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Authoritarian Backlash

Post-Soviet Politics
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The last decade has seen rapid and fundamental change in the countries of the
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Russian-Belarusian Integration
Playing Games Behind the Kremlin Walls
Alex Danilovich
ISBN 978-0-7546-4630-3

The Russian Democratic Party Yabloko

Opposition in a Managed Democracy
David White
ISBN 978-0-7546-4675-4

Georgia from National Awakening to Rose Revolution

Delayed Transition in the Former Soviet Union
Jonathan Wheatley
ISBN 978-0-7546-4503-0

Taming Nationalism? Political Community

Building in the Post-Soviet Baltic States
Dovile Budryte
ISBN 978-0-7546-4281-7
Authoritarian Backlash
Russian Resistance to Democratization
in the Former Soviet Union

Thomas Ambrosio
North Dakota State University, USA
© Thomas Ambrosio 2009

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise
without the prior permission of the publisher.

Thomas Ambrosio has asserted his moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to
be identified as the author of this work.

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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Ambrosio, Thomas, 1971-
  Authoritarian backlash : Russian resistance to democratization in the former Soviet Union. - (Post-
Soviet politics)
  1. Authoritarianism - Russia (Federation)
  2. Authoritarianism - Former Soviet republics
  3. Democratization - Russia (Federation) 4. Democratization - Former Soviet republics 5.
Democracy - Russia (Federation) 6. Democracy - Former Soviet republics
  7. Russia (Federation) - Politics and government 8. Russia
  (Federation) - Relations - Former Soviet republics
  9. Former Soviet republics - Relations - Russia
 I. Title

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Ambrosio, Thomas, 1971-
  Authoritarian backlash : Russian resistance to democratization in the former Soviet Union / by
Thomas Ambrosio.
   p. cm. – (Post-Soviet politics)
 Includes bibliographical references and index.
 ISBN 978-0-7546-7350-7
1. Russia (Federation)--Politics and government--1991- 2. Authoritarianism--Russia (Federation)
3. Democratization--Russia
(Federation) 4. Russia (Federation)--Foreign relations. I. Title.

  JN6695.A862 2008
ISBN 978-0-7546-7350-7 (hb)
ISBN 978-0-7546-9175-4 (ebook)

List of Figures and Tables   vii

About the Author   ix
Preface   xi
List of Abbreviations   xv

1 The Authoritarian Backlash Against Democracy   1

2 The External Promotion of Democracy and Authoritarianism   11

3 Political Trends in the Former Soviet Union: An Overview   27

4 Insulate: Shielding Russia from External Democracy Promotion   45

5 Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism   69

6 Bolster: Russian Support for Authoritarianism in Belarus   105

7 Subvert: Undermining Democracy in Georgia and Ukraine   131

8 Coordinate: Working with Others to Resist Democratization   159

9 The Russian 2007–2008 Election Cycle   185

10 The Future of Democracy and the Challenge of Authoritarianism  201

Appendix   217
Bibliography   221
Index   233
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List of Figures and Tables

Figure 3.1 Average Freedom House ratings of former

Soviet Union countries 29
Figure 3.2 Average Freedom House ratings for Russia and
the Color Revolution countries 30

Table A.1 Freedom House ratings – averages 218

Table A.2 Freedom House ratings – political rights 219
Table A.3 Freedom House ratings – civil liberties 220
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About the Author

Thomas Ambrosio is an Associate Professor of Political Science at North

Dakota State University in Fargo, North Dakota. His research interests focus
on the intersection between the domestic and international levels—in particular,
how internal politics, structures, and identities affect external outcomes. He
has published numerous articles and chapters, as well as the following books:
Challenging America’s Global Preeminence: Russia’s Quest for Multipolarity,
Irredentism: Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, Ethnic Identity Groups
and U.S. Foreign Policy (editor), International Law and the Rise of Nations: The
State System and the Challenge of Ethnic Groups (co-edited with Robert Beck).
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Soon after this book was sent to the publisher, the war between Russia and Georgia
erupted. After a series of Russian provocations and clear signals that Moscow
had no intention of allowing Tbilisi to restore its sovereignty over the breakaway
provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia sought to retake the latter by
force. Russia responded overwhelmingly and fighting quickly escalated outside
of the province and into Georgia proper. Currently, it appears that the Russian
government has decided to cease offensive operations, but it is unlikely that the
fundamentals of the conflict will be resolved for the foreseeable future.
Any major foreign policy decision is based upon multiple factors. Scholars
who seek to find ‘the’ answer or ‘the’ cause inevitably falter before the complexity
of events. In the current context, there are many considerations which are likely
behind Russian actions. In addition to the stated purposes of reversing Georgia’s
military offensive, one can look at the national prestige value of reestablishing or
reaffirming Russia’s sphere of influence in the Caucasus; the strategic value of
crushing the most anti-Russian and pro-Western of the former Soviet republics;
the powerful geopolitical interest in sending a signal to the West generally, and the
US in particular, that encroachments into the region will no longer be tolerated; the
economic (and strategic) value of further dominating energy routes from Central
Asia and the Caspian Sea by threatening the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline; and,
the domestic political benefits of solidifying an enemy image of an encircling West
using its allies to threaten Russian interests.
To this list, Georgian authorities added another item: Georgia’s domestic
political system. In an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, Georgian President
Mikheil Saakashvili called his country’s war with Russia a clash over Western
values and a fight for the very future of democracy in the region: ‘No country of
the former Soviet Union had made more progress toward consolidating democracy,
eradicating corruption, and building an independent foreign policy than Georgia.
This is precisely what Russia seeks to crush’. If Russia is successful in Georgia,
so the argument goes, then the democratic powers would have failed to defend
liberty in the face of authoritarian aggression, with negative ramifications outside
of the region. Later, in an interview with Germany’s Rhein-Zeitung newspaper, he
reiterated this theme by arguing: ‘… they [Russia] want to get rid of us, they want
regime change. Every democratic movement in this neighbouring region must

Excepting, perhaps, the Baltic states.
Mikheil Saakashvili, ‘The War in Georgia is a War for the West’, Wall Street Journal,
11 August 2008, A15.
xii Authoritarian Backlash

be got rid of’. Russian officials have provided some credence to these claims.
When asked by his American counterpart about whether Russia intends to change
the leadership in Georgia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vatali
Churkin, responded: ‘There are leaders who become an obstacle. Sometimes
those leaders need to contemplate how useful they have become to their people’.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was more blatant by explicitly calling
for Saakashvili to step down. This indicates that Georgia’s domestic politics are
significant in determining the course of Russian policy.
It is certainly in the Georgian president’s interests to frame the war in such
a way: with his military gambit having failed, Tbilisi’s only hope rests with the
diplomatic support of the West. It appears that this strategy has been at least
partially successful: Georgian defeats on the battlefield have been often matched
with public relations victories in the Western press which has presented the image
of a small, democratic country on the verge of being devoured by the autocratic,
Russian bear. One could argue that this amounts to a cynical use of well-established
enemy images of Russia, revived by the Kremlin’s shift toward authoritarianism
and Moscow’s oil-driven resurgence on the world stage. However, a compelling
argument could also be made that Saakashvili’s posturing has some truth to it.
Clausewitz famously called war a continuation of politics by other means. While
war may at first seem to be at the polar opposite of the political spectrum from the
internal, domestic politics of states, this may be only at first appearances. There
is a growing sense that divisions between democratic and authoritarian regimes
are becoming increasingly important. The most recent ‘wave’ of democracy has
precipitated a reaction by those untouched by or resistant to political change.
Autocratic Russia and China are on the rise and, in some cases, are serving as
political and economic role models for other regimes unwilling to relinquish power.
More and more, the pattern of alignments and conflicts in the international system
appears to be along this democracy-autocracy divide. Countries are becoming
progressively bold in resisting democratic trends and democracy promotion, both
at home and abroad. For authoritarian regimes to feel secure, they can not abide
vibrant democracies within close proximity. The overlap between the political
interests of autocratic governments and the strategic interests of their states is
becoming a prominent feature of international politics.
Although other causes—national prestige, security, strategic, economic, etc.—
are obviously at work in the current conflict, it is perhaps not surprising that the
country which heralded the first of the color revolutions in the former Soviet
Union would be the subject of the Kremlin’s wrath. Even before open military
hostilities, Russia had imposed painful and disproportionate economic sanctions
upon Georgia, a product of the downturn in relations between Moscow and Tbilisi
which followed the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, when it appeared that the

Tom Parfritt,
et al., ‘Russia Brushes Aside Ceasefire Calls After Georgia Withdraws’,
Guardian, 11 August 2008, 1.
Preface xiii

region might be ripe for democratic contagion. The quick escalation by Russia may
indicate that Russian policy is being driven by more than simply a return to the
status quo ante bellum: the possibility of undermining (or crushing) a democracy
along its borders may have proved too tempting for the autocratic Kremlin.
This often overlooked factor is the central concern of this study, which argues
that the political interests of authoritarian regimes in resisting the spread of
democracy and undermining democratic consolidation has become an increasingly
important element in the domestic and foreign policies of these countries.
Although this book utilizes Russia as its central case study, it seeks to begin the
process of outlining a more general framework of authoritarianism in an effort
to complement democratization theory. In the midst of an authoritarian backlash
against democracy, understanding how autocrats go about securing their political
goals will prove to be consequential as democratic powers seek to advance the
cause of liberty in the face of growing autocratic resistance.

Thomas Ambrosio
August 2008
Fargo, ND
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List of Abbreviations

ASEAN Association of South East Asian Nations

BBCMIR BBC Monitoring International Reports
BBCSWB BBC Summary of World Broadcasts
BBCWM BBC Worldwide Monitoring
CEC Central Election Commission (Russia)
CIS Commonwealth of Independent States
CoE Council of Europe
CSTO Collective Security Treaty Organization
EU European Union
FSB Federal Security Service (Russia)
G-8 Group of Eight
GUUAM Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova Group
IMF International Monetary Fund
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NGOs Nongovernmental Organizations
ODIHR Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE)
OSCE Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
PA OSCE Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE
PACE Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
PCA Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EU and Russia)
SCO Shanghai Cooperation Organization
SVR Foreign Intelligence Service (Russia)
UN United Nations
UNCERD United Nations Committee on the Elimination of
Racial Discrimination
UNCHR United Nations Commission on Human Rights
USSR Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
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For Beth, for giving me the idea for this project and without
whom its completion would never have been possible.
Chapter 1
The Authoritarian Backlash
Against Democracy

[C]elebrations of democracy’s triumph are premature. In a few short years, the

democratic wave has been slowed by a powerful authoritarian undertow, and the
world has slipped into a democratic recession.
Larry Diamond (2008)

In 1989, at the height of the ‘third wave’ of democratization, Francis Fukuyama

(1989) proclaimed an ‘end of history’—by which he meant that the collapse of
communism in Eastern Europe represented ‘an unabashed victory of economic
and political liberalism’ over its rivals. Soon afterward, some were concerned that
this would lead to a ‘reverse wave’ of renewed autocracy. By the mid-1990s,
democratic consolidation appeared threatened in various countries and the spread
of democracy seemed stalled, leading Diamond (1996) to ask whether the third
wave was at an end. Around the same time, Robert Kaplan (1997: 55–6) argued that
democracy promotion was becoming counterproductive: ‘the democracy we are
encouraging in many poor parts of the world is an integral part of a transformation
toward new forms of authoritarianism’.
However, beginning in 1999 with the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in
Serbia and reaching a fever pitch with the so-called ‘color revolutions’ of 2003–
2005 in the former Soviet Union, it appeared that a resurgence of democracy was
in the making. Whether this constituted a new wave of democracy or a delayed
extension of the third depends on how one categorizes this phenomenon in terms
of time frame and political dynamics. Nevertheless, it appeared that something

This point was raised by Huntington (1991: 290–294) in the very book which
outlined the dynamics of the third wave.
In a subsequent article, Diamond (2000) wondered whether the return to authoritarian
rule in Pakistan betokened a new ‘reverse wave’.
There are also other examples which fit under this rubric, such as the street protests
which forced the military government in Côte d’Ivoire in 2000 and Lebanon’s 2005 ‘Cedar
Revolution’. However, some have used this terminology to describe other political events
whose dynamics or degree of change make them quite different than seen in the traditional
color revolutions, such as Iraq’s ‘Purple Revolution’ and Kuwait’s‘Blue Revolution’, which
dealt with women’s suffrage.
The traditional approach is to follow Huntington (1991) and include in the ‘third
wave’ those states which made the transition to democracy from 1974, when Portugal’s
dictatorship ended, to 1989 and the early 1990s when numerous states overthrew
 Authoritarian Backlash

qualitatively different was stirring and these revolutions were seen as sharing
certain common characteristics: electoral fraud exposed by vote monitors, a central
role for nongovernmental organizations in mobilizing anti-regime activities, and
mass street protests which eventually brought down the autocratic leader. Just as
important, they were perceived by many authoritarian regimes as representing a
new and distinct political threat—not an extension of the events which precipitated
the collapse of communism. Therefore, it would be appropriate to call this a
‘fourth wave’ of democracy. The fact that the November 2003 Rose Revolution in
Georgia was followed by the November 2004–January 2005 Orange Revolution
in Ukraine and the spring 2005 Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, vividly raised the
prospect of further democratic revolts on at least a regional scale, possibly setting
an example outside of the former Soviet Union which might lead to a global
‘rainbow of revolutions’. Optimism about the prospects for democratization
proved to be premature, however.
There has recently been a growing sense that this fourth wave of democracy has
reached the high-water mark and has begun to recede. In contrast to Eastern Europe
in 1989, when communism eventually fell in all of the Eastern Bloc countries,
the color revolutions were limited to three. The proposed Denim Revolution in
Belarus failed to materialize, the Tulip Revolution was not replicated elsewhere
in Central Asia, the new Kyrgyz government backslid on its commitment to
democratic norms, and the autocratic leaders of the former Soviet Union seemed
well-entrenched. This pattern could be seen elsewhere around the world with a
noticeable erosion of democracy in a number of countries and clear evidence of an
active ‘backlash’ against democracy promotion by authoritarian states (Diamond
2008). This reverse wave was precipitated, in large part, by the revolutions
themselves as regimes sought to prevent further democratic contagion.
On the one hand, this reverse wave has been quite traditional in the sense that
countries have sought to counter internal threats through domestic actions, such as
consolidating power, undermining potential challengers, and, in some cases, using
violence against opponents. On the other hand, what distinguishes this authoritarian
backlash from those which came before is its emphasis on the international level.

communism. By contrast, McFaul (2002: 213) has argued that the transitions of the post-
communist countries ‘are so different from the third wave democratic transitions in the
1970s and 1980s that they should not even be grouped under the same rubric’. Instead,
he places them under a ‘fourth wave’ of post-communist transitions to democracy and
Kuzio (2008) outlined some of the dynamics of this fourth wave of democracy. He,
however, begins the wave in 1998 with the political changes in Slovakia and Croatia. One
could argue instead that these earlier cases represented unfinished business from the failed
democratization consolidations of 1989 and the early 1990s.
‘A Rainbow of Revolutions’, Economist (21 January 2006): 23–5.
Several, especially in the Balkans, remained semi-authoritarian for some time,
however. Yugoslavia, which was communist but not part of the Eastern Bloc, had a different
political trajectory because of the nationalist conflicts which erupted in the early 1990s.
The Authoritarian Backlash Against Democracy 

This manifests itself in four ways. First, the rise of democracy assistance, coming
primarily from the West, and the growing realization that external forces can
spark or nurture anti-regime activities, has meant that authoritarian governments
have been increasingly concerned about how to protect themselves against
cross-border pressures. Thus, for example, there has been a global drive to crack
down on liberal nongovernmental organizations in an effort to push back against
external democracy promotion (Carothers 2006, Gershman and Allen 2006).
Second, authoritarian countries are increasingly active in creating an international
environment conducive to the survival of autocracy. Burnell (2006) observed that
some countries are engaged in ‘anti-assistance’ and ‘counter-promotion’ aimed
at strengthening authoritarian governments abroad. States which need economic,
military, or political assistance no longer either have to go to the democratic West
or go without; they can now turn to countries such as China, Russia, and Venezuela
whose growing economic clout has allowed them to gain allies by not requiring
the good governance procedures or human rights standards often demanded by the
West (Collins 2007). Third, authoritarian countries are beginning to band together
to resist what they see as forced democratization from the West in general and
from America in particular. While these states are not establishing formal alliances
in a traditional sense, the positive relationships between countries such as China,
Russia, Myanmar, Belarus, Iran, and Venezuela are examples of how authoritarian
regimes are increasingly aligning with each other. The strength of the international
authoritarian backlash has been helped by the fact that two of the great powers of the
system, Russia and China, are non-democracies (Gat 2007). Finally, the legitimacy
of both democracy promotion and liberal democracy itself will be increasingly
questioned in the international system. In a clear response to Fukuyama, Robert
Kagan (2008) published an article entitled, ‘The End of the End of History’, in
which he argued that we are now seeing greater ideological competition between
democracy and a new, confident, and global authoritarianism. Kagan cited Russian
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s speech before the Moscow-based Council on
Foreign and Defense Policy in which he asserted that ‘for the first time in the
last decade and a half a real competitive environment has formed in the market
for ideas’, in particular in regard to ‘value [systems] and development models’.

Venezuela is not an authoritarian regime. It is currently rated ‘partly free’ by
Freedom House in 2008, but it has been moving away from liberal principles under the
rule of Hugo Chávez, with increasing restrictions upon the ability of the opposition to
mobilize and greater government control over the media. His willingness to accept defeat
in the December 2007 referendum on consolidating his power showed a surprising degree
of democratic vitality, however. Nevertheless, Chávez has been a strong opponent of
American democracy promotion activities, which he regards as ‘imperialist’; moreover,
he has consistently supported authoritarian regimes in the face of political pressures by the
West generally and from the US in particular. Thus, while not technically authoritarian,
Venezuela has definitely sided with the non-democratic camp in its foreign policy.
For the full speech, see Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 19 March 2007,
reproduced as ‘Russian Foreign Minister’s Speech at Council on Foreign and Defence
 Authoritarian Backlash

This challenge will likely grow in the future. This is not to say that democracy’s
days are numbered. Far from it. Instead, it is clear that the international system is
in the midst of a substantial reverse wave against international-level democracy
promotion. How authoritarian countries seek to resist or counter the fourth wave
of democracy is the central concern of this study.

