In False narratives, Foreign intervention, Manufacturing consent, Ukraine, Uncategorized, USA

Efrem Lukatsky | AP

The National Endowment for Democracy can claim it is in the business of democracy promotion. In reality, it does anything but that, unless “democracy” is entirely synonymous with elite U.S. interests.

Published on MintPress News, Feb 18, 2022

KIEV, UKRAINE – Amid soaring tensions with Russia, the United States is spending a fortune on foreign interference campaigns in Ukraine. Washington’s regime-change arm, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), has spent $22.4 million on operations inside the country since 2014, when democratically-elected President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown and replaced by a successor government handpicked by the U.S. Those operations included propping up and training pro-Western political parties, funding pliant media organizations, and subsidizing massive privatization drives that benefit foreign multinational corporations, all in an effort to secure U.S. control over the country that NED President Carl Gershman called “the biggest prize” in Europe.

Demwashing the CIA

The National Endowment for Democracy was set up in 1983 by the Reagan administration after a series of public scandals had seriously undermined both the credibility and the public image of the CIA. That the organization was established and continues to function as a cutout group doing much of the agency’s dirtiest work is not in question. “It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA,” Gershman himself said, explaining its creation. “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” NED cofounder Allen Weinstein told The Washington Post in 1991.

Since its inception, NED has been a driving force behind many of the most prominent uprisings and coups around the world. The organization currently has 40 active projects in Belarus, all with the goal of removing President Alexander Lukashenko from office. Last year, the country was engulfed by nationwide protests that made worldwide headlines. NED senior Europe Program officer, Nina Ognianova, boasted that her agency was involved in the uprising. “We don’t think that this movement that is so impressive and so inspiring came out of nowhere — that it just happened overnight,” she said, noting that NED had made a “modest but significant contribution” to the protests.

The 2021 protest movement in Cuba was also led by NED-financed operatives, with the organization’s own documents showing how it had for years been infiltrating the Cuban art and music scene in an attempt to turn popular culture against the communist government. Ultimately, the movement failed. However, NED continues to prop up anti-government Cuban artists, media outlets, politicians and public figures.

NED was also funneling money to the leaders of the 2019 Hong Kong protests in an attempt to prolong the movement. “The organization and its partner will leverage their extensive existing networks to support exiled activists and to sustain and grow activist communities remaining in Hong Kong,” one NED grant explains, adding that a secondary goal was to “strengthen regional and international support for the pro-democracy movement,” by carrying out a worldwide PR campaign promoting it, something that might help explain why the events dominated the news cycle for months.

Meanwhile, NED has also channeled millions to right-wing opposition groups in Nicaragua and even organized rock concerts in Venezuela in an effort to undermine support for its socialist government.

While NED is careful to couch all of its activities in the language of “democracy promotion,” the fact that it has never carried out a single project in the U.S.-backed Gulf dictatorships of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, or the United Arab Emirates — some of the least democratic nations in the world — underlines that the organization exists to antagonize enemy governments.

NED is almost entirely funded by Congress and is staffed largely by ex-national security state leaders. Its current president is Damon Wilson, former special assistant to President George W. Bush and senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council. Other top officials pepper NED’s board of directors, including current CIA Director William J. Burns, current Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and 2014 Ukrainian Maidan revolution mastermind Victoria Nuland, as well as veteran national security official Elliott Abrams, infamous for his role in supplying weapons to far-right death squads in Central America and his attempts to overthrow the government of Venezuela.

Despite this, NED still insists that it is a private, non-profit, non-governmental organization. One key reason for this designation is that its private nature means that its affairs do not fall under the same legal scrutiny as those of government organizations like the CIA. It is harder to acquire documents under the Freedom of Information Act, for example, meaning that the group’s actions remain shrouded in secrecy.

Economic and political capture, NED-style

Studying the NED grants database reveals that the organization has approved 334 separate grants to Ukraine, a country the group’s 2019 annual report identified as its “top priority,” owing to “its size and importance for the Europe region.” The report notes that NED is focused on “counter[ing] foreign [i.e., Russian] malign influence, particularly disinformation and corrosive capital.” Of the European nations, only Russia itself has been the target of more NED money ($37.7 million to Ukraine’s $22.4 million).

NED is rather hazy about where its money is going, with the only clues being brief, one-paragraph descriptions (rarely longer than 75 words) full of boilerplate rhetoric. Yet scrutinizing even the vague project outlines, it becomes clear that NED has two major objectives in Ukraine:

  1. Pushing through a mass privatization of the country’s state-owned businesses.
  2. Building up political parties that will represent elite U.S. interests.

Of the $22.4 million, over $2.9 million has been awarded to the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), an offshoot of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for the purpose of “sparking economic transformation” in Ukraine. What sort of transformation the CIPE wants to see is made clear on its website, which states categorically that “Free market capitalism and global trade have resulted in the greatest economic gains in human history,” and that the center’s role is to further free market penetration around the world.

