is a purely political decision, and that is just the instance when political decisions interfere with the economic life, and that what makes the market economy fail in certain instances. I would have agreed with you, a few weeks ago. However, things now seem to be changing rapidly. According to a recent research by the Russian Institute of Globalization and Social Movements (IGSM), as a result of the highly unpopular policy based on social spending cuts, citizens in several European countries begin to consider their ruling elites in a similar way people consider the dictatorial regimes in the Arab world. Let me offer you a quote. “People in Europe and North America have to oppose to a coalition of bankers and top politicians who are working together to make ordinary people pay to guarantee the profitability of the banking business,” said Boris Kagarlitsky, IGSM director. The case of Italy is very characteristic from this point of view. Italy is among the European nations where concerns about government debt have led to unpopular austerity measures - tax hikes and budget cuts.

{***}

The most spectacular detail for many protesters in Italy is that economic change seems quite impossible without previous political change. These protests are not targeting only the government’s economic line, but the government itself. Protests in Italy are clearly targeting Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his government. Graffiti critical of Berlusconi and scrawls like “Give us money” were widely seen during last weekend in Rome. 

 

Dmitry Polikarpov:I would say that not only Italians believe that it is not enough just to make the government introduce changes to its economic and social policy. For instance, in neighboring Spain, many representatives of the middle class consider that the burden of debts was created by the corrupted bureaucracy and imposed on ordinary people who have nothing to do with this problem. To avoid this in the future, they say, some changes should be introduced into the political and economic system, which would guarantee that any government respects the interests of those 99 percent.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: So like Dima is saying, changes should be introduced into the political and economic system – I stress the word system. I believe what they are targeting is – systemic change.

 

Sergei Strokan: I can agree that something seems to work incorrectly if in an advanced democracy the government is allowed to carry out policy disapproved of by the majority of citizens. But it may be easier to change the political system in some European countries than to make current governments change their domestic line. Do you know that Russia and the European Union almost coincided on their reaction to the wave of protests saying that the protesters were demanding really impossible things?

 

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned this week that western governments were unable to meet the demands of the protesters. He said that the situation “which we now see in some countries with developed economies when hundreds of thousands of people come out on the streets... and demand what the governments of these countries in fact are not able to fulfill” poses a real danger to Europe’s economic and political stability. Putin’s comments were echoed by EU president Herman Van Rompuy, who said that he understood the frustration of the protesters, but warned that the unpopular budget cuts should continue.

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: Do you agree think this promise sounds like a real challenge to the protestors? Are they trying to draw the enemy’s fire? Many analysts agree that the international protest movement is lacking charismatic leaders at the moment, but that it could still cause wider discontent, and lead to social unrest. As U.S. financial analyst Mike Lipper said: “This risk is why it is wise for global investors to keep a wary eye on these crowds".

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Let’s listen to one of the witnesses, Italian journalist Franco Oliva.

 

Franco Oliva: This is a worldwide problem. For the young population, this is a big problem; this is a lack of confidence in the future. Another sensation is that people count less and less. The financial world, banks, financial international institutions have all the power, the initiatives for designing this new world economy. A person feels less and less important in this. This is lack of confidence is with the young people that are not able to leave their families because they cannot get a house, they cannot get a steady job. It is a change from a concept in Italy where the most important thing was a steady job – that would be a job for life – and then you are assured a pension. This is not possible now. Young people get very short contracts; they cannot even hope in tomorrow.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina:We have been trying to understand what is it that people protest about. We all understand what generates this anger, but what needs to be done to calm it, do we need to address some structural or even systemic issues?

 

Franco Oliva: Yes, I think so. Let us talk about Italy - the problem of the young generation - but it is not just of the young generation, it is also of the grown-ups like me. They don’t have confidence in the political class, in the leaders, because they are trying to keep their privileges, and they don’t want to give up the power. So this is not a problem just for the government, this is the big problem at this moment. We feel that we cannot trust anyone in the political environment to have the answers that we need.

 

Let us take what happened last Saturday: we had a big march; there were a lot of people who came on the street, even with children, with families. And then, because of a few maybe 500, 600, 1,000, who made a mess, everybody is talking about this problem of order, everything becomes a political theater. People who watch this are disgusted, because they know that this is not about their problems. 

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Now we are moving to the next section of our program, Between the Lines, in which we discuss something we believe to be one of the most interesting stories of the week. The demise of former Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, though mired in all sorts of contradictions, opens a new stage in the life of the country. The story that we are looking into today is an editorial from the “Los Angeles Times” entitled quite simply “Libya After Gaddafi.” This time the piece has two merits – it combines an approach typical of the U.S. mainstream media with a sound analysis of the situation.