The Russian Case Study

In order to begin to understand the political dynamics and future implications of

this renewed authoritarian resurgence, there very well might be no better case
than to look at Russian domestic and foreign policies. The Russian Federation
is one of the strongest examples of the rollback of democracy in the past two
decades. Its post-Soviet democratic experiment was short-lived and replaced by a
discernable shift toward autocracy. Under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, this
process accelerated and now Russia’s political system can be best classified as
authoritarian, with the centralization of power, the erosion of civil and political
liberties, and the return of the state’s dominance over the economy and the media.10
Therefore, the Kremlin has a strong interest in ensuring that regional and global
democratic trends do not affect its hold over the Russian political system and that
the legitimacy of democracy promotion and regime change are subverted.
More importantly, however, Russia was at the very heart of the fourth wave
with two of its neighbors (and a third within its sphere of influence) ‘falling’ to
democracy. The specter of democratic contagion in the region, like the political
wave which brought down the East European communists in 1989, became a real
possibility. There were a number of similarities between the fall of communism in
Eastern Europe and the fall of the post-communist autocrats in the former USSR
which were worrying for the Kremlin. Just as the pro-democracy forces in Eastern
Europe were motivated by events in Poland and Hungary in 1989, the organizers
of the Orange Revolution took their cues from events in Georgia, and Kyrgyz
opposition forces likewise sought to follow earlier models. These achievements
would later inspire those advocating for an uprising in Belarus. Furthermore,
Georgian activists gave direct organizational and logistical support to their Ukrainian
counterparts who, in turn, sought to aid the opposition in Belarus and Russia. Thus,
although ultimately based upon local dynamics, the color revolutions were linked
as success in one place helped spark similar upheavals elsewhere. In addition,
like 1989, the international environment was very supportive of democratization,

Policy’, in BBCWM, 19 March 2007.

10 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
There is still some dispute over exactly how to classify the Putin regime, with
some maintaining that Russia remains a democracy, but of a different form, like ‘managed’,
‘partial’, ‘limited’, etc. However, it is clear that Russia has moved sufficiently away from
the basic standards of liberal democracy to the point that applying an adjective to its form
of government simply obfuscates the truth of the Russian regime. See Chapter 3.
The Authoritarian Backlash Against Democracy 

as demonstrated by American and European Union public statements urging free

and fair elections and by its provision of aid to pro-democracy nongovernmental
organizations. This meant that these anti-regime uprisings were occurring within
an environment of active democracy promotion. Consequently, given Russia’s
place at the center of this phenomenon, understanding how the Kremlin reacted
to these events can provide important insights into how authoritarian regimes
confront powerful democratic pressures.
Predictably, the Kremlin’s reaction to these color revolutions was quite negative
and reflected grave concerns about their political implications. This was echoed
in the Russian press, with some referring to these events as an ‘orange plague’ or
‘orange virus’, and asking whether they could spread and possibly threaten the
Russian government itself.11 Consequently, the Kremlin’s authoritarian tendencies
intensified after the color revolutions and the government adopted a wide-ranging
set of policies aimed at undermining cross-border, democratic forces at home
and creating a politically-favorable, regional environment abroad. In addition,
Russia emerged as a principal opponent of democracy promotion globally and its
relationships with other like-minded states formed the core of the authoritarian
alignment in the international system. Russia therefore represents an excellent
example of a ‘guardian’ state—one which actively seeks to halt, resist, or contain
democratization in order to preserve its autocratic political system (Lynch 2004).

Central Questions

This book explores the recent authoritarian backlash against democracy and
the various ways in which authoritarian regimes react to regional and global
democratic trends and attempt to counter democracy promotion at the international
level. It utilizes Russia as an in-depth case study of this phenomenon. It seeks to
answer three questions. What can the scholarly literature tell us about the reaction
by authoritarian states to this fourth wave of democracy? How has this backlash
against democratization been reflected in Russian domestic and foreign policies?
What can the Russian case study tell us about the future of democracy and the
growing challenge of authoritarianism?
First, in order to better frame this analysis, it is necessary to explore how
scholars have previously understood democratization. Democracy is inherently
an internal process and conducive domestic-level conditions are necessary for
democratic openings and consolidation. However, the notion of a democratic
wave indicates that there are powerful international-level components to this
phenomenon. This study will therefore focus on this level. There is a growing

‘Will There Be an Orange Revolution in Russia?’, Argumenty i Fakty, 16 March

11 �������������������������������������������������
2005, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part A) (Russia), 17 March 2005; ‘Georgia,
Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Russia: What Is the Remedy for “Color Revolutions”?’, What the
Papers Say (Part A) (Russia), 1 April 2005.
 Authoritarian Backlash

body of literature which makes a strong argument that external actors, forces, and
processes play an important role in prompting or facilitating democratization.
Too often, however, the primary concern of this literature has been with the
positive progression of democracy at the international level. In other words, it
has attempted to explain democratic successes, rather than democratic failures,
and democracy promotion, rather than autocratic opposition. Consequently,
it is necessary to move beyond this traditional perspective in an effort to better
understand how authoritarian states counter external democracy promotion and
undermine cross-border, democratic forces. To this end, this book proposes five
strategies of authoritarian resistance—insulate, redefine, bolster, subvert, and
coordinate—which are employed to achieve these political goals. None of these
strategies are, in and of themselves, sufficient to prevent democracy or to secure
these governments in power. Nevertheless, they represent a wide-ranging policy
repertoire for authoritarian regimes when confronting democratization at the
international level. These strategies are outlined in Chapter 2 and examined in
subsequent chapters.
Second, Russian leaders took seriously the threat that the so-called ‘orange
virus’ could spread further in the region and possibly threaten the stability of
their regime. They therefore adopted a number of policies designed to undermine
democratic forces at home and abroad. This book analyzes some of these policies
bundled under the five strategies of authoritarian resistance. Each is covered in
a separate chapter which examines how the strategy was applied by Russia in a
particular case. An evaluation of the strategies will be provided together in the
book’s conclusion. This study seeks to make a substantive contribution to our
understanding the nature and processes of the recent reverse wave by exploring
how these strategies work in a real world setting through in-depth case studies.
Finally, by seeing how these strategies were implemented in the Russian
case, this book also seeks to set the stage for future research and to consider
the future of democracy. There are strong indications that Russian policies are a
harbinger of things to come as autocratic countries become increasingly active in
countering democratic norms. The insights derived from the former Soviet Union
will be applicable to other cases, such as China, Iran, and Zimbabwe, which have
participated in their own responses to democracy promotion and have sought to
ensure favorable regional and global environments. Moreover, by understanding
how authoritarian resistance works, the Russian case can also indicate how the
democratic world can best advance its values in the current global context.


Before continuing onto the book outline, it is important to identify the limits of this
study. First, this is an in-depth look at one case in order to identify and elaborate the
five strategies of authoritarian resistance, as well as to derive insights applicable
to future cases. It is an exploratory study and not meant to be a comprehensive
The Authoritarian Backlash Against Democracy 

examination of the global backlash against democracy. Additional cases and

avenues for future research questions are identified in the Conclusion.
Second, Chapters 4–8 are not designed to cover every instance where Russia
has adopted a particular strategy. For example, Chapter 6 deals exclusively with
how Russia has sought to bolster or reinforce Belarus against regional democratic
trends. However, Russia also adopted a similar strategy toward Uzbekistan
(though, to a much lesser extent) after Uzbek President Islam Karimov ordered a
violent crackdown on anti-regime protests in May 2005. While this latter case may
be important, the case studies are designed to illustrate how these strategies were
implemented in actual circumstances. They represent the clearest examples that
best epitomize these strategies, not comprehensive examinations of all applications
in the Russian context.
Third, this study does not argue that the policies outlined in subsequent chapters
were sufficient to ensure regime survival. For example, the Putin government
has been exceptionally good at consolidating power and proactively sabotaging
potential opponents. The survival of authoritarianism, like democratization, can
not be attributed to any one cause. While the case studies do yield insights into
the political dynamics of the region, they are primarily meant to explore the
dynamics of the strategies of authoritarian resistance, not to evaluate the degree to
which these strategies were successful in preventing regime change in Russia or
elsewhere in the region.
Similarly, this study does not claim that regime type is the sole determinant of
Russian policies. Other factors, such as geopolitics, strategic or national interests,
elites, and national identity are, of course, important. Within the context of present
day Russia, issues of regional democratization, Russian national security, and
the Kremlin’s political security are closely linked, overlapping, and mutually
reinforcing. For example, national security certainly plays an important role in
Russian calculations toward Georgia and Ukraine, since democratic transitions
in these countries were accompanied by a shift toward the West generally and
the United States in particular; however, it was precisely the regime change
brought about by democratization which precipitated this shift in the first place.
In addition, the West’s open support for the spread of democracy in the region is
particularly worrying for many Russian analysts and policy makers who saw the
Orange Revolution as a proxy for European and especially American influence;
if the West can replace autocratic, pro-Russian regimes with democratic, pro-
Western ones, this will in turn weaken Russia’s strategic standing in the region.
Thus, no one cause can explain the whole picture of Russian foreign policy. This
study looks at an increasingly significant piece of the Russian policy puzzle and
illustrates that the Kremlin’s reaction to regional democratic trends is important
and often strengthens other interests.
Finally, the strategies of authoritarian resistance examined this study focus on
the backlash against democracy at the international level. As such, they do not
cover domestic policies, except when they are related to the external environment
or cross-border influences. For example, Chapter 4 identifies several domestic
 Authoritarian Backlash

policies, but these are designed to block those forces perceived as being closely
associated with the color revolutions. While authoritarian governments certainly
take additional steps to consolidate power domestically (some of which are outlined
in Chapter 3 in the Russian context), purely domestic measures are largely outside
the scope of this study.

Book Outline

In addition to this introduction, this book consists of nine chapters. The following
chapter provides an overview of the literature on international-level democracy
promotion in an effort to understand what role authoritarian states play in this
process. It identifies the various theories associated with external democracy
promotion (diffusion, conditionality, and integration), the implications of these
processes for the former Soviet Union, weaknesses in the literature, and the
foundations for the five strategies of authoritarian resistance. Chapter 3, identifies
the domestic and regional context within which the Russian government operated
before and after the color revolutions. It covers the overall decline of democracy
in the region since the early 1990s and pays special attention to the rise of
authoritarianism in Russia. It also addresses the color revolutions and how the
Kremlin reacted to these events. This chapter is meant to supply readers with a
basic historical foundation for future chapters.
Chapters 4–8 examine the five strategies of authoritarian resistance through in-
depth case studies of Russian foreign and domestic policies. Each chapter covers
a separate strategy. Chapter 4, Insulate, examines the means by which Russian
authorities have sought to counteract cross-border, political forces within Russia
itself and will therefore have a domestic focus. It consists of three parts: the
crackdown against nongovernmental organizations, how the government sought
to discredit Western election monitoring, and the creation of a Kremlin-aligned
youth movement.
Chapter 5, Redefine, explores the ways in which the Kremlin has used rhetoric
to defend Russia’s political system against external critics. In many ways, Russia
has engaged in wordplay similar to that of its Soviet predecessor. This has become
apparent in the promotion of the principle of ‘sovereign democracy’, as well as
the regime’s attempt to link external criticisms to neocolonialism. In addition,
this chapter explains how the Russian government has also gone on the offensive
by attacking the democratic credentials of the West and, in particular, the Baltic
Chapter 6, Bolster, analyzes Russian attempts to sustain authoritarianism
abroad in Belarus. This country plays a critical role in Russian strategic thinking
and military planning. However, the political importance of the relationship
between these two states has been under-explored: if there is a revolution in
Belarus, this could significantly advance the prospects for democracy in the region
and possibly Russia itself; however, if democracy promotion fails in Belarus, then
The Authoritarian Backlash Against Democracy 

the momentum for future color revolutions could be halted. This chapter covers
how Moscow provided Minsk with extensive political, economic, and diplomatic
support, and served as an alternative to a Western orientation.
By way of contrast, Chapter 7, Subvert, examines Russian policy toward
Georgia and Ukraine after the fall of autocracy in these countries. It will be shown
that the Kremlin has adopted progressively antagonistic policies toward these two
states, a marked change from the slight improvement in Russia–Georgia relations
and the growing amity which characterized Russian–Ukrainian relations just
before the color revolutions. Some of these policies include: rhetorical attacks
on the democratic regimes in Tbilisi and Kiev, economic pressures, and renewed
support for substate ethnic groups. This chapter also covers the impact of NATO
membership for Georgia and Ukraine. Although the Atlantic Alliance represents
a strategic challenge for Moscow, this chapter shows that the organization also
symbolizes a potential political threat to the Kremlin because of the Alliance’s
association with the spread and consolidation of democratic values.
The last strategy, Coordinate, is covered in Chapter 8. This chapter explores
the ways in which Russia has worked with other countries to discredit democratic
promotion and delegitimize the notion of regime change. Its primary focus is on
the Shanghai Cooperation Organization—a regional grouping of Russia, China,
and four Central Asian states. It will be argued that the ‘Spirit of Shanghai’, the set
of principles underlying the organization, is inherently conservative and designed
to preserve the autocratic regimes in the region.
Chapter 9 examines how the strategies of authoritarian resistance came together
in the latest election cycle and helped to guarantee the ruling party’s massive
victory in the parliamentary election of December 2007 and the smooth transition
to Putin’s chosen successor in the March 2008 presidential election.
The final chapter of this book looks to the future and explores the theoretical
implications of these case studies, evaluates the strategies of authoritarian resistance,
identifies avenues for future research, and proposes some suggestions for how the
democratic world should response to this reverse wave of authoritarianism.
This page has been left blank intentionally
Chapter 2
The External Promotion of Democracy
and Authoritarianism

With the benefit of more than a quarter-century of hindsight, scholars increasingly

have argued in favour of re-examining the neglected international dimension of
Peter J. Schraeder (2003: 23)

The democratization literature has increasingly focused on the role that external
actors and forces play in prompting or facilitating democratic transitions. This
chapter first provides an overview of the main theoretical perspectives of this
phenomenon. In order to better understand how this literature can be applied in
the context of the former Soviet Union, the following section will explore the
implications of these processes for the region. Section three identifies a central
limitation of this literature: its focus on democracy promotion, rather than on how
autocrats seek to counter democratization at the international level. This means
that the democratization literature will be insufficient to explain how authoritarian
states will react to the fourth wave of democracy or the likely policies adopted by
these countries in the apparent reverse wave. The remainder of this chapter will
argue that autocratic states are not passive actors in this process, but rather can
actively resist or undermine regional democratic trends through five strategies of
authoritarian resistance: insulate, redefine, bolster, subvert, and coordinate. Each
of these strategies will be defined and an explanation of how they operate will be

Democratization Theory

It is widely accepted that domestic explanations for democratization are of primary

importance in determining the course of political change in authoritarian regimes,
though the balance between internal and external variables remains a matter of
debate. Certainly, a conducive domestic environment plays a necessary role in
any democratic opening, transition, or consolidation. Without the proper political
conditions within a country, democracy will invariably fail. However, democratic
outcomes are also heavily influenced by the international level. As Alex Pravda
(2001: 2) observed, an ‘international pull’ toward democratization reinforces the
‘domestic push’ of internal forces. External forces and actors play an active role
in this process. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been significant growth
12 Authoritarian Backlash

in the number and quality of internationally-focused studies. The crucial role the
European Union played in advancing and strengthening democracy in Eastern
Europe gave greater credence to external democracy promotion. Previous studies
of international factors have identified three factors which play important roles
in this process: diffusion (regional democratic trends), conditionality (the use of
punishments and inducements), and integration (the prospect for admission to
international organizations).


Diffusion refers to a process by which authoritarian regimes come under increasing

pressure from the proliferation of democracies within their geographic proximity.
Because it is a largely unintentional process, it is difficult to operationalize. As
Brinks and Coppedge (2006: 464) asserted, ‘it is hard to distinguish true diffusion
from illusions of diffusion created by global trends, correlated disturbances, or
the regional clustering of domestic factors’. Nevertheless, numerous scholars
have found that geographic proximity to democracy has a significant effect on
the chances for democratization, especially when there appears to be a regional
trend. This phenomenon has been called a democratic ‘wave’ (Huntington 1991),
‘contagion’ (Whitehead 1996: 5–7, Pravda 2001: 7), ‘the liberal-democratic
ideological paradigm’ (Zielonka 2001: 511), a regional ‘zeitgeist’ (Linz and
Stepan 1996: 72–6), ‘neighbor emulation’ (Brinks and Coppedge 2006: 464), a
‘domino effect’ (Starr 1991, Starr and Lindborg 2003), or ‘diffusion’ (O’Loughlin
et al., 1998, Ahlin 1993, Doorenspleet 2004). The classic example of this process
was Eastern Europe in 1989: after Poland’s communist government fell, other
communist regimes found it more difficult to resist the tide of democratization,
which in turn created a cascade effect throughout the region. The connections
between the color revolutions of 2003–2005 also resembled this phenomenon.
Whitehead (1996: 6) identified a number of problems with this concept. For
example, what determines the ‘boundaries’ of the contagion? Is it possible that
certain states may be ‘immune’ to this process? How does the sequence begin, end,
or order itself? Nevertheless, it does seem that the overall regional environment
played a significant role in limiting the options of East European leaders. West
European countries and the US were fully committed to the notion of democracy
as the only legitimate form of government in the region. As Zielonka (2001: 514)
observed, ‘This consensus created an unprecedented historical situation: Eastern
European countries found themselves operating in an international environment
which considers democracy to be “the only game in town”.’ Thus, democracy
becomes more likely as the alternatives to it are either unavailable or seen as
Given the passive nature of the process, it is not surprising that the causal
mechanisms of diffusion are ambiguous. It is often discussed as a general cause
or is analyzed quantitatively in large ‘n’ studies, but detailed case studies of
cause–effect relationships are lacking. In this research, showing the significance
The External Promotion of Democracy and Authoritarianism 13

of ‘proximity’ is often emphasized over exploring the specific processes by which

this promotes democratization. As a result, our understanding of how diffusion
actually works is underdeveloped.
Nevertheless, prior examinations of diffusion indicate that this process operates
by creating an international environment which is progressively conducive
to democratic openings. Regional democratic trends are largely based upon
perceptions, but nonetheless have a real impact by precipitating or nurturing anti-
regime activities in authoritarian states or, at the very least, increasing the costs
associated with the maintenance of power. A mixture of demonstration effects,
perceptions of momentum for regime change, symbolism, fears of international
isolation, and exporting revolution appear to be involved in this process. As groups
within non-democracies see successes in other states, they might begin to agitate for
regime change at home since alternatives to the current political situation are now
seen as possible (demonstration effects). Moreover, if the population believes that
the end of an authoritarian regime is inevitable, given previous successes elsewhere,
then they are likely to become more bold in their demands (momentum). Even if
the population of an authoritarian country does not become politically active, the
existence of a democratic state on one’s border acts as a powerful reminder of
the possibilities of regime change and therefore serves as a potential threat to an
autocrat’s power (symbolism). In addition, as more states in a given region move
toward democracy, the distinction between regime types becomes starker, possibly
leading to a loss of friends and allies as the newly democratic governments realign
their strategic orientations toward fellow democracies (isolation). Finally, as
nongovernmental organizations achieve political success in their own country,
they are likely to disseminate their ideology to like-minded groups elsewhere and
provide them with concrete assistance (export). As a region becomes more and
more democratic, it becomes increasingly likely that non-democracies will find
themselves swept away by the tide of history.