For instance, one NED grant to the CIPE — worth $500,000 and entitled “Developing [a] Market Economy” — described the project’s goal as “enhanc[ing] the role of leading business associations and the private sector in public policy decision-making, and improv[ing] the capacity of the private sector and officials to cooperate to develop and implement economic reforms.” In other words, to hand over government decision-making to big business, something many might argue is the antithesis of democracy.

The post-2014 government, installed after the Maidan Revolution, has already implemented a course of economic shock therapy, selling off many of the country’s state-owned assets, in the process turning Ukraine into, by quite some margin, the poorest nation in Europe (although it has also helped create many new billionaires). Nevertheless, the U.S. wants to see further privatizations, along the lines of what it helped implement in Russia in the 1990s.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, right, shakes hands with IMF Director Kristalina Georgieva in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2020. Photo | AP

NED has also been key in building up pro-U.S. political forces in Ukraine, notably awarding the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) nearly $2.2 million towards this endeavor. Congress established NDI in tandem with NED; and NDI, like its sister organization, claims to be a non-governmental organization, despite being affiliated with the Democratic Party. Its chairperson is Madeline Albright, secretary of state under the Clinton administration.

One $595,000 grant describes how NDI will “help political parties develop into inclusive, national movements,” and will “assist parties in the development of inclusive, internal communication and decision making procedures” and “conduct public opinion research and trainings to help parties better understand and respond to citizens, including those outside of their traditional geographical bases of support.” A less charitable interpretation of the grant would be that the U.S. government is taking over the political direction and organization of Ukrainian political parties, molding them as they see fit.

In tandem with the support of political blocs also comes the grooming of young political and social activists who NED hopes will become the leaders of tomorrow. To this end, it has given at least $385,000 to the European Institute for Democracy in Warsaw, in order to, in its words, “support a new generation of political leaders in Ukraine,” by conducting training courses for their handpicked proteges, flying them out of the country to provide lessons in “election campaigning, women empowerment, effective governing, and crisis management,” among other skills.

The point, of course, is to develop a cadre of pro-Western neoliberal thought leaders who will ally themselves to the United States and its vision for Ukraine. Left unstated in all this is that the U.S. is deciding who exactly this new generation of leaders comprises. And for all the nods towards diversity and liberalism, the U.S.’ record in Eastern Europe shows they are happy to supportfascists and other highly anti-democratic forces. Those who do not share Washington’s goals for Ukraine need not apply. Thus, by using its financial muscle to support only one side in this debate, NED hopes to engineer a future in which pro-Russia, anti-privatization political figures and movements are sidelined and marginalized.

Media capture, NED-style

Another key focus for NED is to establish and support pro-Western media outlets and NGOs that backed both the 2014 overthrow of Yanukovych and the new government’s privatization agenda. This is all couched as “promoting independent media.” But in reality, it is creating a network largely dependent on and answerable to Washington.

One example of this is the Ukraine Crisis Media Center, which consistently publishes studiesabout “Russia’s efforts to distort facts” and scare stories about an impending Russian invasion, while inviting the British ambassador to give talks at its headquarters. Ukraine Crisis describes its vision of Ukraine as an “outpost of freedom and democratic development in Eastern Europe,” and an “integral part of the West.” Ukraine Crisis is directly funded by a number of different U.S. governmental organizations, as well as by NATO and the governments of Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Finland and the Netherlands.

Most of the media organizations NED funds also maintain English-language versions of their websites. This is because many of these groups are used to influence Western audiences as well as individuals inside the target country, Ukraine. The Center for Civil Liberties (CCL), for example, has been supported financially since 2016 and has received at least $204,000 from NED. It plays an important role in injecting U.S. government narratives into American media reporting, having been presented simply as a “human rights group” in a wide range of outlets, including The Washington Post, USA Today and The New York Post. None of these articles inform readers that CCL is directly in the pay of a CIA front group, precisely because it would undermine their credibility.

Media networks directly owned and operated by the U.S. state, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, also frequently use CCL as an expert source. This gives the impression that there is a sizable groundswell of individuals all focusing on the same issue when, in reality, it is simply operatives from the same source (the U.S. government) all interacting with each other.

Target: Donbas

Before his overthrow, President Yanukovych maintained cordial relations with Russia. However, that changed drastically after the Maidan Revolution, with the new government not only attempting to tie itself to the West, but also aggressively suppressing any pro-Russian sentiment. Since 2014, the government has shut down Russian-language media and jailed pro-Russian voices. It has also banned the Russian language from schools and in public places such as in stores and restaurants. Any business caught violating the law is subject to a fine.

This has caused significant consternation inside the country, not least because almost one-thirdof Ukrainian citizens speak Russian as their first language, and significant minorities do not speak Ukrainian at all. This is particularly true in the Donbas, the large industrial area of Eastern Ukraine, and in the Crimean peninsula, which Russia controversially annexed in 2014. In both regions, Russian is far-and-away the majority language, spoken by nearly three-quarters of the population. Support for Yanukovych and language preference are closely correlated. Since 2014, the Ukrainian government has also been engaged in a low-level civil war in the Donbas against Russian-speaking militias.


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