Is the Ukraine crisis the West’s fault?


ukraine euromaidanJohn J. Mearsheimer’s article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault,” shows his contempt for democracy, national sovereignty, and international law, says a leading analyst.

His thesis is that Russia has the right to decide the fate of the countries in its neighborhood in its own interest, the Petersen Institute’s Anders Aslund observes:

Mearsheimer invokes the role of popular will in two instances in his article. In one case, he claims that most of the people in Crimea “wanted out of Ukraine.” But the evidence is missing. Opinion polls before the “referendum” under Russian military control showed nothing of the sort, and the referendum was a blatant fake.

The other case is when Mearsheimer, again without evidence, claims that Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted through a “coup.” He lost his parliamentary majority on February 20 after having ordered the killing of 100 citizens, and he was voted out with a constitutional majority of two-thirds. One may complain that a more complex impeachment procedure should have been applied, but Mearsheimer’s hero Putin is not even democratically elected.

Aslund might also have noted that Mearsheimer exhibits a rather mechanistic conception of political change in his suggestion that the National Endowment for Democracy and similar democracy assistance groups are able to foment regime change through some form of political engineering. Similarly, his suggestion that the popular mobilization which led to Yanukovych’s resignation was a ‘coup’ effectively delegitimizes any citizen action to counter government corruption, misgovernance or authoritarian rule.

Indeed, Mearsheimer misrepresents the NED’s Carl Gershman’s reference, in a Washington Post op-ed last fall, to Ukraine as “the biggest prize,” when it was clear that the phrase referred to Russia’s proprietary attitudes towards its neighbor.

Mearsheimer also defends Putin’s rationality, which is a tall order, Aslund continues:

Putin clearly believes, as former US Ambassador Michael McFaul has so eloquently put it, that no popular uprising can happen anywhere, and that everything is instigated by security services, notably the US services. Therefore, it could not have been the Ukrainians who ousted their corrupt dictator Yanukovych—it had to be the Americans. Only a conspiratorial and paranoid mind like Putin’s can take that at face value, but Mearsheimer bolsters him.

With Mearsheimer’s arguments, any crackpot military aggression anywhere in the world could be defended. He could use the same arguments to justify Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, or Saddam Hussein, which suggests that these arguments in defense of Putin might not be of much value.

UKRAINE POLLUkrainians’ attitudes toward Russia have changed significantly (July 2014 NYT). In 2011, which was the last time Pew conducted a poll there, more than eight in 10 Ukrainians had a favorable opinion of Russia. Now only 35 percent of respondents have a positive view. Within Ukraine, there are deep divisions based on geography and language. Residents of the western part of the country were most unfavorable toward Russia, while Russian-speakers in the east were less unfavorable.

According to a recent poll from the International Republican Institute, a majority of Ukrainians support closer ties with Europe:

Fifty-two percent of respondents now favor joining the European Union over the Russian-led Customs Union, up from 41 percent in February.  Although divisions remain between the east and west of Ukraine, 53 percent said they would vote to join the European Union if a referendum were held.  When asked the same question about joining the Customs Union, 28 percent said they would vote to join.

According to the principal findings from the latest survey in Ukraine (above) by the Pew Research Center:

Ukrainians are far from satisfied with the involvement of foreign powers to date. The European Union fairs best in the eyes of Ukrainians, with a 45%-plurality describing its influence in Ukraine as good. Meanwhile, assessments of the U.S. impact on Ukraine are split: 38% positive, 38% negative.

Russia is viewed with the greatest suspicion. Three times as many Ukrainians say Russia is having a bad influence on their country as say it is having a good impact (67% vs. 22%). At the same time, overall confidence in Putin’s handling of world affairs has plummeted from 56% in 2007 to 23% today.


Why autocrats should fear protest-led revolts more than ever

carapicoNew research investigating the fall of dictators has uncovered some interesting data: in the past decade, autocratic leaders have become more vulnerable to popular revolt and less so to insider-led coups, the most common way dictators have exited power in recent history, says the International Republican Institute’s Brian Braun.

