Bush Should Address Russia's Authoritarian Drift
During their meetings at Camp David September 26-27, President Bush should urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to reverse the steady erosion of political rights and civil liberties in Russia, Freedom House said today.
A number of crucial issues should be raised during the meetings, including press freedom, rule of law, and the war in Chechnya.
"While their two-day summit is expected to focus primarily on trade, economic development, and the war on terrorism, it is vital that President Bush take the opportunity to register official concern over Russia's domestic political scene, which is sliding more into autocracy, rather than democracy," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor.
Press freedom in Russia has steadily eroded since President Putin came to power in 2000. Journalists and media outlets are routinely subject to state-instigated criminal libel suits and other forms of harassment. The government has particularly targeted independent journalists and TV stations that report on the war in Chechnya and on high-level corruption. President Bush should ask Mr. Putin to rescind recent legislation allowing Russia's Central Election Commission and Press Ministry to shut down media outlets thought to provide "biased" coverage.
In Freedom House's latest survey of global press freedom, Freedom of the Press 2003, the pronounced deterioration of press freedom in Russia led to the downgrading of its rating to "Not Free."
In the area of rule of law, President Putin has yet to honor his stated pledges to combat endemic political and economic corruption. Recent government efforts to expose corruption appear to be politically motivated rather than honest efforts to root out fraud and other economic crimes.
Freedom House's latest survey of the 27 post-Communist states, Nations in Transit 2003, indicates that over the last seven years, Russia has lost considerable ground in key areas examined by the study, including electoral processes; civil society; independent media; governance; and constitutional, legislative, and judicial frameworks.
The report documents a pattern of disturbing trends within Russia, including:
- President Putin's methodical efforts to concentrate power around him and to intimidate and political opponents;
- The absence of truly free and fair elections and viable opposition political parties;
- A civil society that remains sidelined in public policy and decision making and lacks the support and resources needed to sustain its activities;
- A press that is under challenge and fears retribution for legitimate criticism of the government and honest reporting on crime and corruption;
- A weak judiciary that lacks independence and is unable to enforce its decisions; and
- Cronyism and corruption in Russia's economic life, which erodes entrepreneurship and breeds skepticism and cynicism about the market economy.
"It must be made clear to President Putin that stable and cooperative relations with the United States fundamentally depend on a reversal of Moscow's authoritarian drift," Ms. Windsor said. "Russia's failure to consolidate democracy will have serious consequences for its freedom, strength, prosperity, and integration into the global democratic community."
Freedom House background reports on Russia are available online:
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.