The question has often been raised in recent years, as regards military meddling, political meddling, and more "benign" forms of meddling, such as international aid and technical assistance. In terms of the second and third form of meddling, a good deal of ink has been spilled over the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and who meddled on which side. And the question has been put by journalists in a number of publications who claim that this event was an American project, "Should we support the meddling we like? Or do we need to oppose and expose it all?"
If we use the metaphor of family violence, this question becomes a lot easier to answer. If you hear your neighbors fighting and suddenly someone is thrown against a wall and someone else, maybe a kid, starts screaming, what do you do? One option is to call the cops. Another is to go there yourself with a gun in your hand and try to break it up. The third option is to build a network in your neighborhood so that people in trouble know they have somewhere to turn to and some skills to deal with violence.
In answer to this question, then:
I would say that there is a very strong case for separating different kinds of "meddling" right off the bat. It's one thing to teach people to stand up for themselves, avoid violence, and become politically alert. It's another thing to simply print dirty propaganda, intimidate voters and steal an election. In short, that's the difference between what the US and other western organizations did in the 2004 election and what Russia did. The most telling thing is that pro-American sentiment hasn't noticeably picked up since the Revolution. Most Ukrainians remain more European in orientation and are more concerned with what is going on at home.
I would also say there is a very strong case for separating the levels of money spent and how it was spent.
The US: Even supposing that all the $65mn that is generally cited by western critics went to USAID and other organizations in Ukraine, it's not clear what amount of that went to "democracy building" and to teaching civil disobedience and crowd control to people like Pora, assuming, again, that this actually took place. Having worked here for the last 13 years and knowing salaries, cost of living allowances, housing allowances and all that are compared to local salaries and grant levels, I would say that with most aid that comes to Ukraine (and probably other countries as well), close to 75-80% goes right back into the pockets of country-of-origin nationals, starting with the Beltway Bandits and ending with their consultants on the ground. In other words, neither Ukrainian nor American taxpayers were particularly slighted in the process.
Russia: The most conservative estimates, that is, the numbers that were semi-officially admitted to, are that US $300-600mn were put into the Yanukovych campaign. Probably on salaries for the Russian "Karl Roves" who flooded the offices of the Kuchma administration and fancy Kyiv restaurants, and on printed matter, as they were printing tens of millions of copies of full-color large-sized (A1) posters. The rest of the money was simply taken out of major state enterprises like the national railway and so on. Both Russian and Ukrainian taxpayers were hit with these bills...but Ukrainian taxpayers most of all.
I would also say there is a very strong case for separating where the money went. No foreign aid money went directly into the Yushchenko campaign or to Mr. Yushchenko. Much of it was spent long before the campaign began and a most of it went to building civil skills among ordinary Ukrainians. Russia's money went directly to the Yanukovych campaign. Ordinary Ukrainians got little or no benefit from it at all; many, indeed, were damaged as they were financially coerced into helping rig an election.
And finally, I would say that there is a very strong case for the issue of freedom of choice. As long as foreign "meddling" is aimed at allowing more citizens of more countries to exercise freedom of choice in as many areas as possible, to grow economically and to resolve conflicts in a non-violent, non-oppressive manner, we can only be all for it. More Orange Revolutions and fewer Gulf Wars, intifadas and Chechnyas. What American assistance did for Ukraine, more than anything, was to make it safer for Ukrainians to manifest who they are and what they want. The rest of it is still up to Ukrainians, not Americans, and from the looks of it, we still have a ways to go.
Written July 2005