The findings of Freedom House’s Nations in Transit report point to Russia’s role as model and enabler for Eurasia’s autocracies, according to Arch Puddington and David J. Kramer, vice president for research and president, respectively, at Freedom House.
Vladimir Putin is not solely responsible for this depressing state of affairs. But his actions have contributed mightily to the woes of his neighborhood, they write for the American Interest.
The grim facts are reflected in the findings of Nations in Transit, an annual report on the condition of democracy in the post-Communist world issued by Freedom House. Among the major conclusions:
- Four out of five people in the 12 Eurasia (i.e., former Soviet) countries live under authoritarian rule;
- 97 percent of the region’s citizens live in societies with major restrictions on press freedom;
- Every country in the region save two (Georgia and Moldova) has experienced a decline in democratic standards over the past decade;
- The past decade has seen major setbacks in judicial independence and civil society;
- Azerbaijan and Russia have registered the most serious setbacks over the decade.
Again and again, however, the findings of Nations in Transit point to Russia’s role as model and enabler for the region’s fellow autocracies. We are increasingly witnessing a kind of copycat effect, where measures adopted by Russia for repressive purposes find their way into the legal and political systems of neighboring states.
This is especially the case concerning civil society. As early as 2005, Putin pushed through legislation to restrict the activities of non-governmental organizations, and this became a model for other regimes in the region. After Putin returned to the presidency in May 2012, he launched a series of measures to further restrict NGOs, culminating in the law that brands groups that accept funding from abroad as foreign agents. In 2013 alone, some 1,000 civil society groups were investigated, harassed, or shut down altogether, as in the case of GOLOS, a respected election-monitoring organization.