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U.S./East: Encouraging The Oppositions

  • Robert Coalson --> The U.S. and Georgian presidents greet the crowd at Tbilisi's Freedom Square on 10 May 10 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush's swing through the former Soviet states of Latvia, Russia, and Georgia was filled with lofty rhetoric on the universal human striving for freedom, as well as with praise for the so-called colored revolutions that have swept through the region.

"Your most important contribution is your example," Bush told a crowd of tens of thousands in Tbilisi's Freedom Square on 10 May. "In recent months, the world has marveled at the hopeful changes taking place from Baghdad to Beirut to Bishkek. But before there was a Purple Revolution in Iraq, or an Orange Revolution in Ukraine, or a Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, there was the Rose Revolution in Georgia."

In an interview with Georgia's Rustavi-2 television on 8 May, Bush said: "I want to go to your country and thank the Georgian people for setting such a good example for other nations to follow." He added that the wave of revolutions in the post-Soviet space "was not planned by anybody or any nation. It was just an inevitable force of human nature because everybody wants to be free."

Dangerous Business?

However, encouraging opposition movements in the former Soviet Union is a potentially dangerous business. In recent weeks, Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and other administration officials have spoken openly of their desire to see Belarus follow Georgia's "example." In a 4 May commentary in "The Washington Times," a conservative newspaper, Jeffrey Kuhner, communications director of the Ripon Society, a Republican policy institute, wrote: "With strong American support, [the Belarusian opposition] may well unleash a 'White Revolution' similar to the Rose and Orange revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine." Kuhner lauded the Bush administration's policy of "helping to bolster the country's growing opposition movement."
"I want to go to your country and thank the Georgian people for setting such a good example for other nations to follow."

Belarusian opposition figure Anatol Lyabedzka flew to Georgia in the days before Bush's visit for high-level meetings with Georgian officials, including parliamentarians and Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli. "This is a very high level," Lyabedzka told "It indicates that Belarus is not a matter of indifference for Georgia. It is very important. People who think alike always understand one another." Lyabedzka also hinted that he would be seeking a meeting with Bush himself.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told the crowd in Freedom Square on 10 May that the Georgian government is committed to helping the United States spread democracy worldwide, including in Belarus.

But the U.S. administration's rhetoric is being heard beyond the confines of Belarus. Oppositionists within Russia are also listening. A group of Chechens living in Georgia demonstrated in Tbilisi on 10 May, calling on the United States to support Chechen independence, Caucasus Press reported. "We hope that George Bush will use his influence with Russia and will promote a political solution of the Chechen people's problems," a demonstrator told the news agency. Likewise, opposition figures in Russia's Republic of Bashkortostan have taken inspiration from the so-called colored revolutions, even taking to wearing orange clothing in emulation of the successful Ukrainian opposition. According to RFE/RL, an opposition group called the Tatar Public Center from another ethnic republic in Russia, Tatarstan, hoped to send protestors to Bush's speech in Tbilisi, although it eventually changed its plans. reported on 6 May that an unnamed Bush administration source had cautioned oppositionists in Armenia and Azerbaijan -- where governments have carried out elections at least as compromised as those that sparked the revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan -- not to interpret Bush's support for Georgia as a call for revolution in those countries. "We welcome reforms in both power structures and beyond them," the source was quoted as saying. "Opposition forces should be engaged in peaceful democratic processes in Armenia and Azerbaijan." RFE/RL reported that Azerbaijani oppositionists were prevented by Georgian police from unfurling a banner during Bush's 10 May speech in Tbilisi.

On 3 May, about 100 opposition demonstrators rallied outside the U.S. Embassy in the Uzbek capital Tashkent calling for Uzbek President Islam Karimov's ouster. According to "India Daily," the goal of the protest was to "attract U.S. State Department and international attention."

Reaction To Washington's Words

At the same time, the U.S. statements have irked politicians in Russia and China, as well as the entrenched regimes in countries like Belarus. Russian analysts in recent days have been speaking more frequently about a "coordinated campaign" against Russia. Aleksei Zudin, director of the Political Science Department of the Center for Political Strategy, added that the recent comments "are undoubtedly an integral part of the pressure on Russia that began with the so-called colored revolutions," reported on 6 May.

The Beijing magazine "Shijie Zhishi" in April published an analysis entitled "The Background Behind The Color 'Revolutions' In The CIS" that described purported U.S.-led efforts to "fill the political vacuum in this region." The magazine charges that over the last decade, the United States has spent "more than $21 billion" through the Freedom Support Act to "exert influence on the political- and economic-development process in these states." The West "is continually exerting political pressure and creating a 'relaxed' political environment for opposition political forces in these states," the article charges.

With opposition groups encouraged by the successes of anti-establishment revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan and closely following statements from Washington that seem to be urging them to follow these examples, the danger of crackdowns -- especially in countries like Belarus and Uzbekistan -- has also been heightened. The United States could find itself in a position similar to the one that followed the first Gulf War in 1991, when Kurdish oppositionists felt encouraged to rise up against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein only to have their uprising savagely put down without substantial assistance from the West.
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    Robert Coalson

    Robert Coalson covers Russia, the Balkans, and Eastern Europe. Send story tips to