Conditionality is a more active policy which influences the cost–benefit analysis of

an authoritarian regime with the purpose of promoting democracy. Scholars have
identified examples of democracies that have sought to change an authoritarian
state’s political system through political, diplomatic, economic, moral, or cultural
means (Pridham 1994: 11, Smith 2001: 36, Schmitter 1996: 30). States interested
in the spread of democracy use a mix of punishments and benefits (or the threat
or promise thereof) to bring about regime change. If authoritarian regimes begin
moving toward a democratic transition, then they are rewarded with closer ties, aid
and loans, trade concessions, or other benefits; if they persist in suppressing their
people, then they are punished through a variety of means such as international
isolation, trade and economic sanctions, or aid to opposition groups. In the present

One notable exception is Ahlin 2003.
14 Authoritarian Backlash

European context, democracy promotion has been limited to peaceful means,

though in other cases covert actions and military intervention were used (Schraeder
2003: 26).
Domestically-oriented studies have tended to focus almost exclusively on
the domestic-level, cost–benefit analysis between the internal costs of resisting
democratic reforms and the internal costs of tolerating a democratic opening.
Yilmaz (2002) added another level to this calculation by connecting international
pressures to the decision-making process of authoritarian leaders. He referred
to this as the ‘expected external costs of suppression’—the price imposed on
an authoritarian regime by other states for refusing to allow democratization. If
an authoritarian regime is made the object of external conditionality, then ‘the
government would choose to indulge in democratic reform if it estimates that the
external costs of suppression are higher than the internal costs of toleration. On
the other hand, if the government assesses the internal costs of toleration to be
greater than the external costs of suppression, then it is unlikely to start [a] political
opening’ (Yimlaz 2002: 76). As the external penalties for not democratizing rise, it
is therefore more likely that authoritarian leaders will allow for democracy; if the
external cost is seen as low, the regime would have little incentive to change its
policies. Moreover, external influencers are not limited merely to sticks: the use of
carrots will increase the expected external benefits of toleration and consequently
reward governments for allowing democratic reforms; this provides the autocrat
with some incentive to allow a democratic opening. Thus, through their policies,
democratic states can alter the cost–benefit calculations of authoritarian leaders
and help bring about democratization.
The degree to which conditionality will be effective is based upon the
comprehensiveness of the punishments, the level to which the target state is
dependent upon those countries promoting democracy, and the desirability of
the inducements. States which are in a weaker position will find themselves
more vulnerable to the conditions of outsiders. Nonetheless, some regimes may
fear giving up power so much that they will be willing to allow their country to
fall into ruin rather than allow for democracy. In fact, some governments may
actually welcome sanctions as a way to consolidate their power by establishing
an external scapegoat for regime failures. For conditionality to work, the costs
of maintaining power must be more than those associated with permitting a
democratic transition.


The final factor is a special form of conditionality that has been studied largely
in the context of the European Union’s relations with its neighbors. The prospect
of integration into the EU has been a powerful motivating force for countries to
embark on political reforms or to work toward democratic consolidation. Before
the 1989 revolutions, the political and economic success of the West served as a
powerful example for East Europeans and the desire to ‘return to Europe’ after
The External Promotion of Democracy and Authoritarianism 15

decades under Soviet domination (Smith 2001: 33). In order to guarantee that
these states had made a commitment to Western values, international organization
such as the EU, NATO, and the Council of Europe imposed extensive membership
requirements, the most important of which was that applicants establish and
consolidate a liberal democracy.
The prospects for EU integration are seen as so important for furthering
democratization in the region that Dimitrova and Pridham (2004: 94) identified
the EU’s ‘distinct “integration” model as a form of democracy promotion’. In her
study of pre-accession conditionality in Eastern Europe, Ethier (2003) found the
impact of the EU to be substantial. In specific cases such as Slovakia, Croatia,
the Czech Republic, and Romania, scholars have found a significant relationship
between membership requirements, on the one hand, and democratic reforms or
other social changes, on the other (Ram 2003, Pridham 2002, Ottaway 2001). This
occurred in three ways. First, while democracy in general was seen as the ‘only
game in town’ within Europe, the same could be said about the EU. The benefits of
membership were considered so significant that there appeared to be no legitimate
alternative. States were willing to adopt extensive reforms and allow for intrusive
interference in their domestic political system in order to achieve EU membership.
Second, the pre-accession process was so specific and detailed that regimes had
an explicit roadmap of what they need to do in order to become members. The
clear relationship between democratic reforms and advancement in the process
provided powerful incentives for policymakers and the public to support further
democratization. Finally, the process became self-reinforcing as states move closer
to EU membership. One begun, the process of ‘Europeanization’ made it more
likely that additional democratic reforms were introduced.
However, the impact of integration was found to be directly related to a state’s
location in the queue for membership. As Ethier (2003: 116) stated, ‘all the evidence
suggests that EU conditionality works only when the stake or reward is accession
to the union’. As a result, the relative impact of EU democracy promotion lessened
the further that states found themselves outside of the process.
An important concept often associated with integration is ‘socialization’, the
transmission of norms and values from an international organization to a target
state through the use of ‘social influence or persuasion’ to alter the latter’s belief
systems and to ensure that the new norms and values are internalized (Kelley
2004: 428). Socialization and integration are closely related: ‘socialization
prepares [states] for membership in international organizations, and membership
is conditional on successful socialization’ (Schimmelfennig 2002: 3). This process
does not just apply to states that are outsiders: international organizations solidify
and reinforce their norms and values amongst member states, altering their
belief systems and ensuring that they continue to conform to the organization’s
principles. International organizations will have the greatest capacity to advance
democratization in target states if they have a high ‘democratic density’—that

See, for example, Smith 2000.
16 Authoritarian Backlash

is, the higher the average level of democracy, the more likely an organization
will be able to promote democratic consolidation (Pevehouse 2005). In addition,
powerful ‘critical states’ play a key role in establishing and reinforcing these
norms. (Finnemore and Sikkik 1998: 901, Ikenberry and Kupchan 1990). In post-
1989 Europe, this process helped to ‘socialize’ Eastern European countries into
liberal democratic values and set the parameters of what was deemed ‘appropriate’
in the European context.

Application in the Former Soviet Union

The implications of these processes for understanding how Russia will react
to regional democratic trends are mixed. In some cases, integration will play a
large role. The Orange Revolution was predicated, in part, on the desire of pro-
democracy forces to reorient Ukraine westward. The Baltic states are already
members of the European Union and NATO, and the westernmost countries of
the former Soviet Union—Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova—are geographically
legitimate candidates for EU membership, should the organization decide to expand
further. The same might eventually apply to Georgia and Armenia. By contrast,
it is unlikely that Russia will feel any substantive integration pressures within the
foreseeable future. Russia is simply too large geographically and economically, its
economy is becoming less diversified given its increasing reliance on exports of
natural resources for economic stability, and its political system is moving away
from the liberal democratic standards required of applicant states. Similarly, the
states of Central Asia are too far removed from Europe to be seriously considered
for EU membership. NATO membership for these states, too, looks impossible.
Integration will therefore have little impact in Russia or Central Asia, but will have
a powerful influence on the westernmost former Soviet republics and a possible
effect in the Caucasus.
Conditionality has more applicability in the former Soviet Union: both the
EU and US have used sanctions and rewards to promote democracy in the region.
Opportunities for trade, foreign assistance, and diplomatic ties have at times been
made contingent upon human rights and domestic policies. Overall, however, the
EU is less willing to use punishments than the US and instead relies primarily
upon inducements (Warkotsch 2006, Kubicek 2007, Adesnik and McFaul 2006).
In some cases, such as relations between the US and Uzbekistan from Fall 2001 to
Spring 2005, the necessities of the War on Terror, as well as the American need for
access to Uzbek military bases, limited the willingness of the US to criticize the
dictatorial government of Islam Karimov. Nevertheless, both the EU and US have
stated that they have an interest in the promotion of democracy in the region and

However, the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has resisted any
westward pull with Russia’s help. See Chapter 6.
The External Promotion of Democracy and Authoritarianism 17

to that end have sought to reward aspiring democrats and, in some cases, punish
authoritarian regimes.
Like integration, this factor has limited applicability to Russia. There are
certainly pressure points that the US and EU could use in an attempt to promote
democratization in Russia, such as Russia’s World Trade Organization membership
and the scope of NATO expansion. However, the US and the EU are also vulnerable
to actions by Moscow. Both the US and the EU are reliant on steady supplies of
Russian natural gas and oil, either to reduce world market prices or for their direct
energy needs. For example, over 25 per cent of Europe’s energy imports comes
from Russia and it is the EU’s third-largest trading partner with some €209 billion
in trade (imports and exports) in 2006, an increase of over 20 per cent per year since
2003. Promoting democracy in Russia, especially with an unknown probability
of success, has not been seen as worth the cost of a disruption in trade of that
magnitude. Furthermore, Russia’s geopolitical position makes it more difficult to
influence than smaller, less critical states: not only is Russia considered a ‘middle
power’ in the international system, but the Kremlin could make life more difficult
for American and European interests throughout the world given Russia’s ties with
China and several ‘rogue states’, such as North Korea and Iran. Consequently, a
direct confrontation with Russia over its domestic political system is not in the
interests of those states most likely to promote democracy.
Unlike integration and conditionality, the process of diffusion has far more
applicability to Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union. Each of the
diffusion processes identified above have already been seen in the region. If the
notion of regime change becomes legitimized there, and especially if there is the
perception of momentum and inevitability, then democratization may become a
political threat to the region’s authoritarian regimes. As a result, the autocratic
countries of the former Soviet Union have an interest in protecting themselves
from regional democratic trends, ensuring that further democratization does not
gain momentum, and undermining cases of democratic successes. Since diffusion
is a largely unintentional process, the response to it must be proactive and
Although diffusion has the most applicability throughout the region, and
especially to Russia, this is not to say that conditionality and integration are
irrelevant, even if its relevance is only indirect. If democratic countries are able to
use carrots and sticks to pressure smaller states within the region to move toward
democracy, this could in turn advance the diffusion process by precipitating further
democratic openings and solidifying democratic gains. Moreover, states which
have undergone democratic transitions will likely seek membership in international
organizations which are identified with democratic norms; this will both represent

 ������������� ���������� Economist, 6 May 2006, 62.

‘Divided and Panicky’,
‘European Union and its Main Trading Partners:
Economic and Trade Indicators
(Russia)’ [Online, European Union]. Available at <
september/tradoc_113440.pdf>, accessed 11 July 2008.
18 Authoritarian Backlash

the consolidation of democracy in the region and symbolize that non-authoritarian

paths of development are available and will be rewarded. Therefore, conditionality
and integration matter for Russia and the other autocratic states of the former
Soviet Union, even if it is through the indirect effect of furthering or reinforcing
regional democratic trends.

Weaknesses in the Existing Literature

Although the existing literature on the external promotion of democracy provides

important insights into how democratic states can advance the cause of democracy
and how authoritarian regimes will come under external pressure to democratize,
it is of limited utility for understanding how authoritarian regimes are likely to
react to regional democratic trends. It is important not to take a deterministic
approach to the spread of democracy. External factors may influence the timing and
course of democratization, and may make such a process more likely. However,
neither diffusion, conditionality, nor integration are individually or collectively
sufficient to bring about regime change. Within the European context, where
external pressures are the strongest, there are exceptions that have survived as
non-democracies in this regional environment, such as the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia under Milošević, Slovakia under Mečiar, Ukraine prior to the 2004
Orange Revolution, and, of course, Belarus and Russia. Moreover, it is important
not to conceive of authoritarian regimes as merely the passive objects of external
pressures. Autocrats have options when dealing with regional democratic trends
and will utilize them to preserve their political systems. Therefore, identifying an
active role for authoritarian regimes is necessary to fully understand how these
states seek to create domestic and international environments conducive to their
long–term survival.
There is a tendency within the literature on external democracy promotion to
‘select on the dependent variable’—that is, to concentrate on successes, rather
than failures. Consequently, far more attention has been placed on identifying the
conditions under which international democratic forces can overcome the internal
impediments represented by authoritarian regimes, rather than on understanding
how autocrats resist democracy promotion. In this sense, the traditional focus has
been on the positive progression of democracy at the international level. Even
where there have been normative failures, the norms themselves are almost always
democratic in nature, rather than nondemocratic. What is too often ignored is
how authoritarian regimes can not only resist these external pressures at home,
but can also seek to undermine them abroad—in effect, the negative progression
of democracy. While this struggle between democracy and authoritarianism is

This is also true of many studies which focus exclusively on the domestic level.
Lynch 2004: 341–2.
See, for example, Grigorescu 2002.
The External Promotion of Democracy and Authoritarianism 19

found in domestic-oriented studies, it is rare when dealing with the international

level. Even Huntington’s (1991: 15–21, 290–294) discussion of ‘reverse waves’
emphasized internal rather than international factors, and did not include an
active role for authoritarian regimes at the international level. Consequently, the
full picture of Pravda’s international pull toward democracy is usually only half-
explored, because the countervailing pull from autocrats is often not accounted
There are exceptions to this traditional focus. For example, Pridham (2001: 70)
showed how ‘pariah regimes’—states which stand outside the democratic norms
of their region—are able to survive within the European context. In addition,
several works have examined the recent ‘backlash’ against democracy promotion,
some of which were mentioned in the previous chapter. For example, the recent
restrictions on democracy promotion and nongovernmental organizations have
been observed by some scholars (Carothers 2006, Gershman and Allen 2006).
Others have identified how autocracies have adopted policies of authoritarian
‘anti-assistance’ and ‘counter-promotion’ aimed at sustaining autocracy abroad
(Burnell 2006). These studies take the persistence of authoritarianism seriously
and provide insights into the methods used to resist or undermine international
democratic trends. Rather than act as passive targets of democratizing forces,
non-democracies have a number of international-level strategies of authoritarian
resistance. The next section outlines five such strategies.

Authoritarian Resistance

The strategies of authoritarian resistance are policies through which autocratic

regimes seek to counter the external promotion of democracy with the intention
of ensuring regime survivability for themselves or others. Five such strategies can
be identified: insulate, redefine, bolster, subvert, and coordinate. Although these
are not the only strategies available, they represent a diverse mix of ways in which
authoritarian regimes undermine democratization.


An authoritarian regime’s greatest danger comes from within. Barring the use
of military force by an outside power, democratic transitions are fundamentally
domestic-level processes. Consequently, autocrats will take steps to consolidate
power and strengthen themselves relative to potential domestic adversaries.
However, external forces can serve to weaken the government’s grip on power by
triggering, strengthening, or sustaining regime opponents. Authoritarian leaders
must therefore ensure that these forces are undermined as well. Thus, in order
to preserve their power, autocrats must also adopt a strategy of insulating their
country from external democratic pressures.
20 Authoritarian Backlash

This strategy can assume a variety of forms. What ultimately distinguishes it

from other autocratic policies is its focus on cross-border influences and processes.
For example, abolishing political parties, taking control over the domestic media,
and eliminating the independence of the judiciary are not covered under this
strategy because they are almost exclusively domestic in nature. Instead, actions
such as blocking access to the international media, pursuing an autarkic economic
policy, or restricting one’s population from foreign travel would be included. For
example, the government of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma threatened to
restrict access to radio rebroadcasts of the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and Voice of
America in 2003. In March 2007, OpenNet Initiative reported that China, Iran,
Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Burma, and Uzbekistan have become ‘pervasive blockers’
by routinely obstructing access to internet news sites by their citizens. North
Korea’s almost complete isolation from the rest of the world is an extreme example
along these lines.
Within the context of the color revolutions, three factors were seen as
precipitating these popular uprisings: nongovernmental organizations, election
monitoring, and youth groups. These forces all feed off each other in a virtual
‘perfect storm’ of democracy promotion. After the color revolutions, authoritarian
leaders perceived that these factors were not simply homegrown but rather
contained strong international components.
Liberal NGOs in these countries laid the groundwork for the opposition by
organizing human rights and democracy supporters into a coherent movement,
identifying the abuses of the regime, and challenging the government. Many of
these groups were funded either directly or indirectly by external sources (Western
governments or NGOs) and they were critical in ensuring that the regime would
not be able to govern uncontested. There is some debate about how much of a role
NGOs played in the fall of authoritarian leaders in Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine,
and Kyrgyzstan. Several scholars have argued that they were not determinative, but
rather served more as facilitators of regime change—that is, they were not prime
movers but instead were instrumental in channeling latent regime opposition.10
Nevertheless, many autocrats perceived them as a serious threat and therefore
moved against them after the color revolutions.
In addition to funding and supporting pro-democracy nongovernmental
organizations, a key means by which foreign governments and international
organizations promote democracy and democratic consolidation is through election
monitoring—a process by which observers certify whether a vote is conducted in

  Zerkalo Nedeli (Kiev), 31 May 2003, 1, reproduced as ‘Western Ambassadors Urge

Ukraine Not to Restrict Rebroadcasts’, in BBC Monitoring International Reports, 2 June
Richard Waters, ‘Web Censorship Spreading Around World, Report Finds’,
Financial Times (London), 15 March 2007.
10 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
Fenger (2007) argued that their role was minimal. Others (Wilson 2006, Jones
2006) saw them as more significant.
The External Promotion of Democracy and Authoritarianism 21

line with established democratic standards and should be considered both free
and fair. This procedure has become increasingly accepted and widespread since
it began in earnest in the 1980s as a check on the power of incumbents and as a
means to guarantee democratic choices (Chand 2007). Because holding elections
was seen as important to ensuring regime legitimacy in certain authoritarian, semi-
authoritarian, or hybrid regimes, these governments went through the motions,
but sought to ensure that they were victorious by creating electoral environments
which were neither free nor fair (Diamond 2002, Levitsky and Way 2002). During
the color revolutions, monitors within the country (again, often funded from
external sources) and foreign observers from other states or European international
organizations exposed these governments’ attempts at electoral fraud. This had
the effect of legitimizing the complaints of domestic opponents, discrediting the
government, and triggering a massive reaction against the regime. Consequently,
election monitoring has become increasingly politicized and controversial since it
reveals the duplicitous nature of these sham elections.
Young people served as the backbone of the street protests which brought down
the authoritarian regimes in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine.11 These and subsequent
youth movements explicitly modeled themselves on those which came before and
have been willing to provide assistance to like-minded groups in other countries.
For example, the Georgian group Kmara worked with their counterparts in Belarus,
named Zubr. Both of these were trained by members of the Otpor! (Resistance!)
movement from Serbia. Belarusian students even hung a banner with the slogan
‘Gotov Je!’ (He is Finished!), the same slogan that Serbian students used against
Milošević, in one of Minsk’s busiest intersections. Before the election campaigns,
they received moral support, organizational advice, and financial assistance from
NGOs and youth groups which were successful in prior cases. The Ukrainian
youth groups—the most prominent of which was Pora! (It’s Time!)—were not
only well trained prior to the 2004 presidential elections, but they had also planned
extensively for the expected electoral fraud. After the election, they formed the
backbone of the mass street protests which eventually toppled the government.
Consequently, youth movements played (and more importantly, were seen as
playing) a crucial role in the spread of democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe
and the former Soviet Union since 2000. Thus, in order to avoid a color revolution
at home, authoritarian regimes need to weaken or counteract these cross-border

11 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
To a lesser extent, they also played a role in Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution.
However, the youth movement Kelkel (Renaissance), though explicitly modeled on Otpor
and Kmara, was not as important in the overthrow of Askar Akayev. Peter Baker and Susan B.
Glasser, ‘Push for Democracy Has Authoritarians Unnerved’, Washington Post, 26 January
2004, A11; C.J. Chivers, ‘Youth Movement Underlines the Opposition in Ukraine’, New
York Times, 28 November 2004, 32; Jeremy Page, ‘From West to East, Rolling Revolution
Gathers Pace Across the Former USSR’, The Times (London), 19 February 2005, 43.
22 Authoritarian Backlash


Authoritarian regimes have long used wordplay and rhetoric to defend themselves
against criticism from democratic states. This was best demonstrated during the
Cold War when communist governments claimed that they were democracies
(i.e. ‘socialist’ or ‘people’s’ democracies) when they were decidedly not. The
seeming need to respond in kind to democratic criticisms is indicative of the
power of democracy in the post-World War II period as a dominant ‘world value’.
Democracy’s legitimacy is considered so great that it ‘faces few serious competitors’
and dictators feel forced to ‘either call their own autocratic regimes democracies
or claim that their country is on the slow road to becoming a democracy’ (McFaul
2004). Therefore, authoritarian regimes will attempt to redefine the problem of
external democracy promotion to their advantage.
This strategy manifests itself in several ways. Authoritarian governments often
feel the need to adjectivize democracy to obfuscate their illiberal tendencies.
Phrases such as ‘Islamic democracy’, ‘developmentalist democracy’, or, in the case
of Russia, ‘managed democracy’ have all been used (Collier and Levitsky 1997,
Bukay 2007). Others have taken a relativist approach, such as during the ‘Asian
values’ debate of the 1990s, which Thompson (2001: 157) described as ‘a culturalist
argument to discredit demands for liberal democracy and individualism’. These
states rejected these ‘Western values’ as being inapplicable within their cultural
and historical context. Related to this is the contention that external criticism is an
attempt to ‘impose’ a form of government on a sovereign state and therefore akin
to ‘imperialism’. As this argument goes, since each sovereign state has the right to
define its own path of development, then the choices made by a particular regime
are virtually unassailable from outside. Authoritarian regimes have also sought
to redirect attention away from themselves and onto others by exaggerating the
liberal democratic failings of others, particularly if the target state is a democracy.
This attempts to put their democratic critics on the defensive and call into question
the commitment of these states to their professed values. Regardless of whether
an authoritarian regime misrepresents the nature of their political system, makes
culturalist arguments, or shifts attention elsewhere, a strategy of redefinition seeks
to discredit external criticism and undermine domestic opponents who push for
reforms similar to those advocated from abroad.