A number of academic studies have identified the downward trend in coups since their height in the 1960s and 70s, but academics have only recently begun to investigate the modes of exit that have replaced them, he writes for

The research, authored by Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz, not only presents insightful data on the prospects for democracy in post-autocratic societies, but also offers democracy assistance implementers new ways of thinking about how to best support reform-minded activists living in authoritarian societies.

Adapted from a study conducted by Milan Svolik, the authors’ research examines whether revolts that overthrow dictators are short-term exceptions to conventional wisdom that autocrats are most susceptible to coups. The data reveals that, while regime insiders forced out the majority of autocrats from the 1950s to the present, uprisings against autocratic regimes now remove a greater proportion of dictators than coups. Astonishingly, the percentage of autocrats ousted by revolts has tripled from four to twelve percent since the end of the Cold War and accounts for a quarter of all overthrows between 2010 and 2012.

Kendall-Taylor and Frantz’s research not only found that protest-led exits are more likely to result in democratization than exits resulting from civil wars, coups, resignations, term limitations, or deaths in office, but also that popular uprisings are more likely to sweep away the institutional structures of autocratic regimes, which, if left intact, are likely to lead to new dictatorships. Other research (Debs and H.E. Goemans) offers similarly insightful data: the less violent the fall of a regime, the more likely democracy will follow. Where dictators believe they are likely to be killed or imprisoned, they are more likely to respond to popular protests with violence (think Ceaușescu in Romania, Qaddafi in Libya, and Assad in Syria), thereby decreasing the chances of democracy taking root.

Together this research offers democracy assistance practitioners sage advice at a time when the number of reform-minded activists standing up against corrupt and abusive governments seems too many to count. As autocrats find clever new ways to suppress dissent and prolong their regimes, the democracy assistance community can employ this knowledge as it helps local activists promote transparency and accountability in their own governments.

Investing in open-source and data collection platforms is one of the most promising avenues to equip activists living under authoritarian systems with the tools to engage their governments in open and public dialogue on matters of civic and private life. Twitter and Facebook, both social media sites, were key forums for public discourse and important tools that helped to mobilize the masses that brought down long-time autocrats Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, and helped coordinate the mass demonstrations against the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during Iran’s disputed June 2009 presidential elections.

Other online platforms are equally important. By developing and promoting free crowd and open-source software like Ushahidi, which promotes transparency and raises public accountability by performing functions like mapping polling places and documenting institutional corruption, democracy assistance implementers can provide activists with accessible, low-cost tools designed to hold governments accountable. The FixMyStreet website, which uses similar interactive mapping software to report potholes and broken street lights to make municipal governments responsible for repairs, is one of many innovative and popular ways for cell phone users across the globe to monitor the activities of city administrators.

Since violence is likely to hamper the transition to democracy, international implementers should also prioritize conflict mediation programs that help mitigate the likelihood acts of violence will thwart the path toward a peaceful and democratic transition. Search for Common Ground, one organization that focuses on conflict resolution programming, works with political and religious leaders, civil society organizations, militaries, media, and minorities on conflict sensitivity, reconciliation, and mediation issues to cooperatively resolve sometimes deadly disputes in conflict-prone countries. This approach has been successfully applied to volatile regions such as Sudan, Yemen, and Timor-Leste. In countries where different camps within a protest movement seek divergent outcomes (think Egypt), it can help ensure that competing parties work together instead of against one another after an autocrat is overthrown.

Finally, democracy assistance practitioners should be committed and prepared to work with democrats abroad long after autocratic regimes have been overthrown. Although Kendal-Taylor and Frantz suggest a brighter prospect for democratic movements in the future, implementers must also be aware that protest movements that succeed in replacing autocratic regimes with democratic systems are still highly susceptible to undemocratic relapses. Even after a revolt has led to democratization, the country is still vulnerable to autocratic backsliding. Democracy assistance implementers must, therefore, maintain a strong and supportive relationship with activists well past the transition to help realize the dream of establishing a stable and democratic society.

