Democracy, Double-Crossed: How Private Actors in West Serve Foreign Dictators

After a wave of post–Cold War democratization, political repression is making a comeback. Freedom House reported in January that 2013 marked the eighth consecutive year of decline in the global state of democracy. But today’s dictators aren’t going it alone. Whether across the airwaves, on the internet, or at the polling booth, they are assisted by a range of private actors based in free countries, writes Dean Jackson, a program assistant at the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies.

For a clear example, look no further than the infamous English-language, Russian-funded news channel, RT. On March 5, an American RT anchor announced her resignation live on the air because she was tired of “whitewashing” the actions of world dictators. Independent observers have called the network “blatantly propagandistic”; others have described how RT recruits young, inexperienced American journalists and uses them to push a pro-Kremlin message to U.S. and other audiences.

RT is not unique, or even uncommon, in its role as an agent for authoritarians abroad, its recruitment of American staff, or its presence on American soil. Other outlets, such as Iran’s rabidly anti-Semitic Press TV, hire Western officials and journalists to lend credibility to their coverage. Others are paid to spread authoritarian propaganda more widely. Ketchum, an American public relations firm, is on retainer with the Russian government to churn out press releases and Twitter posts, maintain a pro-Kremlin website, and assist with the placement of pro-Kremlin op-eds (including Putin’s notorious New York Times piece on Syria).


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Germany’s ‘dangerous blindness over Russia’

A dangerous change is creeping through Europe, eroding the special consensus established after 1945 and reaffirmed after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, says a leading analyst.

That consensus was about accepting as inviolable the borders drawn up at the Yalta Conference in 1945, writes Judy Dempsey, Editor in chief of Carnegie’s Strategic Europe:

Ethnic minorities would be protected. The horror of World War II was enough for Western Europe’s leaders to realize why such a consensus was necessary.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is now doing everything in his power to break that conviction. European leaders’ disunity and Germany’s weakness in recognizing what Putin is doing have the potential to undo the post-1945 consensus.

Were that to happen, Putin could celebrate victory: he would have undermined, and perhaps even destroyed, the united, strong, multiethnic, democratic Europe embodied in the EU that he has long feared. It behooves Germany to exert the strongest leadership to stop this from happening.

By annexing Crimea and creating instability in Eastern Ukraine, Putin has thrown down the gauntlet to European governments. European leaders now have to decide, and quickly, if they are prepared to allow Putin to change borders in such a systematic fashion and set ethnic groups against each other.

In the case of Eastern Ukraine, he is doing this through proxy pro-Russian militia groups, she writes. Their anonymity is insidious. With his skillful manipulation of this situation, Putin is showing that he knows exactly how to tap into European sensitivities, weaknesses, and divisions over Russia.


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Russia’s Soviet Spring prompts ‘civil cold war’


Back to the future

Back to the future

The Soviet Union is suddenly alive and well again in the minds of a giddy cohort of the Russian elite. Not the ideology, but the gravity, the cold-eyed assertion of power abroad and at home, and the allegiance demanded by the state, Will Englund writes for The Washington Post:

The equinox of Russia’s “Soviet spring” coincided with the appearance of the men in green who took over Crimea for Moscow. It blossomed with a wave of patriotic denunciations of fellow citizens and a torrent of new restrictive legislation.

On Tuesday came another sign: media reports that the Interior Ministry was banning foreign travel by every one of the nation’s police officers. And other law enforcement agencies were said to be following suit, so that as many as 4 million state employees may find themselves unwelcome to leave.

Iron Curtain Lite?

At a time when polls indicate that 80 percent of Russians are backing their president, it is difficult to be both a patriot and a critic of the Kremlin, Der Spiegel reports:

Sitting in her office in a historical building in central Moscow, Irina Prokhorova, chairwoman of the opposition party Civic Platform, laments the current situation. “It’s almost as if we’ve returned to the Soviet era,” she says, “a time when all discussions about government decisions were prohibited.” The building belongs to her brother Mikhail, a billionaire who ran for president in 2012 on a platform of ensuring greater democracy and a stronger free market economy. He ultimately garnered 8 percent of the vote, a respectable result.

Prokhorova sees in the enthusiasm over the annexation of Crimea a “nostalgic return to the imperialist past.” “Earlier, people with differing political convictions had mutual respect for each other,” she says. “But now even friendships are breaking up. A witch hunt has begun.” She warns that Russia is steering itself on a course toward a “civil cold war.”