An authoritarian regime’s survival is not just dependent upon the strength of

domestic opponents or the results of rhetorical sparring with democratic countries.
The political systems of neighboring states are also of key importance to them.
Writing on the debate within democratic peace theory over the importance of
‘political dissimilarity’ on interstate conflict, Werner argued that leaders ‘have a
keen interest in seeing the establishment or the maintenance of governments abroad
that strengthen, or at least do not undermine, their position at home’ (Werner 2000:
The External Promotion of Democracy and Authoritarianism 23

347–8). Autocrats have a stake in ensuring that additional countries do not ‘fall’
to democracy. The ability of a country to withstand democratic pressures benefits
all authoritarian regimes in the region. If a pattern of democratic transitions is
halted, this would undermine a sense of momentum and reverse any belief that the
overthrow of autocratic leaders is inevitable. Failed transitions will also dishearten
pro-democracy forces elsewhere and serve as a warning that their plans are futile.
As an added bonus, the target state will become more dependent upon its supporters
because its political system will likely preclude any strategic realignment with
the democratic powers. This provides authoritarian regimes with an incentive to
bolster or support fellow autocrats.
The means by which authoritarian states can undertake such a strategy are
varied and can include a mix of economic, diplomatic, military, and political aid.
This support would make it more likely that the target state would be able to
resist democratization by giving it the tools to ensure regime survivability. This
patronage would also make it easier for the target state to withstand both external
punishments and the temptations of potential benefits. This, in effect, reinforces
the target state’s own efforts at insulating itself against democracy promotion. We
can see this process operating in China’s support for the military dictatorship in
Myanmar, which helps it to resist international pressures (Bert 2004).


Returning to Werner’s (2000: 347–8) observations, states also have ‘a keen interest
in undermining governments abroad that pose any threat to their position at home’.
Authoritarian regimes are deeply concerned with the political systems of their
neighbors: a successful democratic transition within close proximity represents
an ever-present symbolic threat of the possibility of regime change. However, if a
democracy fails or is seen as worse than the regime it replaced, this will undermine
the value of democratization for pro-democracy forces and serve as a negative
example of regime change. While many democratic transitions are accompanied
by a strategic realignment, a democratic reversal would make it more difficult for
these states to align themselves with democratic powers and would likely preclude
them from being admitted to certain international organizations, such as the EU
or NATO. Consequently, that there will be a greater likelihood that the country in
question will be forced to restore its ties with its authoritarian neighbors. Moreover,
if a state reverts back to authoritarianism, then its nongovernmental organizations
will be less free to function and will have their legitimacy undermined by their
failure to sustain democracy at home; this will hamper their ability to export
democratic ideas elsewhere. Thus, in addition to aiding like-minded regimes,
an authoritarian state can also attempt to subvert or sabotage democratic states
through a mix of economic, diplomatic, political, and military pressures.12

12 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Studies of how states have subverted democratically elected governments are rare.
One of the few exceptions is Forsythe 1992.
24 Authoritarian Backlash


In the democratic peace literature, which argues that democracies do not war against
each other, there is a corresponding argument about the existence of an ‘autocratic’
or ‘dictatorial’ peace based upon a common interest in regime survival (Peceny et
al., 2002). This cooperation may be prompted by the spread of democracy. Ray
(2000: 313) observed that ‘as democracies become increasingly predominant
in the international system, they will provoke augmented hostility from the
increasingly outnumbered autocratic states. … [T]he increasingly besieged,
outnumbered autocratic states might be encouraged to engage in less conflict and
more cooperation among themselves’. One means by which authoritarian states
can do this is by establishing and supporting international organizations to protect
their own and like-minded governments from the possibility of regime change.
This likely will not be done overtly, given the widespread, rhetorical support for
the norm of democracy at the global level. Instead, such organizations will seek to
establish a regional order which makes it illegitimate to criticize these governments,
interfere in the domestic politics of its member states, or promote regime change.
Powerful authoritarian countries will serve as the engines (‘critical states’) for
the establishment and maintenance of these international organizations and will
be influential in shaping the content of their values and principles. Within this
context, the boundaries of what is permitted or appropriate for an organization’s
members become much wider and might include actively undermining political
opposition, cracking down on dissidents, or outright oppression. Consequently,
the regional norms of democracy will be replaced by nondemocratic values which
actively promote, or at the very least sustain, authoritarianism.
Such a process occurred in Southeast Asia through the creation of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in which the organization’s
authoritarian members reinforced nondemocratic tendencies in the region. Kuhonta
(2006: 338) asserted that ASEAN’s successes in the security realm established a
regional ‘illiberal peace’: ‘ASEAN’s zone of peace has brought in its wake a dark
undercurrent: the abnegation of democratic values’. The norms that formed the
basis of the ‘ASEAN way’—‘sovereignty’ and ‘non-interference’—purposefully
emphasized regime survival over the promotion of liberal democratic norms. As
Acharya (2003: 375) noted:

The emergence of [ASEAN] was founded upon the common desire of its
members, which had by then retreated significantly from their postcolonial
experiments in liberal democracy, to ensure regime survival. This orientation
was further institutionalized by ASEAN’s doctrine of non-interference, which
helped to shield its members from outside pressures toward democratization.

For example, the autocratic regime in Myanmar has been provided with ‘ideological
support’ by ASEAN because of the organization’s refusal to criticize the internal
affairs of a member state (Alamgir 1997). Thus, by working with others to
The External Promotion of Democracy and Authoritarianism 25

undermine regional democratic trends, authoritarian regimes can transmit and

reinforce norms with delegitimize political change.


This chapter argued that when faced with the external promotion of democracy,
authoritarian leaders are not passive objects of democratic trends or democracy
promotion. Instead, these regimes have several strategies that they can adopt to
sustain autocracy at home or abroad: the strategies of authoritarian resistance.
These policies are designed to counter or undermine the processes which have
been seen to promote democracy in prior cases. In subsequent chapters, each of
these strategies will be examined in depth through the example of Russian policies
designed to ensure politically favorable domestic and regional environments.
However, before exploring the application of these strategies, it is first necessary
to understand the historical context within which the Kremlin operated.
This page has been left blank intentionally
Chapter 3
Political Trends in the Former Soviet Union:
An Overview

[T]he picture may still be sufficiently mixed to give some support to the optimists
as well as the skeptics, but the last couple of years clearly have not been propitious
for the fortunes of democracy in ‘the post-Soviet space’. Apart from the Baltic
states, democracy today seems to be in retreat throughout the region.
Editors of the Journal of Democracy in September 2001

The picture of democracy in the former Soviet Union remains mixed. In many
ways, the time during which the editors of the Journal of Democracy were
writing was even more grim than today: not only had authoritarianism been firmly
entrenched in Central Asia, Belarus, and Azerbaijan, but countries which had
some early democratic promise, such as Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Russia,
and Ukraine, had seemingly made a qualitative shift toward autocracy. Since
then, popular uprisings have overthrown authoritarian regimes in three countries,
leading to another wave of optimism. Despite the hope engendered by these
‘color revolutions’, any positive expectations should be held in check. Additional
democratic openings do not appear to be forthcoming and autocratic rulers have
actively taken steps to further entrench themselves in power in response to these
democratic movements. More importantly, the negative trends evident in Russia
do not bode well for the chances of regional democracy. Since coming to power,
Russian President Vladimir Putin has instituted a policy of centralizing power and
asserting control over the free press, as well as effectively eliminating political
competition in the Russian political system. Given its size and power, the relative
health of democracy in Russia has a significant influence on democratic trends
throughout the region. Moreover, the color revolutions themselves heightened a
sense of insecurity in the Kremlin which accelerated the process of building an
autocratic state and led the Russian government to actively resist and undermine
regional democratic trends.
It would be impossible to fully describe the history of democratization
in the former Soviet Union in just one chapter. Numerous books have already
been published on Russia alone, especially on the Putin regime (Herspring
2007, McFaul et al., 2004, Ostrow et al., 2007). Additional books on the color
revolutions and their aftermath constitute another category of scholarly works
(Åslund and McFaul 2006, Karumidze et al., 2005, Marat 2006, Wilson 2005b).

‘Ten Years After the Soviet Breakup’ (2003), Journal of Democracy, 12:4, 19.
28 Authoritarian Backlash

The purpose of the present book is neither to provide a detailed examination of

these historical events and policies, nor to focus on the largely internal dynamics of
the shift toward authoritarianism. This has been done elsewhere. Instead, this book
seeks to understand the ways in which Russia has sought to counter the external
promotion of democracy, undermine regional democratic trends, and ensure that
the region stays on its current authoritarian trajectory. Therefore, the subsequent
chapters concentrate on the strategies adopted to affect cross-border influences.
However, in order to understand the context of these strategies, it is necessary to
first provide a brief overview of the course of democracy in the region, especially
within Russia.
Section one of this chapter presents an overarching picture of the key trends
in the region, seen through the lens of Freedom House’s ‘Freedom in the World’
ratings. Many Russian commentators and politicians have taken issue with
Freedom House’s ratings, especially when it conferred on Russia a ‘Not Free’
rating in September 2006. While any attempt to capture the relative level of
democracy in a country will be open to criticism, Freedom House’s conclusions can
provide an excellent sense of the major tendencies. Section two examines Russian
democratic development during the Boris Yeltsin years, focusing on major events
which created the potential for the shift toward authoritarianism after he resigned
on 31 December 1999. Section three covers the consolidation of authoritarianism
under Putin. Section four explores the color revolutions which partly reversed the
region’s autocratic trends and threatened the governments of nearby states with the
possibility of regime change. The Kremlin’s reaction to the color revolutions will
set up the subsequent five chapters, each of which examines one of the strategies
adopted to resist regional democratic trends.

Freedom House Overview

Every year, Freedom House formulates a numerical value for countries and
territories throughout the world in two categories: Political Rights and Civil
Liberties. A seven-point scale is utilized with 1 being the most free and 7 being
the least free. Countries are divided into three categories based on their combined
average rating: 1.0 to 2.5 = ‘Free’, 3.0 to 5.0 = ‘Partly Free’, and 5.5 to 7.0 = ‘Not
Free’. Figure 3.1 depicts the course of democracy in the former Soviet Union
since 1991. (For the full Freedom House numbers for the former Soviet Union, see
Appendix.) It separates the fifteen former Soviet republics into three categories:
the three Baltic states, six Hybrid regimes, and six Autocratic regimes.

Ekaterina Savina, ‘International Human Rights Group Says Democracy in Russia
Keeps Declining’, Kommersant, 13 September 2006, 4, reproduced in Russian Press Digest,
13 September 2006. For Freedom House’s report on the shift from Partly Free to Not Free,
see <
&year=2005&page=0&view=mof&pf>, accessed 11 July 2008.
Political Trends in the Former Soviet Union 29


Figure 3.1  Average Freedom House ratings of former Soviet Union countries

The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have a strong Western
orientation and have been largely removed from the trends evident in the region.
Instead, they have followed a solidly democratic trajectory; the only significant
political problem being the citizenship status of Russian-speakers. For Hybrid
regimes, the story since independence has been more mixed: the average scores
for these countries indicate a substantive history of illiberal tendencies. Armenia,
Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine fit into this category. The
final group consists of those states which have been largely Autocratic, even if
there were periods of less authoritarian rule. This category includes Azerbaijan,
Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
One can see a slight divergence in 2004–2005 between the Hybrid and
Autocratic categories as the color revolutions caused Ukraine and Georgia to shift
toward democracy (e.g. Ukraine was rated Free in 2005, from Partly Free in 2004),
while other states tightened control over their political systems. It appears from
Figure 3.1 that, despite the popular uprisings of the color revolutions, there is
relative stability among the Hybrid regimes. This is misleading, however. Russia
was classified as a Hybrid regime because its average score since 1992 was a
4.4. Its decided shift away from democracy between 2003–2004 obscured the
democratic gains made by Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. This can be seen
in Figure 3.2, which separates Russia from the rest of the Hybrid regimes. As
illustrated in this chart, one can see a steady progression toward authoritarianism
with shifts occurring after the 1996 presidential election, the accession of Putin to
the presidency, and 2004.
30 Authoritarian Backlash


Figure 3.2  Average Freedom House ratings for Russia and the
Color Revolution countries

There have been three significant developments in the pattern of political

change in the former Soviet Union. First, authoritarianism is well entrenched in the
region. Second, the color revolutions resulted in positive moves toward democracy
in some states. Third, Russia, the most influential state in the region, has moved
steadily away from democracy. In order to understand this third dynamic, it is
necessary to look past Putin and illustrate how Russian authoritarianism had its
roots under Yeltsin.

The Yeltsin Period

Politically, the Yeltsin era (from independence in December 1991 to his resignation
in December 1999) can be described as exhibiting incredible hope for a democratic
future but ultimately sowing the seeds for the fundamental turn away from
democracy that we now see in Russia. Over this period, elections became less free
and competitive, the independence of the media was weakened, and power became
increasingly concentrated in a virtually unchecked presidency. A number of key
events set Russia on an autocratic trajectory: the crisis of 1993, the subsequent
establishment of a president-dominant political system, the 1996 elections, and the
selection of Putin as Yeltsin’s successor.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation did not
immediately adopt a new constitution, but rather operated under its problematic
Soviet document which included an unclear relationship between the newly-
created position of the President, on the one hand, and the Supreme Soviet and
the Congress of People’s Deputies, on the other. Soon after independence, Yeltsin
and the leaders of Russian legislature fought over a variety of policy issues and
the contours of the extraordinary powers granted to Yeltsin to enact a radical
economic reform agenda. Over time, Yeltsin sought to increase his institutional
Political Trends in the Former Soviet Union 31

authority by extraconstitutional means and the legislature responded through

actions of its own designed to strip Yeltsin of many of his powers. Yeltsin also
supported a referendum which aimed to strengthen the president vis-à-vis the
parliament. He later illegally dissolved the Supreme Soviet, in violation of the
Russian Constitution; legislators responded by seeking to replace Yeltsin with his
vice president, Alexander Rutskoy. As the result of these legislative and executive
maneuvers, an armed crisis erupted which ended when Yeltsin ordered the military
to shell and forcibly seize the Russian parliament building in October 1993.
While the Russian legislature deserved a large amount of blame for the
events of October 1993 (and the parliament’s supporters were, in fact, the first
to use violence, though Yeltsin’s forces did blockade the legislature), many of
Yeltsin’s actions before the confrontation were clear violations of the rule of
law and the constitution. Moreover, the images of tanks and soldiers crushing
a democratically-elected legislature (even one politically distasteful to the West)
under orders of the country’s president are not normally those associated with a
democracy. Nevertheless, many observers, including US President Bill Clinton
and European leaders, accepted it as the price to be paid for eliminating the so-
called red–brown coalition which dominated the legislature and for the possibility
that out of the crisis there might emerge an opportunity for a fresh start. However,
even if committed in the name of democracy, nondemocratic actions will rarely
result in a positive outcome. In the aftermath of the October 1993 crisis, this
proved to be the case. First, Yeltsin’s reliance on the military to guarantee his
presidency during the crisis with parliament meant that he was increasingly reliant
upon the ‘power ministries’ (defense, interior, and intelligence services). Not only
did this undermine civilian control over these agencies, but it fostered a climate
which led to both the wars in Chechnya and the rise of the siloviki (current and
former members of the power ministries) in Russian politics. Putin’s ascendance
to the presidency consolidated these gains. Second, the Yeltsin administration
showed that it was afraid of democracy and it immediately hedged its bets against
the possibility that a democratic legislature could again contest the power of the
presidency. This was done by imposing a very different constitution from the one
approved by the July 1993 Constitutional Assembly, which was, incidentally,
accepted by Yeltsin at the time. While it certainly could not have guaranteed
democratic development in Russia, this draft constitution contained more checks
and balances between the legislature and the executive than the one eventually
adopted. The version which emerged after October 1993 eliminated most of these
checks and, rather than being the product of debate and compromise, was crafted
solely by the victor of the crisis and severed its interests. This draft created a
president-dominant system which emasculated the legislature, legitimized the
precedent of legislating by decree, and created the institutional framework for
the centralization of power by the Kremlin. Thus, rather than using the crisis to
lay a constitutional foundation for democracy, Yeltsin created conditions under
which an anti-democratic president like Putin could build an authoritarian system.
While voters had a choice, rejecting the draft was not a realistic option since that
32 Authoritarian Backlash

would likely precipitate another political and constitutional breakdown. Finally,

there is some question whether the December 1993 referendum which approved
the constitution was legitimate—not whether it garnered enough votes to pass,
but whether a majority of all eligible voters participated in the referendum as
required by law. Even if the Kremlin did not falsify the vote, there were enough
anti-democratic actions during the accompanying parliamentary elections (such as
eliminating several electoral blocs from the party-list portion of the vote) to taint
post-Soviet Russia’s first true experience with democracy.
Although the 1995 parliamentary elections and the 1995–1997 gubernatorial
elections generally followed democratic norms, this positive trend was not
replicated during the next major event in Russia’s democratic development: the
1996 presidential election. Toward the end of his first term, Yeltsin was extremely
unpopular. Economic problems, a lack of vision by the Kremlin, the war in
Chechnya, and the absence of a base of support meant that as Russia moved toward
the scheduled presidential elections, it became very likely that the communist
candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, would be elected president. There were those
within the Kremlin who urged the president to either rig the elections or cancel
them outright by declaring a state of emergency—both supposedly for the good of
democracy. The fact that the elections happened at all was, admittedly, a positive
sign. However, some observers took too much comfort from the fact that there
were multiple candidates, the election was held without violence, and that the anti-
Western, communist candidate lost. As a result, they overlooked the extremely
undemocratic and uncompetitive nature of the election campaign. In order to win
the election at all costs, the Kremlin committed widespread and serious violations
of campaign spending and transparency rules, freely distributed financial largesse
to regional leaders and sometimes directly to voters to garner votes, and reportedly
falsified at least some returns. However, the most consequential damage inflicted
upon the long-term future of Russian democracy was the relationship between the
Kremlin, on the one hand, and the oligarchs and the mass media, on the other: top
oligarchs and media moguls openly assisted Yeltsin’s campaign by turning all of
their resources toward his reelection, providing Yeltsin with consistently positive
television coverage and blatantly demonizing his opponent. Not only did this foster
entrenched corruption at the highest levels through quid pro quo arrangements
between business interests and those of state, it blurred the line between the media
and the government. As Ostrow et al. (2007: 67), concluded: ‘In retrospect, given
the Kremlin’s [later] seizure of control over electronic media and the restoration
of censorship across the press, it might appear that this was Yeltsin taking direct
control of the media. It was not, but it did create conditions that paved the way for
Putin to restore this control. … What became an oligarch–Kremlin marriage under
Yeltsin opened the door to direct control by the next president’. Although there