Brian Braun is a program assistant with the International Republican Institute’s Middle East and North Africa division.

Egypt leaves democracy advocate in legal limbo

egypt ngo trial fhIn Egypt last month, three journalists were found guilty of doing their jobs and given seven- and 10-year jail terms. Apparently, little has changed, notes a prominent democracy assistance official.

A little more than a year earlier, I and 42 other employees of international human rights groups were similarly convicted at a Cairo trial that the U.S. and European governments have condemned as politically motivated,” says Sam LaHood, the director for the International Republican Institute in Egypt from 2010 to 2012 and currently a program officer with the organization.

“I was sentenced to five years in prison with hard labor after being found guilty in absentia of a trumped-up felony,” he writes for the Washington Post:  

In my case, appointees held over from the regime of Hosni Mubarak used repressive laws to target our groups for providing democracy assistance, manipulating the bureaucratic machinery for their own ends. Many more of these officials, who constitute Egypt’s entrenched security apparatus and bureaucracy, or “deep state,” have since returned to power after being out in the cold during the truncated presidential term of Mohamed Morsi. This deep state, led by individuals at the Ministry of Interior, state security and other large bureaucratic entities, is intent on exerting control over civil society, politics and the media through intimidation and repression.


Putin’s Ukrainian New Russia would be ‘ungovernable mess’


Credit: IRI

Credit: IRI

Ukraine’s 2014 presidential election is only one step toward restoring political legitimacy in the country—parliamentary elections are just as important to move on to the next stage in Ukrainian politics, says a prominent analyst.

“The presidential poll may well be the only opportunity to stop Ukraine from descending into further internal conflict, Russian intervention, and the de facto loss of regions in the country’s southeast,” Oxford University’s Gwendolyn Sasse writes for Carnegie Europe:

Presidential elections are also a typical platform for protest—and this vote could trigger a new round of protests in the capital, in current regional hot spots, and in other regions. Western governments and international organizations should concentrate their efforts on enabling clean elections, high voter turnout, and the acceptance of the outcome by the Ukrainian elites and society. It is here that the immediate future of Ukraine will be decided—rather than in sanctions against Russia. 

Putin’s Ukrainian ‘New Russia’ would be an ungovernable mess, according to one observer, because most people living in the would-be Novorossiya don’t want independence from Ukraine:

A mid-April poll of 3,200 residents in the south and east found that only 15.4 percent favored seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia, and 64.2 percent wanted to remain part of a “unitary” Ukraine, as opposed to a federation of autonomous regions. The poll, conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology for the Kiev-based newspaper Mirror Weekly, didn’t ask specifically about establishing a new Novorossiya. In a U.S.-funded Gallup survey conducted in mid-March for the International Republican Institute, only 4 percent of people in eastern Ukraine and 2 percent of those in southern Ukraine wanted their country divided into separate nations.

While most people living in the south and east speak Russian, its population is far from homogeneous, says Svitlana Kobzar, a policy analyst at RAND Europe in Brussels. “There are different regions, different elites. There’s also divergence between the cities and the rural regions.”

The Kremlin surely understands, however, that Ukraine’s south and east are not Crimea, analyst Lilia Shevstova writes for The American Interest:

According to polls recently organized by the Ukrainian newspaper Zerkalo Nedeli and the Kiev’s International Institute of Sociology only 15.4 percent of residents in this region would like to join Russia, with 69.7 percent of respondents thinking that it “would be a bad idea.” Only 11.7 per cent of people in the region support the Russian troops’ incursion. In Donetsk region, where the separatists have installed their rule, the Russian incursion is supported by only 19.3 percent; the rest of population would prefer to live in an independent Ukrainian state. ….