Other intellectuals, like former television executive Nikolai Svanidze, are more cautious and view themselves not as members of the opposition, but as a “liberal and democratic part of the political elite.” Although Svanidze considers Crimea to be Russian territory, he rejects the methods used to annex it as well as the actions of forces in eastern Ukraine he believes are steered by Russia. He says he now fears the creation of an “Iron Curtain Lite,” the “archaization and Sovietization of our domestic politics” and major economic problems in the mid-term.

“It’s particularly scary to see how Russia is isolating itself, and scary to see how quickly it’s happening,” Tatyana Lokshina, a human rights activist, said Tuesday. “After several weeks of rhetorical hysteria, the authorities are moving toward real restrictive measures.”

In newly Russian Simferopol, the Crimean capital, a monument was plastered with the photos of 10 leading critics of Putin under a banner that read: “Attention! Agents of Western Influence.”

The newspaper Izvestia reported that members of the Presidential Human Rights Council, which has become a punching bag for patriots, had circulated an e-mail with an English-language subject line. It was proof, the paper said, that they were in cahoots with the U.S. State Department.

“The idea that if you speak English you must be a spy really belongs to a different era,” ­Lokshina said.

Dmitry Kiselyov, head of the Kremlin’s new information wing, said in a recent interview with Izvestia that he can’t understand why “propaganda” has such negative connotations in the West, which is so intent on imposing its own values on Russia.

“I think we have switched roles,” he said. “Russia is now a beacon of freedom.”


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After Karzai: Assessing Afghan Elections and U.S.-Afghan Relations

afghanistanNDIDefying terrorist threats, Afghans went to the polls on April 5 to vote in presidential and provincial council elections that could mark the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history, the National Democratic Institute reports.

More than 100 Afghan staff members of NDI visited 327 polling stations in 26 provinces to observe election day activities. The Institute dedicated its mission to Luis Maria Duarte, one of its long-term observers killed in the March 20 attack on the Kabul Serena Hotel. The remarkable turnout along with the significant participation of Afghan election monitors, political parties, women, young people and others contributed to the credibility of the electoral process, NDI said in a preliminary statement.

Ahead of election day, NDI helped prepare 46,000 candidate and political party polling agents, trained 281 of 299 women provincial council candidates and put on a candidate orientation program for 1,715 (more than 60 percent) of provincial council candidates. Read more»

NDI’s Afghanistan election data website provided data on the locations of polling stations and observer deployments, and will be updated with data on vote totals, security and reports of election irregularities as the process continues. Read more»

 After Karzai: Assessing the Afghan Elections and Future of the U.S.-Afghan Relationship

Tuesday, April 29

3:30 – 3:45 PM

Refreshments and Registration

3:45 – 4:00 PM Remarks from Congressman Jim Bridenstine

4:00 – 5:00 PM

Briefing and Q&A

Rayburn House Office Building

Room 2325

Speakers: Congressman Jim Bridenstine OK-1, House Armed Services Committee

Amb. Paula J. Dobriansky, Harvard University

Dr. Seth G. Jones, RAND Corporation

David Sedney, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia

Hamid Arsalan, National Endowment for Democracy

Moderator: Robert Zarate, Foreign Policy Initiative


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Civil Society in Action: The Power of Together


This week’s TEDxLiberdade event in São Paulo, Brazil will demonstrate the power of people working together for the common good and the importance of protecting the right to collective action. 

The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law and the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL) are pleased to announce TEDxLiberdade: The Power of Together on April 23, 2014 in São Paulo, Brazil. Fourteen speakers will demonstrate the power of civil society; among them are:

Ruslana Lyzhychoko, a World Music Award and Eurovision Song Contest winner from Ukraine. Ruslana is well-known for her commitment to social issues and was a leading figure in the recent Ukrainian protest movement.  She was named one of the top 10 most influential women of 2013 by Forbes magazine.

Isadora Faber, who launched an online campaign to improve her school when she was 13, and has since sparked a nationwide conversation on the right to public education. Newsweek has named her “Brazil’s Bravest Blogger.”

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, who courageously advocates for LGBTI rights in Uganda despite great risks posed by the country’s ban on homosexuality.

Bruno Torturra, who brought the sights and sounds of Brazil’s 2013 protests to the world’s attention with his group of citizen-journalists, Midia Ninja.

Xiao_QiangXiao Qiang (left), a Chinese human rights activist and an expert on online media.

Feliciano Reyna, one of Venezuela’s most prominent HIV/AIDS activists and a global advocate for civil society freedoms.

For more information and for the full list of speakers, please visit the event website. We invite you to watch the event live on Wednesday on Videos of each speaker will be available on the same site 30 days after the event. We also invite you to follow the event on Twitter and Facebook, and join the conversation using the hashtag #PowerOfTogether.

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