This claim is questioned in Filippov and Ordeshook 1997.
Partly because of the negative legacy of party membership during the Soviet period,
Yeltsin never joined a political party.
Political Trends in the Former Soviet Union 33

was an election that was relatively free, the process leading up to the vote was
certainly not fair. Rather than being a step toward democracy, the 1996 election
was a sign that Russia’s illiberal tendencies were just beneath the surface.
Yeltsin was constitutionally prohibited from running for a third term in June
2000. Given his massive unpopularity and serious health problems, it is likely
that nothing short of widespread and blatant voter fraud would have allowed
him to have a third term in any case. Not even the media could have saved
him at that point. Instead, the focus of Russian politics became the debate over
Yeltsin’s successor. A truly competitive, free, and fair contest for the presidency
may have returned the country to a democratic path. However, this was not to
be. Yeltsin resigned early and handed over power to his prime minister, Vladimir
Putin. Not only did Yeltsin’s action allow Putin to run as an incumbent, with all
of the advantages that entailed in a president-dominant system, but the vote was
moved up to March because of rules requiring an early election in the case of the
president’s resignation. This short-circuited any real chance for the opposition to
organize and for the citizens to debate their future fully. However, even before this
vote occurred, the transition to a democratic, post-Yeltsin political landscape was
already made problematic by the preceding legislative election.
During the December 1999 parliamentary election, the media oligarchs worked
very closely with the Kremlin to ensure that the new, pro-presidential electoral
bloc, Unity, did well against its rivals, the Communists and the Fatherland-All
Russia coalition led by the popular former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov. Not
only were smaller parties undermined by new rules which benefitted established,
well-connected, and wealthy parties, but the Kremlin used its administrative
resources to help Unity and to undermine any possibility that Primakov could use
a legislative victory as momentum toward acquiring the presidency. Helped by the
war in Chechnya, which began in the early fall under questionable circumstances,
Unity came in a close second, undermining any substantive opposition to the
Kremlin within the Duma. Once Yeltsin resigned on 31 December 1999, the
oligarchs shifted their support to Putin and used their media power to ensure his
electoral victory. Since it seemed certain that Putin would win, even the liberals
backed him out of short-term self-interest. Nevertheless, despite these advantages,
there were still reports that the Kremlin felt the need to falsify the results in order
to guarantee Putin enough votes in the first round of voting to avoid a run-off.
While adjusting the results was unnecessary, since Putin would most likely have
easily won the second round, it illustrated how entrenched electoral fraud had
become in the Russian political system.
Once again, Western commentators saw positive signs in Putin’s March 2000
victory—an election with more than one candidate was conducted in an orderly

Some claim that the casus belli for the war, explosions at apartment buildings in
Moscow, were perpetrated by the successor to the KGB (the Federal Security Service or
FSB) to increase the popularity of the Kremlin by creating a sense of threat and ensuring a
‘rally around the flag’ effect amongst Russians.
34 Authoritarian Backlash

manner. This was not the case. As McFaul and Petrov (2004: 46) correctly state:
‘In consolidating democracies, elections become more competitive and more
consequential over time. In Russia, the opposite trend has occurred’. The 2000
election was less competitive than the one in 1996 and corruption was even
more an integral part of the system than before. Politics was not ‘real’, but was
becoming increasingly ‘virtual’ (Wilson 2005a). Although Yeltsin himself was
willing to allow debate and an often rancorous relationship with the post-1993
Duma, the political system he created, when placed in the hands of someone with
few to no democratic tendencies, effectively closed the door on any real chance of
democratic political development.

Consolidating Autocracy under Putin

The transition from Yeltsin to Putin solidified autocratic trends in Russia. The
potential for abuse of executive power found in the president-dominant Russian
constitution, the declining level of freedom of the press exhibited by an alliance
between the media and the Kremlin, and the lack of fair and competitive elections
coalesced into a decisive shift toward authoritarian under Putin. Each of the
subsequent reforms enacted under the Putin presidency could be interpreted as
something other than a move away from democracy. For example, the centralization
of authority in the Kremlin could be seen as merely strengthening state institutions
in order to reduce the potentially dangerous, centrifugal political trends seen under
Yeltsin; if left unattended, these tendencies would have further eroded the power
of the state, made positive political development impossible, and have possibly
called into question the country’s territorial integrity. However, Putin’s policies
cannot be judged in isolation from each other. Instead, they point to a much more
negative pattern when taken together. Under Putin, the Kremlin systematically
eroded independent sources of political power in the country while, at the same
time, failed to adopt any policies which would have actually fostered democratic
Soon after winning the 2000 election, Putin began the process of centralizing
power. In May 2000, he issued a decree establishing seven ‘federal districts’ based
upon the regional structure of the Soviet/Russian Interior Ministry districts. These
so-called ‘super regions’ were each headed by presidential envoys (nearly all of
whom were members of the siloviki) whose official charge was to formalize and
rationalize the relationship between the regions and the center, but whose actual
mission was to bring the regions under the Kremlin’s control. This was done
through a variety of means, including subordinating regional security organs to the
center, overseeing the collection of compromising materials on regional leaders
in order to better manage them, and directly influencing political developments
in the regions, including removing insubordinate leaders from power. In addition,
regional executives, who had a direct role in the legislative process through their
ex officio positions on the Federation Council, were stripped of their seats in the
Political Trends in the Former Soviet Union 35

summer of 2000 and replaced by representatives chosen by the regional governors

and legislatures in a process that was tightly controlled by the Kremlin. Not only
did this weaken the influence of the regions in Moscow, but it brought the upper
of the two houses of the Duma almost completely under the government’s control.
Moreover, since Unity and its allies already controlled the lower house, the Russian
legislature was rendered effectively powerless and inconsequential, as it remains
to this day.
The president-dominant nature of the Russian political system was also
strengthened by a number of policies which further weakened the Duma as an
independent base of power. Beginning in 2000, the Kremlin began establishing
a number of ‘extraconstitutional parallel parliaments … that divert policymaking
expertise and debate from the parliament itself to alternative arenas, which the
president can consult at his pleasure’ (Remington 2007: 56). This started with
a decree creating the State Council, which established a de facto legislative
role for the seven federal districts, and was replicated after the Beslan Hostage
Crisis with the founding of the Public Chamber (civil society), the Council for
the Realization of Priority National Projects (social policy initiatives), and others.
But the Kremlin went further. Rather than simply weakening the Duma, the Putin
regime created a ‘party of power’ to replace Unity, through which he and his allies
could control the legislature: United Russia. Politicians both in the center and in
the regions were pressured to affiliate with United Russia and by early 2006 over
75 per cent of regional leaders were members of the party (Petrov and Slider 2007:
95). Moreover, a number of legislative acts were passed which disadvantaged
smaller or regional opposition parties and benefitted United Russia because of its
national presence and ties to the state administration. These measures included
making it more difficult to register a new political party before running in election
(July 2001), ensuring that regional legislative elections have at least half of
their seats chosen through a proportional representation process in which only
national parties can compete (June 2002), and excluding smaller parties from the
legislature by raising the proportional representation threshold from five to seven
per cent and prohibiting ad hoc electoral coalitions from combining their votes to
surpass the threshold (December 2002). Finally, United Russia pushed through a
number of reforms which strengthened its power in the Duma itself and allowed
it to better control the legislative process, such as taking control of all committee
chairmanships, reducing committee staffs, and increasing staffs for parties and the
speaker. Thus, within a few years, the Duma was transformed from an extremely
weak institution in a president-dominant system to an utterly irrelevant one, except
to legitimize the policies of the Kremlin.
Along with the shift toward even greater presidential power, Putin’s ascension
to the presidency meant that the siloviki were firmly in control of the country.
As already mentioned, nearly all of the heads of the federal districts came
from the power ministries. This pattern extended throughout the government
ministries and regional institutions, not just in terms of the upper administration,
but extending down to the middle management. While the precise percentage of
36 Authoritarian Backlash

siloviki at the highest levels differs according to study and classification, there
has been a significant increase. Under an expansive definition of siloviki, Olga
Kryshtanovskaya found that upwards of three-quarters of those in the corridors
of power have or had some tie to the power ministries (Kryshtanovskaya and
White 2003, Kryshtanovskaya and White 2005, Bremmer and Charap 2006). At
the end of the Soviet period, this number was closer to five per cent. During a
December 2006 celebration of ‘Chekist Day’, which commemorates the founding
of the notorious and brutal predecessor to the KGB, Putin reportedly ‘flaunted the
restoration of [the siloviki’s] power before the nation at a lavish Kremlin party’.
These individuals operate within a very hierarchical relationship with the Kremlin
and are largely without a political ideology, except to support the government.
They are by reflex anti-democratic and reject open politics, and ultimately form
the bedrock of authoritarianism in Russia upon which the Kremlin operates.
The media played a consequential role in the outcomes of the 1996 presidential
and 1999 legislative elections. By providing positive news reports of certain
candidates and issuing a constant stream of negative stories on their opponents,
autocratic regimes can safely allow for relatively free elections (within limits)
because the media coverage leading up to them is anything but fair. This creates an
environment which is noncompetitive politically, but presents a democratic image
to the world. In reality, it is more like a Potemkin democracy. Although there was
an uncomfortable and corrupt relationship between the Kremlin and the media
during the latter half of the 1990s, Yeltsin had made a commitment to a free press
and allowed for significant political debate within the print and broadcast media.
Such a powerful resource could not go uncontrolled by Putin’s Kremlin, however.
In his July 2000 state-of-the-nation address, Putin paid lip service to freedom of
the press but castigated some (that is, opposition) media as ‘mass misinformation
outlets and … a means of struggle against the state’. Since the Kremlin associated
the government with the state itself, criticism of the government was in effect
criticism of the state, and therefore unacceptable. Aiding the government in its
quest to dominate the Russian media were three interrelated factors: first, given
the uncontrolled capitalism of the 1990s, many media outlets were acquired under
suspicious means, which opened their owners to criminal liability; second, through

For example, one issue is whether these calculations should be limited to just the
specific power ministries or whether affiliated bodies should be included.
For a Russian perspective, see Vitaly Yaroshevsky, ‘Operation Infiltration
Complete!’, Novaya Gazeta, 30 August–1 September 2004, 1–2, reproduced in What the
Papers Say (Part A), 31 August 2004. There is an opposing view of the siloviki which
argues that their role in the Russian political system is frequently exaggerated and not as
coherent as often perceived (Renz 2006).
 �������������������������������������������� �������� The Times (London), 22
Tony Halpin, ‘Putin Toasts Spies’ Return to Power’,
December 2006, 34.
  Russia TV, 8 July 2000, reproduced as ‘Putin’s Address to Federal Assembly’, in
BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 10 July 2000.
Political Trends in the Former Soviet Union 37

the government’s control of prosecutors and tax officials and its willingness to
utilize these agencies for political purposes, nearly every media empire could be
found to have been in violation of the law and subject to seizure and its owners
subject to arrest; finally, a weak and non-independent judiciary was unable or
unwilling to confront the government and ensure freedom of the press.
Given the importance of television in shaping people’s political perceptions—
the vast majority of Russians get their news primarily through television—this
was the first target. Within days of his inauguration (which, ironically, was in
part guaranteed by positive press coverage from media oligarchs), the Putin
government moved against Media-Most, owned by Vladimir Gusinsky. Gusinsky
was threatened with jail unless he handed his media empire over to the Kremlin’s
control; this included the largest national television station NTV, the magazine
Itogi, and the newspaper Segodnya. This was followed by the seizure of TV-6 and
Boris Berezovsky’s ORT, which had criticized top government officials for their
failures during the Kursk submarine incident. When combined with the already
state-controlled RTR, these steps meant that the Kremlin possessed either direct or
indirect control over most independent television media within a year after taking
office. Although much of the national and local print media remain in private hands,
in part because they are seen as less of a threat to the government, printing and
distribution facilities are largely state-owned and the owners of the print media have
come under pressure to toe the government’s line. Self-censorship by journalists
is also rampant, due not only to financial reasons, but because of the mysterious
and unsolved deaths of reporters critical of the government.10 When combined,
these factors severely limited the scope of political debate within the country and
constitute what can be described as a ‘neo-authoritarian media system’—while
better than the totalitarianism the past, it is fundamentally illiberal, undemocratic,
and not free (Becker 2004). As a result, both the 2003 parliamentary election, in
which United Russia emerged with well over four times the number of seats of its
closest rival, and the 2004 presidential election, in which Putin garnered over 71
per cent of the vote (more than five times that of his closest rival), were tightly
controlled events. Western observers categorized them as noncompetitive because
of the overwhelmingly positive media coverage of the president and his party.
By the time of the Beslan hostage crisis in early September 2004, state control
of the media was such that Putin’s government ‘was fully protected against the
detrimental effects of professional journalism, at least as national television was
concerned. … There were no survivors’ accounts, no stories of desperate people
who lost loved ones, no independent experts’ analysis, and no public discussion
whatsoever’ (Lipman 2005: 320). Consequently, the Kremlin was able to use
this tragedy to its benefit by ushering in a series of measures aimed at taking
nearly full control of the country’s political system (Lemaître 2006). Immediately

10 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Approximately one journalist per month has been killed since Putin came to power.
Nearly all of these were working on stories critical of the government. The authorities have
not actively investigated these deaths (Ostrow et al., 2007: 116).
38 Authoritarian Backlash

after the Beslan crisis, in which more than 300 hostages (half of them children)
were killed during the government’s rescue attempt, Putin gave a speech in
which he directed blame at the terrorists who took the hostages and ‘a state that
proved unviable in a fast-changing world’.11 In order to correct for the perceived
deficiencies in the latter, Putin asserted that his government would ‘take steps
aimed at strengthening the unity of the country’. These steps were outlined soon
thereafter at an expanded cabinet meeting attended by regional leaders. Putin said
that ‘the system of executive government in Russia should not only be adapted
to function in [a] crisis situation, but fundamentally restructured’.12 Some of the
specific items he proposed (and would later enact) included: eliminating the direct
election of regional leaders and replacing this process with their appointment by
the president (with the consent of the regional legislatures); removing the single-
member district method of choosing one-half of the lower house of the Duma and
instituting a proportional representation system for all members; and, forming a
‘public chamber’ to serve as a bridge between the government and society and
to shape public discussion of important issues. These measures amounted to yet
another push toward the consolidation of power and the elimination of independent
centers of power in the Russian political system.
By having the president select the regional leaders, Putin subordinated these
individuals to him since they held their jobs at the president’s pleasure. The ability
of the regional legislatures to veto the president’s choice is really not a check at
all since the president can dissolve the legislature if it does not agree with the
president’s nominee. This change had several effects. Because of their precarious
position, governors were now precluded from securing an independent power base
in the regions from which to challenge the Kremlin. Moreover, it ensured that
the regional administrations would be friendly to United Russia during upcoming
elections and would use their administrative powers to ensure an outcome
beneficial to the Kremlin. In addition, since the regional governors select one-half
of the Federation Council, Putin now had the power to indirectly select one-half of
the upper house of the Duma.
The removal of the single member districts had a similar effect of preventing
the development of alternative sources of power: independent politicians could no
longer gain entry into the Duma without running on a party list. When combined
with other laws which made it more difficult to form political parties and prohibited
electoral blocs or regional parties from contesting elections at the federal and
regional levels, proportional representation increased the power of established,
national parties like United Russia at the expense of individual politicians.
Finally, the proposed Public Chamber (see Chapter 4), was a way to restrict
the development of a powerful civil society. This body was designed to filter the

11 ���������
‘Text of Putin’s Speech’, Agence France Presse, 4 September 2004.
12 ��������������������
‘President Vladimir Putin’s
Speech to an Expanded Cabinet Meeting Attended by
Regional Leaders on September 13, 2004’, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 14 September 2004, 1–2,
reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 14 September 2004.
Political Trends in the Former Soviet Union 39

discussion of important issues through a government-connected and government-

controlled institution. Unaffiliated (i.e. non-Kremlin-aligned) interest groups and
nongovernmental organizations would be rendered less legitimate because they
were not part of this process. It also had the effect of further weakening the Duma
because it created an additional parallel structure to express the public’s interests,
a function normally filled by a country’s legislature.
Regardless of whether ‘the Kremlin used Beslan as a pretext to accelerate the
construction of the so-called “vertical of power” (vertikal vlasti)’ (Lemaître 2006:
370) or whether Putin truly believed that his proposals were best for the state
and would prevent another Belsan, the effect was to continue the centralization
of power. While it is impossible to determine the true intentions behind these
reforms, the overall context makes their purpose clear: they were not aberrations
in Russian political development designed to combat a specific problem, but rather
fully in line with other patterns toward centralized control seen throughout Putin’s
presidency. Thus, the power of the Kremlin was increased and United Russia’s
predominant position in the country was secured, much to the detriment of Russian
The autocratic potential inherent in the Russian political system came to fruition
under Putin. From the Duma, to the regional governments, civil society, and the
media, the Kremlin moved in a comprehensive, systematic, and consistent way to
undermine or eliminate independent sources of political power in the country. This
even extended into the business sector through the subordination of the oligarchs
to the will of the Kremlin, in order to ensure that no force in Russian society
could bankroll an opposition. For example, the threat of prosecution against
Gusinsky undermined the main liberal, pro-democratic party in Russia (Yabloko),
since he was its primary financier. Moreover, the arrest on tax evasion charges of
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the head of Yukos oil and one of the richest men in the
world, was conducted under similar and selective circumstances. Khodorkovsky’s
primary sin against the regime was his creation of the Open Russia Foundation,
which supported civil society and democratic political development. His later
imprisonment, as well as Gusinsky’s and Berezovsky’s eventual exile from Russia,
were seen by many to be a warning to the wealthiest in the country: they could
keep their money as long as they either directly supported the government or kept
completely outside of politics. By contrast, pro-Kremlin oligarchs often found
their holdings increased. This was in line with which Putin reportedly told the
oligarchs during a July 2000 meeting in which they could keep their businesses as
long as they did not present a political challenge to the president (Goldman 2004).
Thus, while each of the separate actions taken by Putin’s Kremlin could be argued
to have been perfectly reasonable, when taken together, the overarching pattern of
Russian political development has been a decisive break with liberal democratic
principles and an embrace of authoritarianism.
40 Authoritarian Backlash

