After Tuesday’s rumble in Kiev, Western media’s lack of interest is ominous for Saakashvili
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s attempt to frame his political opponent Mikhail Saakashvili as a Kremlin agent is truly beyond parody.
However, the refusal of most prominent western media outlets to cover the breaking story from Kiev spells danger for “Mischa."
As I write, on Tuesday afternoon, the dramatic events are completely absent from the front pages of America’s CNN, New York Times, and Washington Post. This stands in contrast to their often hysterical live coverage of far less dramatic protests by Russia’s small liberal opposition.
There's not a single word about Ukraine's attempted arrest of opposition figure @SaakashviliM on the front pages of @CNN, @BBCNews@washingtonpost or @nytimes. But when Alexei Navalny holds small rallies in Russia, it's usually their main headline pic.twitter.com/E3lGoE5A0A— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) 5 декабря 2017 г.
When Aleksey Navalny stages, relatively poorly attended, rallies in Moscow, the breathless reportage gives consumers of western media the impression that the activist is far more significant than he really is in Russia. Yet, as Mikhail Saakashvili (incidentally also polling at around 2 per cent support nationally in his adopted country) leads thousands of angry demonstrators around the streets of Kiev, the same outlets turn a blind eye.
By doing so, they expose how closely their world news coverage matches the foreign policy objectives of the US government. Because while Vladimir Putin’s administration is despised by the London and Washington establishments, Petro Poroshenko’s Ukrainian regime is supported by Whitehall and the State Department.
Thus, the Kiev authorities are covered in an entirely different way to their Moscow counterparts. And their full throttle clampdown on dissent (from banning the Communist Party to imprisoning journalists) is soft-soaped. Meanwhile, any missteps in Russia are greeted with hysteria.
Nevertheless, Tuesday’s events place many mainstream media editors in a bit of a pickle. Because readers with an interest in the former Soviet space, will recognise that Saakashvili has long been a western favourite, beloved of John McCain and other “Cold Warriors.” So, as a result, it will surely be confusing for many when the former Georgian president is no longer the golden boy.
To recap, Saakhashvili led the 2003 colour revolution in his homeland, which deposed the then-president Eduard Shevardnadze. But, following his victory in the 2004 Georgian election, he soon aped many of the negative traits of his predecessor, brutally clamping down on protestors and misusing state funds. Four years later, Saakashvili led his country into a disastrous invasion of South Ossetia, which drew Tbilisi into a brief conflict with Moscow.
That was the beginning of the end for "Mischa" in Tblisi, and today he’s wanted on criminal charges in Georgia, accused of “exceeding state powers” during a 2007 crackdown on the opposition and embezzling budget revenues.
Ukraine offered Saakashvili a way out of his legal problems back home and he re-surfaced in Kiev, as a staunch supporter of the “Euromaidan” movements. Some time after the western-backed activists managed to overthrow the government in an illegal coup, he claimed Ukrainian citizenship and Poroshenko appointed his then-ally, as governor of the strategically vital Odessa Oblast.
However, the relationship between the two men swiftly deteriorated. Saakashvili, had apparently learned from his mistakes in Georgia and genuinely seemed to want to bring reforms to Ukraine. But, in Poroshenko, he faced a cynical Oligarch with no intention of killing the Golden Goose, which enables himself and his allies to enrich themselves at their country’s expense.
READ MORE: ‘Cut off tentacles & go after the big head’: Saakashvili calls for power grab in Kiev
This culminated in Poroshenko stripping Saakashvili of his citizenship earlier this year, which rendered him stateless. The Georgian returned to Kiev and today’s stitch up was a disastrous attempt by the president to finally remove his opponent from the political fray.
Ukraine’s general prosecutor claims that Saakashvili’s activities in Ukraine are being funded by close associates of deposed leader Viktor Yanukovich, who is in exile in Russia. An idea so laughable that even the likes of Carl Bildt and Michael McFaul dismissed it Tuesday afternoon.
Trying to arrest Saakhasvili on the pretext that he’s some sort of Russian agent looks extremely amateurish. Who will believe that story? pic.twitter.com/wJrHFko2Za— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) December 5, 2017
Not me. https://t.co/mLUS3diZAx— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) December 5, 2017
Mikhail Saakashvili is a flawed politician who is a fugitive from his home country. But his good standing in the west has saved him from justice in Tbilisi.
Yet, his moves in Ukraine represent a huge gamble. Because the Poroshenko regime serves the west's interests and London, Washington and Brussels have so far ignored its excesses for this very reason.
The fact that most mainstream media has failed to prominently cover Tuesday’s events suggests that Saakashvili may find himself thrown under a bus this time.
Bryan MacDonald, for RT