Is the American dream over for Georgia and Ukraine?
Western support for the opposition — open and behind the scenes — helped many people overcome fear of Soviet-style reprisals to stand for days outside Georgia’s parliament in 2003 or to pitch orange tents on Kiev’s main thoroughfare in late 2004, providing a lasting image of “people power” overthrowing a stale leadership.
Washington, or at least organisations with close political ties with the Bush administration, had courted opposition parties in both countries, coaching in the methods of democracy or securing “regime-change” as they sought to end the rules of President Leonid Kuchma and Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze.
But the new leaders, and their teams, soon found that the attentions of an adoring West didn’t last for long. Ukraine’s team of President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko soon fell apart. The West grew tired of the constant bickering of the Ukrainian leaders, unable to agree on almost any policy, while a resurgent pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich, who lost a rerun of the presidential election, encouraged unity in his own party and rose in popularity.
In Georgia, Saakashvili cracked down on post-election protests last year and now some blame him for taking Tbilisi into a war it could never win.
But has the West given up? Ukraine and Georgia have been promised membership of NATO one day but the alliance decided at a summit in April not to give them a road map to membership.
Tomas Valasek, director of foreign policy and defence at the Centre for European Reform, said Georgia could be ruled out of NATO membership for the time being. “There will be allies who will say that this government is not creating stability, if anything it has done the exact opposite … you don’t want an ally in NATO that has a propensity to act the way that Saakashvili did.”
But it could go either way for Ukraine.
“You could argue that no one will go to war over Ukraine, and then it will be difficult to invite Ukraine into NATO,” Valasek said. “Or the allies might decide this — that it is important that we prevent Russia acting irresponsibly in the neighbourhood, and it is important to send a message to say we will not be discouraged by what happened in Georgia.”