There are also a lot of people who are ready to defend the Ukrainian state. Consider these numbers: in Kherson 36.9 per cent of people would take part in a resistance movement; in Nikolaev, 31 percent; in Dnipropetrovsk, 26 percent; in Odessa, 24.9 percent. In the Donetsk area, which is viewed as the pro-Russian separatists’ stronghold, 11.9 percent would fight Russian occupation troops; in Lugansk, 10.7 percent say they would. I agree: these numbers are not large. But the number of undecided (20.5 percent) is still high……About 45 percent support a unitary state with decentralized power, and only 24.8 percent are in favor of Federalization.

What do these polls tell us? When it comes to the efforts to fragment Ukraine and force the annexation or creation of quasi-independent republics (the Transnistria scenario), we should expect to see growing resistance within Ukraine—perhaps even civil war, she concludes. RTWT

One way to increase the chances of a prosperous future in Ukraine is to strengthen the nation’s currency, the hryvnia, says Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Even as the value of the Russian ruble has fallen almost 9% against the dollar in 2014, Mr. Putin takes comfort in knowing that the hryvnia is doing worse, he writes for The Wall Street Journal:

This is where America and our European allies can throw a wrench into Mr. Putin’s designs, rather than standing idly by as the hryvnia collapses under physical and psychological intimidation from Russia. We should encourage the establishment of a Ukrainian currency board, an institutional arrangement that anchors the value of national money to a more stable currency. Under a currency board, the hryvnia would be convertible into the dollar or the euro at a fixed rate, and backed by Ukraine’s own hard currency reserves. The International Monetary Fund would supplement the reserves with a special-purpose loan arrangement.

The Ukraine crisis has presented the Obama Administration with “a real policy dilemma,” according to Charles Crawford, a former British Ambassador in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Warsaw: how to help those former Soviet republics reform themselves when such reforms involve dismantling Soviet-era structures and colossal post-Soviet-era corruption that have links going right into the Kremlin?

NATO membership is especially important. It is not widely understood that one of the worst ‘deep’ features of the Soviet Union was the fact that the Soviet Army ran its own aggressive intelligence services in parallel with the KGB, he writes for The Commentator:

Rooting out these people and networks has proved to be one of the hardest challenges of post-communist reform in all the former Warsaw Pact countries; without NATO membership and the accompanying tough political and procedural reforms of the relationship between military structures and civilian accountability, it is highly unlikely that (say) Poland would be where it is now.

This is why it is existentially important for Ukraine and other former Soviet republics to move closer to the NATO way of doing things if they want to have substantive democracy. And, in turn, why Moscow under current management is so determined that that should not happen: the networks of almost impenetrable patronage, coercion and corruption that come from unreformed military structures across the former Soviet space are key tools for maintaining direct Russian influence.

Further sanctions are needed to deter Russia from new aggressive moves in Ukraine, say analysts. “It takes a large-scale economic war to discourage Russia from its aggressive behaviour,” said Cristian Ghinea, director of Romania’s Centre for European Policies.

Can U.S. political strategy translate in Iraq?

Credit: NDI

Credit: NDI

Few know the challenges of Wednesday’s parliamentary election in Iraq better than the narrow industry of U.S. political consultants who, like Sam noble ideals into cash, Richard Leiby writes for The Washington Post.

Politics is not just local but also uniquely cultural, different the world over. That applies also when Washington tries to export democratic values and traditions to a place like Iraq.

“People like me are not agents of change,” Patten reflects. “We’re helpers, perhaps enablers, of a historical process that is going to happen eventually, one way or the other.”

An adviser to Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Saleh Mutlaq, he knows the current terrain well, having worked in Iraq in 2004-2005 for the International Republican Institute (IRI), a U.S.-established organization that champions the electoral process [and a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy]. He has also assisted candidates in Ukraine, Romania, Albania, Georgia and Thailand, with proverbial mixed results.

It’s time to get “noisy” in the campaign’s final days, Patten has been urging Mutlaq, a subdued agri-businessman whose central issue is not readily conveyed in sound bites. Mutlaq wants to change the nation’s constitution, which he sees as a deeply flawed product of U.S. occupation, tilted against Sunni Muslims like himself and responsible for a noxious stew of sectarianism still boiling 11 years after the U.S. invasion. …..….