Freedom House on Russia: 2003-2014
While Russia’s annexation of Crimea was a nasty shock to many policymakers, it came as no surprise to analysts, such as Freedom House’s experts, who had followed Russia’s trajectory over the past decade. Since 2003, Freedom House has documented the country’s move to authoritarian rule and warned of Russian efforts to restore hegemony over Ukraine (see attached and below a selection of quotes from past Freedom House analysis on Russia). We explained how this increasingly authoritarian system posed a threat to democracy not just inside Russia itself but through Vladimir Putin’s support for dictators and pressure on democratic governments among Russia’s neighbors. Blocking democratic development and integration with the West along Russia’s periphery is integral to Putin’s repressive rule. The nature of the Russian regime—kleptocratic authoritarianism—lies at the core of the current crisis between Russia and Ukraine.
Freedom House has shaped debate on U.S. policy toward Russia. We have testified before Congress on Russia on multiple occasions, written frequently in elite media, including the Washington Post, American Interest, Foreign Policy, and Wall Street Journal, and appeared on the BBC, CTV, and PBS NewsHour. We spearheaded calls for the Magnitsky Act, signed into law in 2012, which introduced visa bans and asset freezes on Russian official involved in human rights abuses.
Freedom House’s contributions to the policy debate on Russia are as vital as ever, because the challenge posed by Russian authoritarianism continues to grow, and Freedom House’s analysis is still subject to debate. For example, in a recent Washington Post op-ed, former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock, argued that the “tensions between Russia and the West are based more on misunderstandings, misrepresentations and posturing for domestic audiences than on any real clash of ideologies or national interests.”
We are grateful to our supporters, who recognized and valued the insights we provided into Russia’s political system and the recommendations we offered to U.S. and European policymakers. We hope you will continue your support, so that we carry on our efforts to draw attention to the challenge posed by Russian authoritarianism and to press the United States to rise to this challenge.
For a sampling of recent commentary by Freedom House trustees and staff on Russia and Ukraine, please see:
- David Kramer, “US Sanctions Will Punish Russia, but Will They Deter?” PBS NewsHour, March 20
- Arch Puddington and David Kramer, “Putin’s Real Target: Democracy in Russia and Beyond,” American Interest, March 19
- David Kramer, “If Ukraine wins against Russian aggression, freedom wins,” Washington Post, March 17
- Ilya Lozovsky, “Ukraine crisis is not a game,” CNN, March 11
- Charles Davidson and Damir Marusic, “Why The EU Fears Putin,” American Interest, March 7
- Paula Dobriansky and David Rivkin, “Ukraine a victim of weak Western allies,” USA Today, March 6
- Susan Corke, "Fouled Out: Sochi Games a PR debacle for UN greenwashing strategy", FoxNews, March 5
Freedom House Quotes on Russia 2003-2014
“Russia’s militaristic elite resents American power; seeks the unattainable revival of Russian regional hegemony over Ukraine, the Caucasus and Central Asia; and supports arms sales to states like Iran and until recently Iraq.” -- Adrian Karatnycky, “Jobs for the Boys: Putin’s New Militocracy,” Wall Street Journal Europe, June 13, 2003
“Russia’s step backwards into the Not Free category is the culmination of a growing trend under President Vladimir Putin to concentrate political authority, harass and intimidate the media, and politicize the country’s law-enforcement system. These moves mark a dangerous and disturbing drift toward authoritarianism in Russia, made more worrisome by President Putin’s recent heavy-handed meddling in political developments in neighboring countries such as Ukraine.” -- Jennifer Windsor, “Russia Downgraded to ‘Not Free,’” Freedom House Press Release, December 20, 2004
“The fate of Russian democracy has enormous implications, both for the former Soviet region and globally. The fact that democracy has failed in so many countries of the former Soviet Union is due in part to the increasingly authoritarian Russian example and to President Putin’s support for neighboring autocrats.” -- Jennifer Windsor, “Russia at a Crossroads: Upcoming Elections Defining Issue,” Freedom House Press Release, May 4, 2005
“Putin has taken initiatives to undermine the success of neighboring democracies —such as Ukraine, Georgia, and the Baltic states—while offering support to some of the region’s most repressive regimes, most notably those in Belarus and Uzbekistan.” -- Arch Puddington, Overview Essay, Freedom in the World 2006
“Russia’s leadership is hoping the West will turn a blind eye to its tightening autocratic grip. But ignoring the problem will not solve it. A strong message from the world’s leading democracies should be heard by the Kremlin and, most important, by wider Russian society alike.” -- Christopher Walker, “How Should the West Deal with Russia at G-8,” Christian Science Monitor, June 21, 2006
“President Putin has drawn extensively, and shrewdly, from the old Soviet system to build what is increasingly looking like a new model of authoritarian rule.” -- Arch Puddington, “Back From the Dead,” New York Sun, October 24, 2006