The Color Revolutions

The trends evident in Russia—the failure of democratic consolidation, a shift

towards autocracy, and the creation of Potemkin democracy—were replicated
elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. In Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, the
Eduard Shevardnadze, Leonid Kuchma, and Askar Akayev regimes, respectively,
tightened control but still allowed elections as long as the environment for
the campaigns advantaged the regime and the fairness of these contests was
compromised. However, this model was shattered by the ‘color revolutions’.
Suddenly, the very real danger of democratic contagion was evident to authoritarian
leaders throughout the region.
The model for the color revolutions actually began outside of the Soviet Union
in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s main republic, Serbia.13 Although it was
not called a color revolution at the time, the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević’s
regime in October 2000 set a pattern which was replicated elsewhere. In response
to a fraudulent election, in which the regime misrepresented the democratic
opposition’s vote tally, the Serbian people took to the streets in peaceful, mass
protests organized and led by the opposition and the youth movement Otpor!
(Resistance), which launched its ‘Gotov je!’ (He’s Finished!) campaign. These
protests, and the inability or unwillingness of the regime to use force against the
protesters, resulted in Milošević’s resignation, the end of authoritarianism, and a
democratic opening for Serbia.
The Rose Revolution in Georgia was actually quite similar. Shevardnadze’s
regime had become increasingly corrupt and autocratic, but was still committed
to the perception that it was a democracy. The November 2003 parliamentary
elections were criticized by foreign and domestic election monitors as being
fraudulent. In response to calls for mass protests, and energized by the example
set in Serbia, the Georgian people demonstrated against the Shevardnadze regime.
Again, a youth group, Kmara! (Enough!), assumed a prominent role. Protestors
carrying roses eventually seized the parliament, forcing the Georgian president to
escape from the building and providing the name for their revolution. The security
services refused to honor Shevardnadze’s declaration of a state of emergency and
soon thereafter the president resigned, leading to a presidential election in January
2004 and new parliamentary elections in the spring.
While the Rose Revolution followed the pattern of events in Serbia and
contained some direct connections to that prior revolution (Kmara! modeled itself
upon Otpor! and was trained by its Serbian counterparts), it was not until the
2005 presidential election in Ukraine that talk of democratic contagion became
real. Ukraine was seen by both the West and Russia as a key battleground, not
only over the country’s geopolitical alignment and the relative influence of the
two sides, but between liberal and autocratic trends in the region. As a result,
both sides took an active role in ensuring that the outcome was in line with their

13 ���������������������������������������������������������������������
Montenegro, the other republic in the federation, boycotted the vote.
Political Trends in the Former Soviet Union 41

values. For the West, this meant securing a free and fair democratic result in order
to reverse the slide toward the corruption and authoritarianism seen during the
Kuchma period. In order to do this, the West gave financial aid to pro-democracy
nongovernmental organizations, lent rhetorical support for the Ukrainians to have
a truly democratic choice, and were active in election monitoring activities. Since
the pro-democracy, pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko benefitted from
a free and fair election, Western support translated into de facto support for his
candidacy. On the other side, Russia sought to ensure that Kuchma’s successor,
the less popular Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, won the election
and continued Kuchma’s eastward-leaning policies. In order to achieve this goal,
‘Russian leaders and organizations, to varying extents … encouraged autocratic
methods as an effective strategy for holding on to power’ (McFaul 2007: 68).
Russian support for Yanukovych reflected its desire to maintain and strengthen its
influence in Ukraine, but was also a reflection of the ideological affinity between
the two regimes—a revolution in Ukraine might have serious implications for
Russia given the political, ethnic, and historical ties between the two countries.
Russia sought to aid Yanukovych through an active and high-profile role for
Kremlin-aligned public relations firms, economic concessions designed to show
the Ukrainian people that they would benefit from close ties to Russia, financial
contributions to the Yanukovych campaign by Russian businesses at the Kremlin’s
behest, advice to the regime regarding the proper way to ensure an electoral
outcome through the illegitimate and illegal use of administrative resources, and
the direct intervention of Putin himself who visited Ukraine on multiple occasions.
All of this set up a confrontation which pitted against each other two diametrically
opposed candidates and ideologies.
In the first round of voting in late October 2004, Yushchenko and Yanukovych
were essentially tied and neither side had received enough votes to prevent a
second round. Although some raised concerns about whether Yanukovych’s tally
was exaggerated, it was not until the run-off election in late November, in which
the primary Western election monitoring organizations cited massive voter fraud,
that a repeat of the events in Serbia and Georgia began. Led by the members of
the ‘orange coalition’ (orange was chosen as the unifying color of the democratic
opposition) and the youth movement Pora! (It’s Time!), pro-democratic forces
began massing in Ukrainian cities, the largest number of which camped out in
Kiev’s Independence Square. Again, these protestors took their inspiration from
prior events (some reported seeing Georgian flags being waved by protestors
in Kiev) and Pora! activists were trained by their counterparts from Serbia and
Georgia. The stance of the Ukrainian protestors and the West was that the second
round was illegitimate and had to be redone; Russia, on the other hand, rejected
these demands and Putin publicly congratulated Yanukovych on his victory
several times. The Ukrainian security services were divided and the government
eventually relented after the Ukrainian Supreme Court invalidated the results of
the second round and ordered a rerun. Under the watchful eye of over thirteen-
thousand external observers, Yushchenko emerged as the president of Ukraine.
42 Authoritarian Backlash

The Orange Revolution was replicated just a few months later in Kyrgyzstan
by the Tulip Revolution, in which Akayev was forced to flee the country and
resign after rigged parliamentary elections were followed by street protests. Three
revolutions in approximately a year and a half, each following a similar pattern,
raised the specter of regional democratic contagion which might spread to affect
Russia itself. This was best summarized by one Russian commentator who put
it as follows: ‘The day before yesterday: Belgrade. Yesterday: Tbilisi. Today:
Kiev. Tomorrow: Moscow’.14 Not surprisingly, the Kremlin’s reaction was quite
negative (Herd 2005a, 2005b). Sergei Ivanov, Russian Defense Minister and at the
time widely thought to be on the shortlist of Putin’s possible successors, presented
a sharp attack on the color revolutions and Western policy, stating that these and
future attempts to ‘impose’ democracy from the outside constituted a threat to
Russia’s vital interests and justified a more aggressive policy to counter ‘exports
of revolution to the CIS states, no matter and what color – pink, blue, you name
it’.15 This was later reiterated in an article entitled, ‘The New Russian Doctrine’,
in which he identified ‘a violent assault on the constitutional order of some post-
Soviet states’ as one of the most serious threats Russia faced.16 The fact that the
color revolutions were almost entirely peaceful and merely sought to correct for
rigged elections was of no consequence to Ivanov. Vladislav Surkov, the deputy
director of the Presidential Administration and the Kremlin’s top ideologue, gave
a lengthy interview to the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel in June 2005
in which he rejected the legitimacy of the color revolutions, instead calling them
undemocratic ‘coups’.17 He went on to say that the Russian government was aware
of how outside forces were seeking to undermine the governments of the former
Soviet Union but that those attempting to stage a ‘government coup’ in Russia
were ‘doomed to fail’ because the Kremlin would stop them. Later, in a February
2006 speech to United Russia, Surkov claimed that those seeking to utilize
‘orange methods’ against the Kremlin constituted a ‘very real threat to [Russian]
sovereignty’ and must be opposed.18 These statements indicated that the Kremlin
took the implications of the color revolutions seriously and aimed to move against

Andrei Vladimirov, ‘An Exportable Revolution’, Itogi, 7 December 2004, 10–12,

14 �����������������������������������������������
reproduced in What the Papers Say, 9 December 2004.
15 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Council on Foreign Relations Inaugural Annual Lecture on Russia and Russian-
American Relations’, Federal News Service, 13 January 2005.
Sergei Ivanov, ‘The New Russian Doctrine’, Wall Street Journal (Europe), 11
16 �������������������������������������������
January 2006, 13.
17 ���������������������������
‘Interview by Chief of the President’s
Staff Vladislav Surkov to Der Spiegel’,
Official Kremlin International News Broadcast, 21 June 2005.
‘Kremlin Aide on Threats to Russian Sovereignty’, RIA Novosti, 3 March 2006.
18 ��������������������������������������������������
Political Trends in the Former Soviet Union 43


The Kremlin’s domestic actions to strengthen the power of the central authorities
and undermine the country’s democratic development preceded the color
revolutions. However, the popular uprisings gave new impetus to this process.
Policies aimed only at tightening control over the country’s political system
would not be enough since the color revolutions were not problems that were
solely institutional or domestic in nature, but rather represented a situation in
which democratization in one country affected the prospects for democracy in
others. Therefore, in order to protect itself at home, the Russian government had
to deal with this problem in a proactive and preventative manner. The following
five chapters examine the strategies that the Kremlin adopted to resist and counter
these democratic trends: insulate, redefine, bolster, subvert, and coordinate. Each
of these strategies involved undermining those cross-border influences which
were perceived to foster democratic change and strengthening those forces which
sustained authoritarianism. In doing so, the Kremlin sought to advance its interest
in regime preservation through domestic and foreign policies aimed at immunizing
Russia from the ‘orange virus’.
This page has been left blank intentionally
Chapter 4
Insulate: Shielding Russia from External
Democracy Promotion

Does Russia have immunity to the ‘orange virus’?

Andrei Vladimirov

For autocrats, the fundamental danger of regional democratic trends is that, if left
unchecked, they will help precipitate a democratic revolution at home through a
mixture of demonstration effects, perceptions of momentum for regime change,
symbolism, international isolation, and networks of pro-democracy activists.
Although democratization is inherently a domestic-level process, the international
level is substantively important as well. Therefore, insulating one’s country from
these trends is the first and foremost line of defense against political challenges
seen as being touched off from the outside.
The Kremlin has pursued its own version of this strategy, seeking to inoculate
Russia from the color revolutions. Three forces in particular were seen as playing
central roles in these popular uprisings: foreign nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs), election monitors, and youth movements. Consequently, the Kremlin has
sought to undermine the political impact of each.
This chapter covers these forces in turn, with section one examining the January
2006 law severely hampering the functioning of foreign NGOs in Russia. Section
two illustrates how the Russian government sought to delegitimize European
election monitoring and establish alternative (that is, pro-Kremlin) monitoring
institutions. Section three probes the creation of government-aligned youth groups
by the Kremlin in order to co-opt young people and undercut the formation of an
anti-regime youth movement.

Undermining Foreign NGOs

In the context of the Russian Federation, foreign NGOs were considered

particularly critical to any effective resistance to the Putin regime because Russian
elites and wealthy benefactors were reluctant to provide funds or organizational
capacity to domestic groups after anti-regime figures were punished for their

Andrei Vladimirov, ‘An Exportable Revolution’, Itogi, 7 December 2004, 10–12,

reproduced in What the Papers Say, 9 December 2004.
46 Authoritarian Backlash

political opposition to the Kremlin. A viable civil society, therefore, had to be

funded at least in part from the outside. From the perspective of the government,
one of the greatest threats to regime stability was the intersection of ‘foreign’
NGOs and domestic opponents. This view was well summarized by Sergei
Markov, a Kremlin-aligned political analyst and advisor, as well as a member of
the government-created Public Chamber, and later a member of the Duma from
the ruling United Russia party:

NGOs are the greatest political weapon of the 21st Century. New forces came to
power by means of political coups in the 19th Century, and by means of political
parties in the 20th Century. These days, the basic weapon used to increase
political power is the NGO. In the lead-up to Russia’s federal elections, the West
will intensify funding for NGOs in Russia. The US State Department has already
said this openly.

Konstantin Kosachev, the chair of the Duma’s International Affairs Committee

and United Russia member, echoed Markov’s sentiment and made an explicit link
between these organizations and the possibility of regime change: ‘Unless we
react right now … to these external and somewhat provocational attempts by our
partners [in the West] to fund the activities of Russia’s civil society and NGOs, then
sooner or later yet another color revolution will be incited—this time in Russia.’
The government went further than just criticizing foreign NGOs; it sought to blur
the differences between ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ organizations by promoting a
division between those perceived as ‘ours (state-funded)’ and those which were
‘alien (mostly funded by Western grants)’. Obviously, the latter groups were far
more critical of the government’s moves away from democracy. All NGOs, except
for those most loyal to the regime, were seen as suspect, and those NGOs with
connections outside of Russia became key targets of the government.
Although the Kremlin has long sought to limit the role that foreign NGOs play
in Russia, a new offensive against them was launched in 2002 with the expulsion
of 27 members of the US Peace Corps for reportedly ‘gathering information about
the political and socio-economic situation in Russian regions, about governing

The case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky is considered a case in point, given his later
incarceration under dubious circumstances (see Chapter 3). Even if the Russian government’s
claims against him were true, his imprisonment was widely seen as a warning to others like
him who might challenge the Putin regime. Andrei Antonov, ‘Il Duce’s Formula’, Novoye
Vremya, 4 December 2005, 11, reproduced in What the Papers Say, 12 December 2005.
Igor Romanov, ‘Non-Governmental Organizations Get a Suspended Sentence’,
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 16 April 2007, 1, 3, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part A),
17 April 2007.
Suzanna Farizova, ‘Poised to Resist America’, Kommersant, 13 April 2007, 4,
reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 13 April 2007.
Insulate: Shielding Russia from External Democracy Promotion 47

bodies and the course of elections’. Later, the executive director of the Solidarity
Center (a labor organization founded by the AFL–CIO and financed by the US
Agency for International Development) had her visa revoked, allegedly because
of the group’s role in organizing labor unions in Russia. The Rose Revolution
in November 2003 accelerated this process and the Kremlin took a more public
stance against these organizations.
In his annual address before the Russian Duma in May 2004, Putin launched
into a scathing attack on foreign and domestic NGOs, claiming that ‘far from
all of them are geared towards defending people’s real interests’. Instead, the
‘priority’ for some was to obtain ‘funding from influential foreign or domestic
foundations’, serving their interests and not those of the Russian people. After
the Orange Revolution, an even harder line was taken against foreign NGOs. For
example, during a July 2005 meeting with human rights activists and experts in
the Kremlin (ostensibly aimed at strengthening civil society), Putin declared that
his administration would work against the financing of political activities from
abroad because, he implied, organizations which take foreign money are the de
facto agents of foreign powers: ‘We understand that you dance with the one who
brought you’.
In November 2005, the government introduced a bill severely limiting the
ability of NGOs to function on Russian soil. As introduced, the law required NGOs
to register as separate Russian entities, subject to strict financial and legal controls,
especially over unspecified ‘political activities’. Under the bill’s provisions, it was
virtually impossible for NGOs with substantial ties to organizations outside of
Russia (e.g. local branches of international NGOs) to operate. Moreover, a federal
agency was to be established to ensure that they act in strict adherence to their stated
(and government-approved) goals. Putin strongly backed the bill, declaring that
‘political activity in Russia must be transparent to the utmost’ because the foreign
funding of Russian NGOs ‘are, in essence, used as foreign policy instruments by
other states’.10
The association of foreign-backed NGOs with external threats was highlighted
by other officials who accused these organizations of being fronts for foreign

Sharon LaFraniere, ‘Anti-Western Sentiment Grows in Russia’, Washington

Post, 19 January 2003, 24. Also see Sergei Stokan and Leonid Gankin, ‘Russia Expels
US Volunteers’, Kommersant, 14 August 2002, 5, reproduced in What the Papers Say, 16
August 2002.
Natalia Yefimova, ‘Russia Turns Away US Labor Activist’, Moscow Times, 9
January 2003.
  RTR Russia TV (Moscow), 26 May 2004, reproduced as ‘Full Text of Putin’s State
of the Nation Address to Russian Parliament’, in BBC Monitoring International Reports
[BBCMIR], 26 May 2004.
 ����������������������������������������� ����������� Vedomosti, 21 July 2005, A1,
Anfisa Voronina et al., ‘Don’t Invest in Politics’,
reproduced in Russian Press Digest, 21 July 2005.
Anatoly Medetsky, ‘Putin Stands By Tough NGO Bill’, Moscow Times, 25
10 ����������������������������������������������������
November 2005.
48 Authoritarian Backlash

intelligence agencies. Sergei Lebedev, the director of the Foreign Intelligence

Service (SVR), claimed that the government had ‘data’ of NGOs spying on the
Russian government and organizing anti-Russian activities.11 Valery Galchenko,
the bill’s co-author and Putin ally, claimed that foreign NGOs sought ‘the gradual
destruction of Russia’s state structure’ and that pro-democracy organizations
like the Soros Foundation were ‘the greatest threat to our society’.12 The Deputy
Director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Viktor Komogorov, identified
other American-financed NGOs as intent on illicitly ‘influencing public opinion’
and promoting the ‘transformation of the state system of Russia and establishing
of control over Russian information space’.13 In addition, the Kremlin accused
the NGOs as being responsible for the negative perceptions of the Putin regime
abroad, in terms of both the shift toward authoritarianism and Russia’s more
aggressive foreign policy.14
The West, led by the United States, called upon the Russian government not to
pass the bill, stating that it would unduly restrict civil society.15 Many Russian pro-
democracy, pro-human rights NGOs strongly criticized the bill as well.16 Vladimir
Ryzhkov, one of the few liberals remaining in the Russian Duma, claimed that
the Kremlin’s ‘orange paranoia’ was behind its campaign against foreign NGOs.
Although Russian officials rejected these criticisms, they nonetheless offered
amendments to the legislation in order to calm concerns. Many observers, however,
argued that these measures were merely cosmetic and that the intent of the bill—to
constrain NGOs—remained unchanged.17

11  Rossiyakaya Gazeta, 8 December 2005, reproduced as ‘Draft Law on NGOs to

Protect Russia, Says Foreign Intelligence Chief’, in BBCMIR, 10 December 2005.
Suzanna Farizova, ‘They’re Destroying Our Citizens from Within’, Kommersant–
12 �����������������������������������������������������������������
Vlast, 28 November 2005, 40, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part A), 5 December
Natalia Kostenko, ‘FSB Disclosed US Agents’, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 2 December
13 ���������������������������������������������
2005, 2, reproduced in Defense and Security, 5 December 2005.
See Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Yakovenko in Interfax, 1
14 �����������������������������������������������������������
December 2005, reproduced as ‘Russia Accuses Foreign-Funded NGOs of Distorting Its
Policies’, BBC Worldwide Monitoring [BBCWM], 1 December 2005 and Foreign Minister
Sergei Lavrov in ‘Putin Promises Amendments to NGO Bill but Defends Controversial
Measure’, Associated Press, 5 December 2005.
15 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
See Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s statement in Mara D. Bellaby, ‘Rice
Expresses Concern Over Restrictive Draft Russian Legislation on NGOs’, Associated
Press, 7 December 2005. The US House of Representative’s 15 December 2005 non-
binding resolution calling upon the Russian Duma not to pass the law (House Concurrent
Resolution 312).
16 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
See comments by Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group,
in Interfax, 13 December 2005, reproduced as ‘Russian Human Rights Activist Believes
NGO Bill “Conceptually Wrong”’, in BBCWM, 13 December 2005.
17 ����������������������������������������������������������������������
Marina Lapenkova, ‘Putin “Pretending” to Heed Western Concerns on NGO
Bill: Analysts’, Agence France Presse, 7 December 2005; Nabi Abdullaev, ‘NGOs Say
Insulate: Shielding Russia from External Democracy Promotion 49

