Silent Coups, Silent Takeovers & Historical Amnesia


“One of the delightful things about Americans,” former Premier of China Chou En-lai once remarked, “is that they have absolutely no historical memory.”

America’s foreign policy in the second half of the last century was dominated by the paranoid and delusory obsession of subverting Soviet attempts to move into nations in America’s neighbourhood. The U.S. would interfere in the domestic politics of, and support and carry out coups in, Guatemala, Chile, Cuba, British Guiana, Nicaragua, Haiti and, to a greater or lesser extent, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru and the Dominican Republic to provide just a partial list. Further afield of their backyard, hundreds of thousands would die in South East Asia, and democratically elected leaders would fall in Iran and be assassinated in Congo.

That a nation with such a foreign policy record would lead NATO and the west into Ukraine and then laugh at Russia’s concerns for its own “near abroad” strains the credibility of the amnesia defence and the bounds of irony.

Despite the promise made to Gorbachev by George H.W. Bush that if Germany reunified, NATO would move no further towards Russia’s borders, since 1999, the U.S. and NATO have brought twelve allies of
the former Soviet Union into NATO. And now the west and NATO are knocking on the door of the heart of Russia’s “near abroad”. When Kiev accepted the EU proposal for an economic alliance, the proposal they accepted included what Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton, calls ‘security policy’ provisions . . . that would apparently subordinate Ukraine into NATO.” The provisions compelled Ukraine to “adhere to Europe’s ‘military and security’ policies. So the threat to Russia is both a shattering of a historical promise and a real encroachment. To accuse Putin of expansionism is an extremely hypocritical baiting of the bear.

The NATO provisions in the EU economic alliance, along with painful and unpopular austerity measures, were part of a plan to provoke a coup in Kiev. Having rejected Putin’s offer of collaborative Russia-EU-American economic aid and compelling Yanukovych to choose one or the other, the NATO provisions and austerity measures made it impossible for him to do anything but choose the no strings attached $15 billion economic bailout, setting the stage for the protests and the coup.

Thus begun the kind of coup that has flourished since Obama became President: silent coups with no guns or tanks, coups that look like legal parliamentary maneuvers. The first appearance of this silent coup was in Honduras where democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was whisked out of Honduras, and the kidnapping at gunpoint was dressed up as a constitutional obligation. After Zelaya announced a plebiscite to determine whether Hondurans wanted to draft a new constitution, the hostile political establishment falsely translated his announcement into an unconstitutional intention to seek re-election. The ability to stand for a second term would be considered in the constitutional discussions, but was never announced as an intention by Zelaya. The Supreme Court declared the President’s plebiscite unconstitutional, the military kidnapped Zelaya, and the Supreme Court charged Zelaya with treason and declared a new president: a coup in constitutional disguise.

The second appearance of this coup pattern occurred in Paraguay when the right wing Frederico Franco took the presidency from democratically elected, left leaning Fernando Lugo in what has been characterized as a parliamentary coup. As in Honduras, a coup was made to look like a constitutional transition. The right wing opposition opportunistically capitalized on a skirmish over disputed land that left at least eleven people dead to unfairly blame the deaths on President Lugo. It then impeached him after giving him only twenty-four hours to prepare his defense and only two hours to deliver it.

The Ukrainian parliament ensured its numbers by pouncing when many MPs from the south and east of Ukraine were absent from parliament because they were attending a congress of regional politicians. Those loyal to Yanukovych who remained were intimidated by the right wing storm troopers who patrolled the parliament. Political parties who held just a minority of the Ukrainian parliament—mostly from the west—dismissed Yanukovych, favourably altered the constitution and formed a new government: a coup in constitutional disguise.

The silent coup was supported by Washington in a number of ways. Senator McCain and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland publicly endorsed the protesters and condemned, not their violent demand for undemocratic change, but the government’s response to it. The States also helped finance the protests through the National Endowment for Democracy, which Allen Weinstein, its original project director, described as doing what “was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

But this time, America may be adding a new wrinkle to the silent coup. Having mastered the silent war, unspoken in congress and the media, devoid of the noise of guns and tanks, but fought instead by drones in the skies of Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan; and having mastered the silent coup in constitutional disguise, America is now moving in Ukraine onto the silent takeover: no noisy invasion necessary.

Having changed governments in Kiev in order to achieve a government that leans toward the White House and away from the Kremlin, that government then formally asks to ally with the patrons who helped it place it in power in the first place. On August 29, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk—the very man Victoria Nuland was caught telling the American ambassador to Ukraine was America’s choice to replace Yanukovych–announced that his cabinet had approved a bill putting an end to Ukraine’s non-aligned status that would pave the way for “resumption of Ukraine’s course for NATO membership.” The bill will now be sent on to parliament.

So the silent coup sets up the silent takeover, and Ukraine slides out of the Russian orbit and into NATO’s.

NATO Secretary General Rogh Rasmussen responded immediately to Yatseniuk’s announcement by reminding the world of NATOs 2008 decision that Ukraine would become a member of NATO if it so wanted and added that NATO would “fully respect” Ukraine’s intention to join: a hostile takeover of a country in democratic disguise.

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