Here’s an opening quote for you: “The death of Muammar Gaddafi is the culmination of the remarkable eight-month revolt against his 42-year rule. But it is also a reminder that a new Libya is taking shape, a process in which the United States and its allies must play a constructive role.” Interestingly enough, the U.S. media is demonstrating the most emotional and the quickest reaction to the news of Gaddafi’s death. The U.S. reaction seems to be the most enthusiastic; many capitals have been somewhat reticent in their reaction.

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: The reactions from world capitals have been different, yet, most of them seem to be united on that national reconciliation must take place in Libya now. 

 

Sergei Strokan: A day before Gaddafi’s death, [U.S. Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton paid a surprise visit to Tripoli and she said that the United States wanted Gaddafi to be captured or killed soon. This was Just 24 hours before the first reports coming from the National Transitional Council saying that Gaddafi was shot and then died.

{***}

Ekaterina Kudashkina: And it also came just a day after the NATO Council made a statement that they are planning to end the operation.

 

Sergei Strokan: Do you think this is a coincidence?

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: What surprised me is that Mrs. Clinton said something about killing Gaddafi, whereas the Hague Tribunal issued an arrest warrant. So he needed to be taken alive.

The Russian daily “Kommersant” has also run an editorial focusing on the future of the post-Gaddafi Libya.

 

Sergei Strokan: Actually it was not an editorial, it was a front-page story with a profound analysis. The basic idea is that Gaddafi’s death marks the end of the 8-month-long civil war in Libya. The basic idea is that with the death of Gaddafi, pro-Gaddafi forces have lost their symbol, the banner of the resistance.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: But some figures become even more symbolic after their death. Couldn’t Muammar Gaddafi’s death perhaps elevate him to a certain degree in the minds of his supporters?

 

Sergei Strokan: Let me then draw a parallel with Iraq. Do you remember what happened in Iraq after the death of Saddam Hussein?

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Yes, there was a civil war.

 

Sergei Strokan: So you know that there were Saddam Hussein loyalists in Iraq, and for some months, maybe 3 or 6 months, they were keeping on resisting the new government, they were launching attacks, there were some terrorist acts, but by today, they faded away. There is no full-fledged civil war in Iraq.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: But Iraq has been nominally divided into three distinct parts, with the Kurdish population already having their parliament, having their own constitution, and that has been in place for several years already. After Saddam Hussein had been hanged, a civil war began and strong sectarian strife was also there in the country. So I am not sure this is a desired prospect for Libya.

I suggest we also look at some conflicting accounts of the last hours of Muammar Gaddafi. First accounts came that he was killed in a NATO air strike when he was trying to escape from the town of Sirte. I suggest we could look at a very careful analysis made by “The Hindustan Times.” Let me quote from it: “The exact circumstances of his demise are still unclear with conflicting accounts of his death emerging. But the footage, possibly, of the last chaotic moments of Gaddafi’s life, offered some clues into what happened. Gaddafi was still alive when he was captured near Sirte. In the video, filmed by a bystander in the crowd and later aired on television, Gaddafi is shown being dragged off a vehicle’s hood and pulled to the ground by his hair. ‘Keep him alive, Keep him alive,’ someone shouts. Gunshots then ring out. The camera veers off. ‘They captured him alive and while he was being taken away, they beat him and then they killed him,’ one senior source in the NTC told Reuters. ‘He might have been resisting.’ In what appeared to be contradicting the events depicted in the video, Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council said Gaddafi was killed when a gunfight broke out after his capture between his supporters and government fighters. He died from a bullet wound to the head, the Prime Minister said. The NTC said no order had been given to kill him.”

 

Sergei Strokan: Probably we will never know the exact details of how it happened.

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: Now of course there are all sorts of reports coming in about his final hours. However, the initial – and the most credible ones said he was killed in a NATO air strike on Sirte, when he was trying to get out from the town in a convoy of armored cars.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina:As I watched the Al Jazeera footage there were two things that I found particularly telling – the announcement of his death made by the current head of the National Transitional Council Mahmoud Jibril, and a couple of brief interviews in the streets. As for Jibril’s announcement, what was interesting to me were the emotions that he displayed, willingly or not. He seemed to me somewhat depressed, which made a stark contrast with jubilating crowds. As for the interviews – first of all, interestingly enough, all those people spoke English relatively well, people in the street - where do they come from? 

That’s just a remark, though. Now, as for the real thing, there was a young boy saying how happy everyone was, but when asked, whether they are going to put down their arms, he said he did not know – yet. And that, to me is a crucial thing. 