“[N]ow with virtually no institutional checks on its decision making, Russia’s leadership is pursuing an increasingly truculent foreign policy… This rise of Putinism has been felt acutely in the countries on Russia’s borders, where the Kremlin is exerting political and economic pressure on a set of vulnerable post-Soviet states.” -- Christopher Walker and Robert Orttung, “Russia: Putinism’s Impact on the Neighbors,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, February 12, 2008
“For ordinary Russians, civil-rights activists and anyone hoping to do business in the country under more favorable conditions, the next chapter of the Putin era will surely bring more bad news. It is time for the world’s democracies to set aside wishful thinking and confront the challenges of an authoritarian leadership whose only plan for the future is to dig in its heels.” -- David Kramer and Christopher Walker, “Russian Reality-Check,” Wall Street Journal, October 3, 2011
“Russian reality is likely once again to teach those in the West a hard lesson. Putin … will likely return to the traditional model of survival: gradually closing off Russia from the West while simultaneously accusing it of posing a threat, increasing repression and bullying neighbors.” -- David Kramer and Lilia Shevtsova, “Doing Well By Doing Right,” The American Interest, February 1, 2012
'A legislative amendment that dramatically increases fines for those who participate in “unsanctioned” public events and demonstrations, passed by both houses of the Russian parliament today, seriously threatens the right to the freedom of assembly in Russia and should be outright rejected by President Putin. Freedom House calls for all those who support a more democratic future in Russia to speak out strongly against the new measures. “It is telling that the authorities’ response to the recent groundswell of public outrage over Russia’s disappointing democratic development over the past decade is to crack down further on political dissent,”' said Susan Corke, director of Eurasia programs at Freedom House. -- Freedom House Press Release, June 6, 2012
“As the attacks against independent voices in Russia continue unabated, leaders in the U.S., Canada, and Europe need to take a stronger stand against Putin’s systematic destruction of pluralism and attempts to silence and marginalize critics. Supporting legislation that would impose a visa ban and asset freeze against Russian officials involved in human rights abuses is a start.” -- David Kramer, “Freedom House Condemns Latest Assault on Human Rights in Russia,” -- Freedom House Press Release, July 31, 2012
“While today’s Kremlin does not demonstrate overt, military aggressiveness toward Ukraine, there is no doubt about Ukraine’s importance for the Kremlin agenda. As his own grip on power starts to erode, Putin seeks to compensate for that erosion by turning to the international arena. The Eurasian Union is not a new Putin hobby. Strengthening Russia’s role in the region is the Kremlin’s instrument for finding legitimacy and leverage.” -- David Kramer and Lilia Shevtsova, “Ukraine, Russia and Two Horses,” The American Interest, August 21, 2012
“In just the six months since he reseated himself as president, Vladimir Putin has been busy creating a legislative framework that might make Lenin proud." --David J. Kramer and Susan Corke, "Russians Are Afraid - and for Good Reason," Moscow Times, November 14, 2012
'"On Wednesday, December 19, the Russian Duma will debate a proposed law that would prohibit public discussion or so-called propaganda of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their rights. This law is an affront to fundamental human rights enshrined in Russia’s constitution and international commitments. Freedom House calls on the Russian Duma to reject it outright. “These homophobic laws fuel animosity towards LGBT people and those who advocate for their rights and serve to justify violence against them and discrimination in daily life,”Susan Corke.' -- Freedom House Press Release, December 17, 2012
“[S]ince his formal return to the presidency, Putin has overseen the worst deterioration in Russia’s democracy and human rights situation since the collapse of the Soviet Union.” -- David Kramer, “New Report: U.S. Needs Post-Reset Policy on Russia,” Freedom House Press Release, February 6, 2013
“Civil society in Russia is in survival mode,” and “The government has systematically been cracking down on all sorts of civil society rights… It’s contributed to an environment where violence and discrimination and nationalism are given more space, and [people] with non-Slavic appearances become a target.” -- "Fouled Out: Sochi Games a PR debacle for UN greenwashing strategy", FoxNews, March 5, 2014
“Putin and the Kremlin are vulnerable to sanctions, but if they really want to have an impact the United States and European Union have to go further than they have to date. Unless Putin and those around him pay a serious price for their actions, they are unlikely to back down and might even go beyond the damage they have already done to Ukraine.” -- David Kramer, “If Ukraine wins against Russian aggression, freedom wins,” Washington Post, March 17, 2014
Photo Credit: www.kremlin.ru
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