The final bill passed by the Duma in December 2005 and signed by Putin in
January 2006 remains ambiguous and could easily be used to hamper any NGO
that opposed the Kremlin. The INDEM Foundation, a pro-democracy Russian
NGO, asserted that it ‘could have a chilling effect on the civil society sector’ in
Russia (Machleder 2006: 4). In a report written by the International Center for
Not-for-Profit Law (2006), analysts concluded that the NGO law had the potential
to severely limit the role of civil society in Russia. For example, the law denies
local registration to NGOs if their ‘goals and objectives … create a threat to the
sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity, national unity, unique
character, cultural heritage and national interests of the Russian Federation’. While
the first three provisions are standard restrictions on any type of organization
in democratic countries, the last four are very subjective and could be used by
Russian authorities to ban virtually any group whose activities raise concerns
about Russia’s political system or human rights record. Moreover, the standard
for denying registration is not outlined in the law and the regulating agency does
not have to provide reasons for its decisions. The regulating agency also has the
ability to evaluate whether the organization’s activities are in line with its stated
goals and oversee both its funding and expenditures. This is done through an
annual review of the organization’s resolutions and financial statements, as well as
unfettered access by government representatives to all of the organization’s events
and meetings. Again, some of these provisions exist in democratic countries, but
the Russian NGO law provides neither substantive standards for determining
whether or not an organization is in compliance with its stated goals nor any
adequate legal protections for organizations accused of malfeasance. However, the
greatest restrictions on Russian NGOs involve membership. Only individuals who
are ‘legally domiciled in the Russian Federation’ may create, participate, or be a
member of a Russian NGO. This would seemingly exclude international NGOs
from providing advice or aid to their local branches. More troubling, even those
foreigners who live in the Russian Federation can be excluded if they are deemed
‘undesirable’—no standard is given for what characteristics or activities would
make an individual ‘undesirable’. Finally, the tremendous amount of paperwork
required of NGOs under this law (including detailed accounts of all of their
activities, meetings, funding, membership, etc.) would significantly increase their
costs of operation and have likely opened them up to technical violations of the
NGO laws, thus leading to their liquidation. When taken together, these provisions
severely restrict the ability of NGOs to operate effectively.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that the NGO bill was firmly
in line with international law and comparable regulations in Western democratic
states.18 This assertion was rejected by the INDEM Foundation, which analyzed
the Russian law and those of the specific cases Lavrov cited (France and the

Amendments Won’t Help’, Moscow Times, 21 December 2005.

18 ����������
‘Russia’s Public
Chamber to Press for Changes in Law on NGOs’, TASS, 18
January 2006.
50 Authoritarian Backlash

United States).19 Lavrov also claimed that the Council of Europe had approved
the law, but this too was disputed by its Secretary-General who commented
that ‘excessive powers of supervision remain an area of concern’ and that some
portions of the law may contradict the European Convention on Human Rights.20
This was consistent with the decision by the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly,
which had earlier declared that the law did not meet European norms.21 Because
of the many ambiguities in the law, and the sizeable amount of discretion it leaves
to the authorities, the application of the law would reveal the degree to which the
Kremlin was seeking to use it to handicap civil society. The initial signs were
Less than two weeks after the law was formally promulgated, the Kremlin
accused four British embassy employees of spying and linked these individuals
to pro-democracy NGOs.22 According to the Russian government, the Britons had
placed an electronic device inside of a fake rock in a square in central Moscow
and used it to communicate with their local agents. The truth of these allegations
cannot be fully determined because Moscow had one story and London another.
However, if true, this unveiling came at an extremely convenient time for the
Kremlin and the level of coincidence here is quite high. Nevertheless, the Russian
government quickly took advantage of the ‘spy scandal’ to justify its new law and
to attack the legitimacy of liberal NGOs.23 Russian television was not surprisingly
divided, with the Kremlin-controlled stations echoing the government’s allegations
and the remaining private ones accusing the government of inventing the scandal
as a pretext to crackdown on NGOs.24 Scepticism regarding the Kremlin’s story
was seconded by liberal Duma members and rights groups.25 The allegations of
opposition forces were strengthened by the fact that the alleged spies were not
expelled from the country, which is normally the case in events such as this.26

19 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������
Josh Machleder, ‘Contextual and Legislative Analysis of the Russian Law on
NGOs’, 27–31.
‘Russia Says it Is Listening to Council of Europe on NGO Law’, Associated Press,
20 ���������������������������������������������������������������
3 March 2006.
Carl Schreck, ‘Putin: Spy Flap Justifies NGO Law’, Moscow Times, 26 January
21 ���������������������������������������������������
22 �����
Nick Paton Walsh, ‘Moscow Names British “Spies” in NGO Row’, Guardian, 23
January 2006, 22.
23 ������������������������������
See the statement by Vladimir Putin
in ‘Putin Condemns Attempts of Foreign Spy
Services to Harness NGOs’, TASS, 25 January 2006.
24 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������
Stephen Ennis, ‘Russian TV Channels Differ on NGO Role in UK Spy Scandal’,
BBCWM, 1 February 2006.
25  Ren TV, 24 January 2006, reproduced as ‘Russian MPs Differ on Foreign Aid to
NGOs, Say Spy Story “Provocation”’, in BBCWM, 24 January 2006; Steve Gutterman,
‘Russian Rights Groups Denounce Efforts to Link Alleged Western Spying to NGOs’,
Associated Press, 27 January 2006.
Mikhail Zygar et al., ‘A Voice From Behind the Rock’, Kommersant, 24 January
26 ������������������������������������������������������
2006, 1, 9, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 24 January 2006.
Insulate: Shielding Russia from External Democracy Promotion 51

Less than a week after the spy accusations, one of the first foreign NGOs
was closed by the government: the Russian Human Rights Research Center, an
umbrella organization which supports other human rights and democracy NGOs,
including the Moscow Helsinki Group and Soldiers’ Mothers.27 This began a
pattern in which numerous liberal NGOs were either suspended, banned outright,
or not allowed to register for various reasons over the remainder of the year.28 It
is perhaps telling which groups were targeted in the first applications of the law:
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the National Democratic Institute,
and the International Republican Institute.29 After intense, diplomatic pressure
from European governments and the United States, most of these NGOs were
allowed to resume operations.30 The fact that the Kremlin would immediately
suspend those organizations which promote human rights and democracy was
indicative of the government’s priorities and interests.
In addition to working against liberal NGOs, the Kremlin has also sought
to weaken their influence by supporting government-friendly organizations and
bodies. For example, the Russian Foreign Ministry pushed domestic NGOs to be
more active in the international arena, promoting a positive image of the political
situation in Russia and counteracting the message that Russia is moving closer to
autocracy.31 In addition, following the Beslan terrorist massacre, Putin called for
the government to create a public forum which would analyze state decisions and

27 �������
Jeremy Page, ‘Russia Orders First Closure of NGO’, The Times (London), 28
January 2006, 49; Nick Paton Walsh, ‘Moscow Asks Court to Close Civil Rights Group’,
The Guardian, 28 January 2006, 17. In a rare move, a Moscow court defied the government
and refused to allow the organization to be shut down. ‘Moscow Court Rejects Official
Request to Close Human Rights Umbrella Group’, Associated Press, 10 April 2006.
28 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
The data differ quite wildly on the actual numbers of NGOs which were prevented
from functioning. This may be a reflection of timing, the level of severity (outright closure
versus suspension), or the categorization of groups as either ‘foreign’ or ‘domestic’. Those
focusing on human rights in Chechnya were especially hard hit. See Nick Patton Walsh,
‘Russia Rejects 40 Foreign NGOs’, The Guardian, 30 June 2006, 24; Henry Meyer, ‘Russia
Forces at Least 95 Foreign NGOs to Suspend Activities’, Associated Press, 19 October
2006; Tony Halpin, ‘Kremlin Curbs Hit Rights Groups’, The Times (London), 19 October
2006, 46.
29 �����������������������
C.J. Chivers, ‘Kremlin Puts
Foreign Private Organizations on Notice’, New York
Times, 20 October 2006, A8.
30 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who took a strong position on the NGO law
and its implementation, credited international pressure for a partial reversal by the Kremlin.
‘Media Roundtable with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Travel Pool’, Federal
News Service, 30 November 2006. Also see Stephen Castle, ‘EU Prepares for Showdown
with Putin After Civil Liberties Restricted’, The Independent, 19 October 2006, 26.
31  ITAR–TASS, 20 July 2006, reproduced as ‘Foreign Ministry Wants Russian NGOs
to be More Active in UN’, in BBCWM, 20 July 2006; ‘Russian FM Urges NGOs to Defend
Nation’s Image Abroad’, Agence France Presse, 7 February 2007.
52 Authoritarian Backlash

draft legislation, as well as to serve as the principle representative of civil society.32

This was established in April 2005 as the Public Chamber. Even before it was
created, Kremlin opponents were extremely critical, arguing that it would amount
to little more than a ‘presidential chamber’ designed to silence independent NGOs:
since the Public Chamber would have the aura of official legitimacy to speak on
behalf of civil society, its existence would, in effect, undermine the legitimacy of
alternative voices which might criticize the Kremlin.33 Putin’s early choices for
the chamber included many Kremlin loyalists, including some involved in Putin’s
political party, United Russia.34 Opposition NGOs, including the Helsinki Group,
refused to take part, fearing that their independence would be compromised.35
However, these fears were not fully realized, as the Public Chamber has been
willing to oppose the government on several issues, including the NGO bill itself.36
At least one member has openly criticized steps the government has taken to control
the mass media.37 Even some Kremlin opponents have grudgingly expressed that
the Chamber was more independent than initially thought.38 Nevertheless, the
Public Chamber has had the very real effect of weakening opposition NGOs. It
has assumed a greater role in the society by monopolizing media coverage because
of its special status. It has also directly challenged some opposition NGOs at the
local level and expanded into a number of new ‘branch’ chambers to dominate
discussions over security and law enforcement.39
In response to the Kremlin’s push against NGOs, the United States launched
a counteroffensive designed to aid them. At the December 2006 commemoration
of Human Rights Day, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked about the
consequences of the global crackdown against liberal NGOs and pledged her

32  RTR Russia TV, 13 September 2004, reproduced as ‘Russia’s Rulers and Public
Must Unite Against Terrorism—Putin’, in BBCWM, 13 September 2004.
Anna Nikolayeva and Boris Grozovsky, ‘Kremlin’s Chamber’, Vedomosti, 24
33 ����������������������������������������������������������
September 2004, A2, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 24 September 2004;
‘Public Chamber Left Toothless’, Moscow Times, 21 February 2005.
34 �������������������������
Anatoly Medetsky, ‘Putin �������������������� Public Chamber’, Moscow Times,
Picks Loyalists for �����������������
25 August 2005.
35 �������������������������
Viktoria Sokolova, ‘Some Public
Organizations Refuse to Take Part
in Public
Chamber’, TASS, 30 September, 2005.
36 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
Lyudmila Alexandrova, ‘Public Chamber Revolts Against Tighter State Control
of NGOs’, TASS, 17 November 2005; Lyudmila Alexandrova, ‘Russia’s Public Chamber to
Press for Changes in Law on NGOs’, TASS, 18 January 2006.
37  Kommersant, 29 March 2007, reproduced as ‘Public Chamber Notes Crackdown
on Independent Media’, in BBCWM, 29 March 2007.
38  Argumenty i Fakty, 15 January 2007, reproduced as ‘Russian Public Watchdog
Does More Good than Harm’, in BBCWM, 20 January 2007.
39 ����������������������������������������������������������������������
Delphine Thouvenot, ‘Motives of New Kremlin-Backed Rights Group Raise
Eyebrows’, Agence France Presse, 28 August 2006; Irina Nagornykh and Andrei Kozenko,
‘Forming Loyalist Pubic Councils’, Kommersant, 7 August 2006, 1, 4, reproduced in What
the Papers Say (Part B), 7 August 2006.
Insulate: Shielding Russia from External Democracy Promotion 53

country’s support: ‘Whenever NGOs and other human rights defenders are under
siege, freedom and democracy are undermined. The world’s democracies must
push back. We must defend the defenders.’40 To this end, she issued a ten-point
statement concerning Washington’s principles on NGOs and announced some
concrete steps the US would take to aid them. Four months later, the US State
Department issued a human rights report which emphasized the pressures that
NGOs were facing worldwide, but singled out Russia for its NGO policies.41
The reaction by the Russian government to these moves was harsh. Less
than a week after Rice’s December 2006 statement, Nikolai Patrushev, the head
of the FSB, announced a ‘sharp increase’ in the number of foreign spies using
international NGOs as covers in their operations.42 The Russian Duma accused
the US of interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs through its support of NGOs
and called upon the Foreign Ministry to take ‘urgent measures’ to defend the
country’s sovereignty.43 Additional NGOs were closed under dubious charges and
others came under increased pressure.44 Finally, the government’s rhetoric against
foreign NGOs sharpened.45
While one could argue that the anti-democratic intentions of the January 2006
NGO law are exaggerated, it fit firmly into the clear and consistent pattern of the
Kremlin’s moves to tighten control over the Russian political system. This law
was not an aberration in Russia’s political development. It strengthened the state’s
ability to stymie potential opponents by increasing the potential for politically-
motivated application of the law, heightening its surveillance and control over
them, and restricting their ability to acquire funds, expertise, and organizational
capacity from abroad.

40 ����������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Human Rights Day Commemoration’ [Online, United States Department of
State], 14 December 2006. Available at <>,
accessed 11 July 2008.
41 ���������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The US Record 2006’ [Online,
United States Department of State], April 2007. Available at <
organization/80699.pdf>, accessed 11 July 2007.
Simon Saradzhyan, ‘Patrushev Says More Spies Work in NGOs’, Moscow Times,
42 ������������������������������������������������������������
20 December 2006.
Suzanna Farizova, ‘Poised to Resist America’, Kommersant, 13 April 2007, 4,
43 ����������������������������������������������
reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 13 April 2007.
44 ��������������������������
Steve Gutterman, ‘Russian Police
Raid US-Funded Organization Amid Fears of
Western Influence’, Associated Press, 19 April 2007; Andrei Kozenko and Yulia Taratuta,
‘The State Takes Tax Hostages’, Kommersant, 28 April 2007, 3, reproduced in What the
Papers Say (Part B), 28 May 2007; Ekho Moskvy, 12 July 2007, reproduced as ‘Russian
Human Rights Group Registers Sharp Increase in NGO Persecution Cases’, in BBCWM,
12 July 2007.
45 ����
See Putin’s
2007 state of the nation address in which he lashed out at the increasing
‘influx of money from abroad used for direct interference in our internal affairs’. RTR
Rossiya, 26 April 2007, reproduced as ‘Putin Delivers Annual Address to Parliament—Full
Text’, in BBCWM, 27 April 2007.
54 Authoritarian Backlash

Counteracting Scrutiny of Elections

Russia has become more outspoken against the primary election observers for the
continent—the Council of Europe (CoE) and the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—when they have been critical of undemocratic
elections in Russia and other authoritarian states in the former Soviet Union.
Russia has even gone so far as to call into question the core mission of the CoE and
the OSCE to spread and consolidate liberal values in Europe. By undermining the
European election monitoring system, these actions make it easier for authoritarian
governments to falsify elections because they discredit those charged with serving
as an external check on the regime.
For a decade following the 1993 Russian parliamentary elections, European
election monitors had effectively given the Kremlin a pass on several questionable
elections. Rather than identifying and denouncing a process which was increasingly
characterized by the abuse of administrative resources and a significant decline
in political competition, European organizations and governments advanced the
notion that Russia was continuing a steady (albeit slower than desired) transition
to democracy. They feared that external criticism might derail this process.
This effectively ‘semi-legitimised the [fraudulent] practice[s] and encouraged
the development of an electoral culture based on manipulation and fraud in
Russia’.46 This changed with the 2003–2004 Russian election cycle, when these
same organizations refused to publicly endorse the outcome for the first time. In
response, the Kremlin openly began to criticize the election monitors.
After the 2003 Russian parliamentary election, the top OSCE observer noted
that the state-controlled media (which dominates all media in the country) gave an
unfair advantage to United Russia through its extremely positive coverage, with
extremely negative coverage given to its opponents.47 This bias ‘overwhelmingly
distorted’ the electoral results.48 David Atkinson, the head of the observation team
from the CoE’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), seconded this conclusion and
stated that while the elections should be regarded as ‘free’, they were ‘certainly
not fair’.49 Moreover, Atkinson characterized the election as ‘one of regression

46 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������
Sinikukka Saari (2007), ‘From Hidden Resistance to Open Challenge: Russian
Responses to the European Promotion of Free and Fair Elections’, paper presented at the
International Studies Association annual meeting, Chicago, IL, 13.
47 ���������������������������������������������������������������������
Anneli Nerman, ‘OSCE: Media Coverage of Elections Biased in Favor of ���� Pro-
Kremlin Party’, Associated Press, 1 December 2003. For the formal OSCE report on the
election, see ‘Russian Federation Elections to the State Duma: 7 December 2003’ [Online:
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe], 27 January 2004. Available at
<>, accessed 11 July 2008.
48 ���������������������������
‘Russian Election Fails to Pass Democratic Bar: Observers’, Agence France
Presse, 8 December 2003.
Judith Ingram, ‘OSCE Condemns Russia’s Election’, Associated Press, 8
49 ��������������������������������������������������
December 2003.
Insulate: Shielding Russia from External Democracy Promotion 55

in the democratization of this country’.50 Atkinson’s comment that the election

was ‘free’ but ‘not fair’ is a common theme in cases where the vote is conducted
in a technically correct manner (i.e. no blatant ballot stuffing or widespread
falsification of vote tallies), but the entire system itself—from the misuse of the
regime’s entrenched position to provide loyal political forces a significant electoral
edge, to its willingness to inconsistently apply government regulations in order to
hamper the opposition’s ability to organize, to its ability to manipulate the nature
and substance of the political debate through its control of the media—creates an
institutional bias which effectively makes true political competition impossible.
With this level of power, regimes do not have to conduct overt electoral fraud
to win—they can allow a ‘free’ vote in an unfair environment without fear of a
substantive political challenge. Thus, for example, when the head of the Russian
Central Election Commission reported that the vote on the day occurred ‘without
excesses’, he was being technically correct, but disingenuous.51
Many of the same criticisms were also leveled against the Russian government
after the 2004 presidential election, which saw Putin reelected by well over a
fifty-point margin. Both the OSCE and PACE argued that the elections did not
meet European standards of competitiveness or pluralism, despite being well-
administered. Again, the problem was the Kremlin’s use of its institutional power
and media control to ensure a huge victory.52 What is interesting is that Putin
would likely have won the election handily, but the culture of electoral fraud was
so entrenched in the Russian political system that the government felt the need to
manipulate the outcome anyway.
The Kremlin responded to foreign criticisms of the 2003–2004 electoral
cycle in three ways. The regime at first simply ignored the outside observers
and asserted that its democratic process was firmly in line with international

