Oct 1, 2009

Russia behind No camp in Ireland: U.S. credibility used to bolster anti-Lisbon vote in Ireland

By Irina Severin 

Declan Ganley’s reappearance on the Irish political scene after few months of silence was stage managed in a strange way. He was shown at the beginning of a Deutsche Welle television interview in his office taking down a U.S. flag and stuffing it under his desk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMRP_TqBzr0&feature=player_embedded
Ganley has long been dogged by (and denied) accusations that his political movement is funded by nefarious interests in the United States.” The DW video was widely posted on blogs and viewed on YouTube, interpreted as convincing proof both of Ganley’s naivety and of secret U.S. backing for his drive to have Ireland reject the EU’s Lisbon treaty in a referendum on October 2.

But is Ganley naive?

Just days before Ireland’s second referendum on the Lisbon treaty, Ganley joined the “No to Lisbon” camp again — exactly as he did in 2008, when his late involvement shifted the balance in favor of a “no” vote. His success was based on massive funding, which enabled him to overwhelm other political parties or lobbying groups. Ganley’s secretiveness about the sources of his funding fed rumors of massive external involvement in campaign. Ganley denies the rumors, but has not detailed where the money came from.

The theory that that Americans are unhappy with “Europe’s growing clout in the world” and so funded Ganley’s Libertas has gained traction despite constant complaints from Washington about the EU’s fecklessness on energy security issues. The fact that Ganley owns a business with ties to the U.S. military was seen as further evidence. Ganley himself has denied such ties with the United States, but he is careful to always do so in ways that only inflame the rumors.

Observers in Eastern Europe tend to support another theory – that Russia stands behind Ganley’s efforts to undermine the EU. Ganley, after all, got his first real business success in the late 1980s, when he moved to the Soviet Union and hooked up with a business exporting Soviet aluminum. Such a business breakthrough in the Soviet Union by a foreigner in his 20s is sufficient to raise suspicions of the involvement of Russia’s secret services. He used the money he made from this venture to set up his own businesses in the West.

Ganley’s Libertas Institute Ltd. officially appeared in December 2007, just a month after then-Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the creation of a Russian-government-funded Institute for Freedom and Democracy in Europe during an EU-Russia summit. This institute, Putin said, would be based in the European Union and was intended to attract the involvement of politicians, businesspeople, experts, and NGOs. It would offer grants and was declared by Putin’s aid as a “symmetrical response” for Western funding for pro-democracy NGOs in Russia.

The initiative was immediately seen as a new version of the “pro-peace organizations” that operated as Soviet fronts in the West during the Cold War, promoting the Kremlin’s foreign-policy goals. When Putin made his announcement, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso merely commented that the EU and Moscow have quite different views on democracy. But the fact is that Putin’s Kremlin views Western liberal democracy as an ideology that is hostile to Russia, bent on destabilizing the Russian state and weakening its political system. So what are we to make of Moscow’s “symmetrical response”?

Ganley stepped-up his “No to Lisbon” campaign during this year’s European Parliament elections. He transformed Libertas into a pan-European party that attempted to unite the anti-Brussels vote and harness resentment over the Lisbon treaty. Libertas bankrolled right-wing fringe parties around Europe, but it was not able to win any seats. Ganley himself was denied a seat by Irish voters and vowed to leave politics in June.

Ganley’s reappearance this month and his antics with the U.S. flag brought to mind the anti-Communist youth protests in Moldova in April – the so-called Twitter revolution. At the time, an article in France’s “Le Monde” newspaper headlined “Russia Is Trying To Push Moldova Away From The EU” said that Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov, just a couple of hours after the riots – which were sparked by unidentified provocateurs — phoned ‘a senior official in Europe’ to say that he had been informed by Moscow that ‘in Chisinau a coup d’etat is under way, orchestrated by Romania’ and that the proof was a Romanian flag flying on the presidential palace.”

After Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek visited the country in the wake of the violence he mentioned Moldova – together with Ukraine and Georgia — as an example of Russian attempt to regain its influence in the region and called on the Czech parliament to ratify the Lisbon treaty.

After the Communist Party was defeated in Moldova’s July parliamentary elections, Kremlin-connected political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky wrote in an article called “An Elegy In Memory Of President Voronin”: “Of course, Russia could provoke another revolution or two in Moldova. And, it stands to reason, Russia could then crush them. But what is the point of doing either? It is enough simply not to leave until the goal of deterrence becomes clear.”

What does this have to do with the Lisbon treaty? If the EU is unable to get the treaty endorsed, it will be weakened. Not only will enlargement be crippled, but the EU’s soft-power attraction as a successful political model will be weakened as well. And that would strengthen Russia’s position in its so-called near abroad.

Russia has already managed to fragment the EU through its energy politics and its aggressive policy of pursuing bilateral relations with EU members. These policies bring EU countries into competition with one another and form obstacles to the emergence of an EU consensus on key matters. If Ireland rejects the Lisbon treaty a second time, the status quo will be consolidated and, quite possibly, irreversible.

Political expert Vladimir Batyuk, of Russia’s Institute of the United States and Canada, laid out Moscow’s strategy in an article called “Russia: A Chance To Win.” “In our view, the global economic crisis not only creates problems, but also opens up new prospects for our country to strengthen its international position,” he writes. “Western post-Cold War triumphalism dooms Russia to the status of an ‘eternal loser.’ Euro-Atlantic structures like NATO and the EU only perpetuate this status. Hence, Moscow’s interest in weakening the latter: this is a goal of President Dmitry Medvedev’s initiative on a new treaty on European security – the so-called pan-European treaty.”

Seen in this context, Ganley’s shenanigans with the U.S. flag look like an inventive attempt to direct responsibility for anti-Lisbon treaty movement toward the United States and to provoke tensions between Washington and its European allies. This flag game, just like the one played out in Chisinau in the spring, seems to be a clever way of using U.S. credibility to bolster the anti-Lisbon vote in Ireland. But if Ireland rejects the treaty, clearly it is the United States, the EU, and Ireland that loses. But those in the Kremlin will definitely be smiling.