Back to the LA story, let me give you another quote: “Of course, the rebels could not have succeeded without months of relentless NATO airstrikes. Charged by the United Nations with establishing a no-fly zone to protect civilians, NATO countries pounded Gaddafi’s forces. In effect if not in name, NATO became the rebels' ally. The rebels have a long way to go before they can rest. Among the many challenges now facing Libya's transitional government is to prevent bloodshed between pro- and anti-Gaddafi Libyans, and even among the competing factions that fought to overthrow the strongman. Although the situations aren't identical, the strife in Iraq that followed the downfall of Saddam Hussein is an example of how the overthrow of a dictatorship can unleash latent enmities. If the new Libyan government is unable to quell such violence, outside peacekeepers may prove necessary. A second and longer-term challenge is to establish a democratic and pluralistic society. On Thursday, President Obama said Libya faced a long and winding road to democracy. The United States and its allies can shorten that road by lending expertise to the designers of a new Libyan democracy.”

Sergei Strokan: No one can deny that the situation is explosive, we can’t rule out the possibility of civil war. But even if there are a lot of people who are driven by the Kalashnikov culture, if the society is bitterly split, if there is no central government that can conduct an effective policy and spell out a unification process, even in this situation all those preconditions can’t lead inevitably to a civil war. In the world there are a lot of countries that look like powder kegs, but in few of them we really see a full-fledged civil war.

{***}

But now getting back to the reconstruction issue, since we’re looking at the press in this section here’s a “New York Times” quote for you: “Earlier this week, on a visit to Tripoli Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the United States will provide $40 million immediately to help Libya secure weapons. It is also offering to help, care for the war wounded and train civil society groups. Britain and France have also promised help. More than money - thanks to oil, Libya is wealthy - Libya will need sustained technical advice and full-time engagement.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Here’s the “Los Angeles Times” response: “Both sides must be mindful that too close an association with Western powers could compromise a new Libyan government's image of independence. Economic aid poses less of a problem. If the United States, Britain and France share in the victory over Gaddafi, they also share in the responsibility to rebuild Libya.” And that makes me wonder – is the democratization effort going to boil down to sharing Libyan oil, too? Now we are joined by our next guest speaker, Sergei Demidenko, of the Institute of Strategic Studies and Analysis in Moscow.

 

Sergei Demidenko: The major task would be to improve the security situation in Libya to a degree where companies will be able to start pumping Libyan oil. The important thing, if we talk about oil exploration, is that it was carried out only in one-fourth of the country’s territory. The cost of oil in some oil fields in Libya is as low as $1 per barrel, which means the country holds gigantic virtually untapped oil reserves. On the other hand there is absolutely no mass opposition in Libya. Just look, after NATO has somewhat scaled down the intensity of its involvement after Tripoli siege, the rebel forces have again stalled. That makes it absolutely plain that they are simply unable to advance any further without NATO support.  This alone is a good enough proof of just how massive the support for the opposition in Libya is. They have almost no support from the local population

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: And now let us turn to our final section, Face in the News, in which will discuss the situation in Ukraine and its international standing after a Ukrainian court convicted opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Now, a week after Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment on charges of exceeding powers when she signed a gas deal with Russia in 2009, all eyes are focused on President Viktor Yanukovich, who this week is our Face in the News. In another sign of growing international row over Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovich’s much-awaited talks in Brussels, slated for this week, were suddenly postponed. Meanwhile, faced with the newly-emerging difficulties in Ukraine’s integration with the EU Mr. Yanukovich met Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev in his hometown, the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, to discuss Kiev’s participation in a Custom Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: The Tymoshenko case casts a long shadow over Mr. Yanukovich’s dealing both with the European Union and Russia.

 

Sergei Strokan: Exactly. Whether in Brussels or Moscow, let alone Kiev, few people doubt that the charges against Yulia Tymoshenko were heavily doctored and she was the victim of political vendetta orchestrated by Victor Yanukovich.

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: It is making the world powers put President Yanukovich’s 18-month rule under close scrutiny and ask: Where is Ukraine heading?

 

Sergei Strokan: That is a good question. In fact, President Yanukovich’s foreign policy in recent months has been full of zigzags and dramatic turnarounds leaving more questions than answers. Initially he was considered a “pro-Russian” leader, who came to replace “pro-Western” and staunch “anti-Russian” President Viktor Yushchenko.

 

Dmitry Polikarpov:I think it was incorrect from the very beginning to describe Yanukovich as “pro-Russian.”

 

Sergei Strokan: You have a point. Viktor Yanukovich was making more progress towards Ukraine’s integration with Europe than his predecessor.It was expected that the deal on an Association Agreement with the European Union, which includes an agreement on a free trade zone seen as the major prize in Ukraine’s integration with the EU, would be signed by the end of the year.  Of course now it is in question with the Tymoshenko case and cancellation of Yanukovich’s visit to Brussels. 

 

There were also zigzags and turnarounds in his relations with Moscow. After extending the lease on Russian naval bases in the Black Sea port of Sebastopol till 2042 and rejecting NATO membership for Ukraine – two moves that were unequivocally hailed by Moscow, Yanukovich made a surprise twist, calling for the reconsideration of the 2009 gas deal with Russia, which he called “unfair” and “jeopardizing Ukraine’s national interests.”

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: But it seems that the fight over the price for the Russian gas is almost over. Summing up the results of his talks with Dmitry Medvedev in Donetsk, Yanukovich struck a conciliatory note, hinting that a compromise with Russia is within reach.

 

Sergei Strokan: You are right, President Yanukovich has met with President Medvedev in Donetsk this week, and he hinted that both sides will find a compromise, but that may not be the end of the story. I believe that in his dealings with Russia and the West President Yanukovich was trying to follow the policy of his political mentor, former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma.

Viktor Yanukovich was a governor of Donetsk and Kuchma saw him as a future probable leader, so he was his mentor. In the 1990s, President Kuchma was trying to play on the clash of interests of global powers and take full advantage of it. Today, as it was with Leonid Kuchma, Mr. Yanukovich seemingly shows more than tentative interest in the integration process with ex-Soviet republics within the framework of CIS. But at the same time I think obviously he has a hidden agenda.

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: Yes, that is true. This year he also negotiated Kiev’s participation in the Custom Union – a project, strongly advocated by Moscow. At the same time he kept on emphasizing that integration with the European Union remains Kiev’s top foreign policy priority.

{***}

Sergei Strokan: So, all in all, Ukraine with Viktor Yanukovich as its leader looked like a beautiful bride, hobnobbing with two potential suitors – Brussels and Moscow. As a Russian citizen, but ethnic Ukrainian whose childhood in the Soviet times passed in a Ukrainian village I can confess that the idea of the Ukraine’s “ambivalent identity” is deeply rooted in the mood of the Ukrainian public, and this was the case long before Viktor Yanukovich’s presidency.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: So, President Yanukovich today is poised to convince Brussels that the Ukrainian land of 47 million sandwiched between Europe and Russia should ultimately become a part of the pan-European home.

 

Sergei Strokan: According to Mr. Yanukovich, “trifles”, like Tymoshenko case should by no means hamper the integration process.

 

Dmitry Polikarpov: I think to understand what is going on, we have to take a closer look at the response from Brussels. I have a feeling that after Tymoshenko trial, the European Union has found itself in a quite embarrassing position, they seem to be trying to work out a new stick-and-carrot policy.

 

Sergei Strokan:I will put it this way. This Tymoshenko case has taken Brussels by surprise, and now the European Union is trying to balance its much advertised “values” and long-standing interests.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Actually, Europe has split, and now it is speaking to Ukraine in two distinct voices. One voice – harsh and demanding, is the voice of the leaders of ex-communist block. Their message to Kiev is clear – if Yanukovich wants to escape the fate of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, labeled in the West as the “last dictator of Europe,” he should find a fair solution to Tymoshenko’s case.


Dmitry Polikarpov:If he fails to do this, the European Union should scale down or even suspend integration process with Ukraine, they say.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: But now, when we see all those problems in the European Union, which arise from the mismanagement of its almost 30 members, why Ukraine want to get into this company?

 

Sergei Strokan: Actually this question brings us back to the first section of our program. Really, Europe is preoccupied with its own problems, and it is very selective when it decides on the enlargement, on bringing new members. But Ukraine was offered association membership, let us understand this thing. I think that the decision to postpone Yanukovich’s visit to Brussels was largely determined by that harsh and demanding voice.But the soft voice is saying that Ukraine is a big nation that can’t be simply isolated. So those who speak with this voice say that Ukraine should not be isolated, because it will fall in the orbit of Russia’s policy.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: I think that these popular sentiments are reflected in a recent column “Soft power toward hard Russia” by Judy Dempsey, a contributor to the “International Herald Tribune.” She is looking at “the expansion of the Kremlin’s influence in the post-Soviet sphere” after Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced his plans to build a “Eurasian Union.” Just let me quote: “It is time that the European Union focused more of its attention on bringing these countries closer to Europe by promoting its values in a much more direct manner instead of waiting for Russia to regain more influence that would prevent the democratization of Europe’s eastern frontiers.”

So, safeguarding “democratic values” still cannot prevent Brussels from embracing Ukrainian newly-emerging authoritarian rule with the sole purpose of separating Ukraine from Moscow.

 

Sergei Strokan: But my question is: “Does Belgian chocolate go with Ukrainian salted fat?”

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

More exciting stories and videos on Russia Beyond's Facebook page