50 �����
51 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
Catherine Belton and Timur Aliev, ‘Complaints of Fraud and Ballot Stuffing’,
Moscow Times, 8 December 2003. A similar situation occurred after the 2006 Belarusian
elections, which the OSCE called ‘calm and peaceful’, but fundamentally flawed. The
Russian Foreign Ministry sought to discredit the OSCE’s conclusions by arguing that its
statement was contradictory. However, this was simply not the case: the absence of chaos
does not mean that an ‘election’ is valid. Other so-called elections within authoritarian
or even totalitarian contexts (the Soviet Union, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, etc.) were
also held without disruptions, but were by no means legitimate. ‘Russia Accuses OSCE of
“Taking Sides” in Belarus Vote’, Agence France Presse, 21 March 2006.
52 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
There were some questions, too, about false registration, ballot stuffing, and tally
manipulation. However, these likely would not have altered the ultimate result and were
minor compared to the overall, uncompetitive environment within which the elections
were conducted. Dmitry Vinitsky, ‘Views of Foreign Monitors on Russian Presidential
Elections’, TASS, 15 March 2004; Steve Gutterman, ‘European Observers Criticize Russian
Presidential Election’, Associated Press, 15 March 2004.
56 Authoritarian Backlash

democratic standards.53 The Foreign Ministry also sought to turn the criticism
around by pointing out election problems in the established democracies.54 Lastly,
election observers from the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent
States (CIS) pronounced the elections ‘free, democratic, and fair’.55
This last response was an innovate means to counter external democracy
promotion: establishing an alternative system of election monitoring in line with
the interest of legitimizing fraudulent elections. Beginning in October 2002,
the CIS constructed its own election monitoring system designed to provide an
‘independent’ analysis of elections in the former Soviet Union. In reality, this
institution became another tool to undermine the legitimacy of the European election
observers and has been strongly criticized for conclusions which have differed
markedly from those of the established monitoring organizations. As one analysis
put it: ‘This practice, seen by some as nothing more than a KGB disinformation
operation left over from Soviet times, consists of groups of trusted CIS employees
from the secretariat in Minsk who roam the CIS to observe elections and invariably
announce that they were transparent, fair, and democratic—providing that the
more pro-Kremlin candidate wins’ (Kupchinsky 2005). Bruce George, the head of
several OSCE observer missions in the region (including the 2003–2004 Russian
election cycle and Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election) put it more bluntly on two
occasions: ‘They haven’t ever seen a good election and wouldn’t know one if it hit
them in the face’56 and ‘In my view their methodology is simple. Be really nice to
your friends’.57 Even Yuri Yarov, the head of the CIS observer mission during the
2004 Russian presidential election, seemed to admit that the interests of his team
and those of the European monitors were different: the two sides ‘will, [of] course,
be motivated differently to some extent’.58
Critical views of the CIS monitors seemed to be borne out in their clear
divergence from nearly all outside observers in cases such as Russia (2003,
2004), Belarus (2004, 2006), Uzbekistan (2005), Tajikistan (2005), Moldova
(2005), Kyrgyzstan (2005), Kazakhstan (2005), and others. It was the contested
presidential election in Ukraine (October 2004–January 2005), however, that saw
a sharp break between Russian/CIS views of the European election monitoring
system and those of the Western, democratic powers.

53 ����������������������
See the statements by Putin
in Mary Dejevsky, ‘Putin Accused of Using State
Power to Distort Poll’, The Independent (London), 9 December 2003; Henry Meyer, ‘Pro-
Putin Parties Triumph in Russia but Observers Blast Election as Unfair’, Agence France
Presse, 9 December 2003.
54 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
This fits closely with the strategy of Redefine in Chapter 5. ‘Moscow to Washington:
Don’t Lecture Us on How to Live Our Lives’, What the Papers Say (Part B), 10 December
55 ��������������������������������������
‘CIS, OSCE Observers’ Conclusions May Partially Differ’, TASS, 15 March 2004.
56 �����
C.J. Chivers, ‘Russia Challenges Election Monitoring’, International Herald
57 �������������������������������������������������������
Tribune, 15 December 2005, 2.
58 �������������������������������������� Partially Differ’, TASS, 15 March 2004.
‘CIS, OSCE Observers’ Conclusions May �������������������
Insulate: Shielding Russia from External Democracy Promotion 57

A week before the first round of voting, the Ukrainian Central Electoral
Commission had registered well over two thousand election monitors, nearly all
of them from Western countries; by contrast, only 25 observers were sent from
Russia.59 Immediately after the runoff election on 21 November, observers from
the US and the OSCE identified a widespread program of electoral fraud conducted
by the government in order to ensure the election of President Leonid Kuchma’s
chosen successor, the pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.60 By
contrast, the head of the Russian mission, Vladimir Rushailo, called the election
‘transparent, legitimate, and free’.61 Putin sharply dismissed the Western criticism
as ‘inadmissable’ prior to the release of the final results, and snapped that the
outside monitors ‘should be more careful and responsible’ and that Ukraine ‘doesn’t
need to be lectured’.62 Nevertheless, Putin himself called Yanukovych before
the final results were announced to congratulate him on his ‘victory’. Russia’s
Foreign Ministry also endorsed the conclusions of its observers and condemned
the Western ones in a manner similar to previous elections.63 An inversion of these
comments were made after the rerun second round which resulted in the victory
of the pro-West Victor Yushchenko: the West supported the result of this far more
democratic round of voting, while Russia and its election monitors criticized it.64
Given the importance both sides placed on the outcome of the election and the
growing fear that the ‘Orange Revolution’ might spread to Russia itself, the result
of the Ukrainian presidential election fundamentally altered how the Kremlin

59 ���������������������������������������������������������������������
Mikhail Melnik, ‘The West Sends Lots of Observers to Monitor Ukraine Pres �����
Polls’, TASS, 21 October 2004; Timur Prokopenko, ‘Russia to Send 25 Observers to
Ukrainian Presidential Elections’, TASS, 27 October 2004.
Simon Saradzhyan, ‘Observers See “Dead Souls” and Other Fraud’, Moscow
60 ����������������������������������������������������������������
Times, 23 November 2004.
61 ���������������������������������������������������
Askold Krushelnychy, ‘Ukrainians Throng Streets to Protest
Against Election Fix’,
The Independent (London), 23 November 2004, 2.
62 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Joana Mateus, ‘Putin: Criticism of Ukraine Vote Inadmissible Without Official
Results’, Associated Press, 23 November 2004.
63  ITAR–TASS, 23 November 2004, reproduced as ‘Russian Foreign Ministry Says
Elections in Ukraine “Legitimate”’, in BBCWM, 23 November 2004.
64 ��������
‘Russia Questions OSCE Monitoring of Ukraine Vote’, Agence France Presse, 28
December 2004; ‘CIS Observers Register Many Violations in Ukrainian Elections’, TASS,
26 December 2004. The latter article refers to an organization called the CIS–EMO, which
purports to be an independent nongovernmental organization created to be an independent
voice in European election monitoring. However, there are some questions as to whether
it is truly independent or was created as a cover for the CIS’s own election monitoring
system. As one analysis put it: ‘The reasons for the founding of this group are unclear. One
possible explanation is that after so many discrepancies between CIS monitors’ conclusions
and those arrived at by OSCE election observers, a “neutral” NGO was needed to lend
legitimacy to the official CIS reports and to thereby reinforce Russian policy goals. A
certain amount of confusion resulted from the fact that this NGO had a very similar name
to the official CIS monitors, and that its reports were almost carbon copies of those filed by
the official CIS monitors’ (Kupchinsky 2005).
58 Authoritarian Backlash

perceived external democracy promotion in the region: the election monitoring

itself was seen as a central threat to the (authoritarian) status quo. Consequently,
the Russian government added a new level to this debate by calling into question
the very legitimacy of the European elections monitoring regime itself.
This process actually began several months before the Ukrainian elections in
a letter released by Russia and eight other CIS member states65 at a session of the
OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna in July 2004. The letter criticized the OSCE
for focusing too much on human rights, failing to respect their sovereignty and the
principle of non-interference in internal affairs, and applying ‘double standards
and selective approaches’ in its treatment of former Soviet republics.66 Each of
these complaints can be best understood in the context of resisting democracy
promotion, and they intensified after the Orange Revolution.
The OSCE’s emphasis on advancing democratization comes from its
commitment to human rights and the belief that ‘effective political democracy’
is the best way to maintain fundamental human rights.67 Those states which
claim to be democratic, but whose claims cannot withstand external scrutiny, are
obviously going to be against those procedures which promote human rights and
investigate abuses. It is therefore not surprising that such regimes will attempt to
shift the organization’s attention away from these issues and onto something more
palatable, such as security or economics. In early December 2004, on the eve of
a meeting of the OSCE’s Council of Foreign Ministers, Lavrov urged ‘reform’
of the OSCE along this course in order to ‘enhance the OSCE[’s] relevance’
and prevent ‘the emergence of new dividing lines in Europe’.68 Of course, by
effectively taking human rights and democracy off the table, the Kremlin sought
to make the organization more relevant to its interest in undermining the ability
of others to put pressure on Russia for its steady shift away from democracy. The
move was also meant to place the West on the defensive by accusing them of
resuscitating the divisions of the past by criticizing the political systems of Russia
and its allies. Thus, the Russian government sought to ensure that post-2004
election monitoring was conducted in a way that produced a ‘synergy of election

65 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine,
and Uzbekistan.
66 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
For the full statement, see: ‘Statement by CIS Member Countries on the State
of Affairs in the OSCE’, [Online: President of Russia] 3 July 2004. Available at <www.>, accessed 11 July 2008. For analysis of
this statement, see Tomiuc 2004 and Fuller 2004.
67 ������������������������������������������������
This quote is from the 1950 ‘Convention for the Protection
of Human Rights and
Fundamental Freedoms’, established under the auspices of the Council of Europe [Online:
Council of Europe]. Available at <>,
accessed 11 July 2008. Nevertheless, this sentiment is widespread in OSCE documents as
68 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������
Jean-Michel Stoulig, ‘East-West Tensions Over Ukraine Set to Dominate OSCE
Meeting’, Agence France Presse, 5 December 2004.
Insulate: Shielding Russia from External Democracy Promotion 59

monitorings’69 and ‘equal criteria in monitoring the vote’.70 Since consensus would
likely prove impossible, this proposal meant that, unless the two sides could agree
on their conclusions regarding any particular election, the West’s findings would
be deemed biased, illegitimate, and divisive.
This issue was so important to the Kremlin that Russia sought to block the
OSCE’s budget and withhold dues to the organization unless it changed its focus.
As explained by Aleksey Borodavkin, the Russian permanent representative to
the OSCE: ‘If the parties expect us to pay a large amount into the OSCE budget
then Russia’s interests and concerns should also be taken into consideration’.71
This move led the EU to observe the growing division between democratic and
nondemocratic regimes on the continent: ‘What is happening today in the OSCE
cannot be seen as an isolated issue. At the heart of the present crisis lies a more
fundamental “values gap”. Russia’s main problem with the OSCE concerns those
things we most value in it: its monitoring of democracy and human rights’.72
Russia and the other signatories of the July 2004 letter to the OSCE also argued
that the organization did not observe such ‘fundamental … principles … as non-
intervention in internal affairs and respect for the sovereignty of nations’ and
complained that the OSCE was supposed to simply provide ‘aid and assistance
to the authorities of the receiving countries’, rather than commenting on their
political systems.73 This phrasing should not be surprising since the signatories
of the July 2004 document had questionable democratic credentials at the time.74
Emphasizing sovereignty is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes which argue
that no outside power has the right to criticize how they organize their country
politically; any such condemnation is seen as a violation of their sovereign rights
and akin to neocolonialism. OSCE officials countered these claims by asserting
that by joining the OSCE and ratifying its founding documents, these countries
agreed to certain democratic and human rights standards. Rather than a violation

‘Russia Urges OSCE to Reform Way of Observing Elections’, Agence France

69 ����������������������������������������������������������
Presse, 1 February 2005.
70 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
Ali H. Zerdin, ‘Russian Foreign Minister: OSCE Should Redefine Election
Monitoring Rules’, Associated Press, 5 December 2005.
71 ����������������������
Judy Dempsey, ‘Russia Puts����� Pressure on OSCE Vote Monitors’, International
Herald Tribune, 29 March 2005, 1.
72 �����
73 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Statement by CIS Member Countries on the State of Affairs in the OSCE’.
74 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Of the signatory states, none were rated ‘free’ by Freedom House. Their average
score at the time on Political Rights was 5.5/7 and 4.8/7 on Civil Liberties, with a score of 1
being the most free and 7 being not free. Six of the nine were rated ‘not free’. Moldova, the
most ‘free’ state on the list (and even then, only rated ‘partly free’) reportedly signed only
because it wanted the OSCE to deal more with territorial issues, such as its Transdniester
60 Authoritarian Backlash

of their sovereignty, the election monitoring system is a means to ensure that these
states are following through on their international commitments.75
The third criticism of the European election monitoring system has been its
supposed penchant for ‘double standards’, a phrase that has been used by various
Russian policymakers to accuse the West of being biased, prejudiced, or in some
way partial.76 While no one can deny that all states act in line with their interests
and preconceptions, this type of rhetoric is largely an attempt to obfuscate the
nature of the debate over democracy in the former Soviet Union by placing the
West on the defensive. Following the Orange Revolution, a rote pattern formed
in which Russia inevitably responded to consistent Western complaints about the
freeness or fairness of votes with accusations of hypocrisy. The 2006 presidential
vote in Belarus was a clear example of this dynamic: ‘elections’ were held, the
CIS and Russian observers immediately said they were free and fair, the Western
monitors disagreed, and the Kremlin accused the West of double standards.77
The differing conclusions on particular elections allowed Russia to discredit the
external observers’ findings by fostering a seemingly unwinnable ‘he-said, she-
said’ debate.
Finally, after the Orange Revolution, the Kremlin added another charge to
their criticisms of the European election monitoring system: it causes instability.
By exposing the rampant electoral fraud committed by the Kuchma regime,
the OSCE and others were seen as giving legitimacy to regime opponents and
triggering a rerun of the second round of the presidential election. Correctly or
not, many Russian policymakers appeared to believe that the election observers
themselves were instrumental in precipitating the Orange Revolution.78 Election
monitors were also blamed, in part, for the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan.79 As

75 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
See the statement by Bruce George in Susanna Loof, ‘Russia Lashes Out at OSCE
Election Monitoring’, Associated Press, 21 April 2005.
76 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
See Aleksey Borodavkin in Jean-Michel Stoulig, ‘East-West Tensions Over
Ukraine Set to Dominate OSCE Meeting’, Agence France Presse, 5 December 2004 and
ITAR-TASS, 5 December 2004, reproduced as ‘Russian Diploma Criticizes OSCE Election
Monitoring, Double Standards’, in BBCWM, 5 December 2004. Also, Vladimir Putin in
‘Vote Monitors Deploy in Ukraine, Putin Sees “Double Standards”’, Agence France Presse,
23 December 2004 and Sergei Lavrov in Ali H. Zerdin, ‘Russia Demands Thorough Reform
of OSCE at the Meeting of Foreign Ministers’, Associated Press, 5 December 2005.
‘Russia Denounces OSCE Election-Monitoring Work in Belarus’, Associated
77 �������������������������������������������������������������
Press, 22 February 2006; Belarusian Television (Minsk), 20 March 2006, reproduced as
‘CIS Observers Praise Belarus Poll’, in BBCWM, 20 March 2006.
78 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its ‘puzzlement’ and concern over the
way in which the ‘radical’ opposition in Ukraine was ‘not only supported but encouraged by
representatives of some foreign states, including those overseas, and international agencies’.
ITAR–TASS, 23 November 2004, reproduced as ‘Russian Foreign Ministry Says Elections
in Ukraine “Legitimate”’, in BBCWM, 23 November 2004.
79 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Russia Says OSCE Election Report Contributed to Uprising in Kyrgyzstan’,
Agence France Presse, 25 March 2005.
Insulate: Shielding Russia from External Democracy Promotion 61

a result, election monitoring itself came to be seen as a direct threat to stability in

the former Soviet Union—and by ‘stability’, it meant the political (authoritarian)
status quo. Statements to this effect were made repeatedly from 2005 onward
by government and government-aligned politicians.80 This position was well
summarized by Markov: ‘The techniques for engineering “color revolutions”
focus on the legitimacy of elections. They aim to demonstrate that the electoral
process is invalid, and seize power. It seems likely that there will be attempts to
apply these “Orange techniques” to the Russian electoral process in 2007–08’.81
It is important to remember that Markov also clearly described the threat that
foreign NGOs represent. When taken together, these statements are indicative of
the Kremlin’s fears and the belief that it needed to take proactive steps to protect
itself from external democracy promotion.
The third, equally crucial component of the color revolutions was the political
activism of young people, who led the charge in street demonstrations against these
regimes. In order to counteract this threat, the Russian government also sought to
co-opt the youth of Russia through the creation and support of alternative, pro-
Kremlin organizations.

Constructing Putin’s Youth

Immediately after the Orange Revolution, Russian opposition youth movements

began mobilizing with the aim of replicating prior successes against the
authoritarian Putin regime.82 For example, a group called ‘Marching Without
Putin’ was established to counter a pro-Putin youth movement called ‘Marching
Together’.83 The youth wing of the liberal party Yabloko also sought to raise its
profile and build alliances with other opposition youth groups.84 During anti-
government rallies by pensioners in January 2005, some youth groups mobilized
to support this expression of discontent. These protests were the largest anti-

80 ���������������������������������������������������������������������
Susanna Loof, ‘OSCE Must Change Election Monitoring Methods, Russian
Envoy Says’, Associated Press, 1 July 2005. Also see comments by United Russia member
and Deputy Speaker of the Russian Duma, Vladimir Pekhtin, in Tajik Television First
Channel (Dushanbe), 6 November 2006, reproduced as ‘Russian Deputy Speaker Raps
OSCE ‘Double Standards’ in Tajik Polls’, in BBCWM, 6 November 2006 and Interfax
News Agency, 16 August 2007, reproduced as ‘Russian MPs Setting Off for Kazakhstan to
Monitor Election’, in BBCWM, 16 August 2007.
81 ��������������������������� ��������� Izvestia, 20 June 2007, 8, reproduced in What
Sergei Markov, ‘Honesty as Policy’,
the Papers Say (Part A), 21 June 2007.
82 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������
For an overview of anti-Kremlin youth activities, see Michael Schwirtz, ‘Russia’s
Political Youths’, Demokratizatsiya, 15/1 (Winter 2007): 73–85.
83  Ekho Moskvy, 14 January 2005, reproduced as ‘Marching Without Putin Youth
Movement Set Up in Russia’s Second City’, in BBCWM, 14 January 2005.
84 �������������������������������������������������������� �������� Moscow Times,
Francesca Mereu, ‘Youth Groups Says It’s Time to Oppose Putin’,
25 February 2005.
62 Authoritarian Backlash

Kremlin outbursts since Putin took power and, coming so soon after the events in
Ukraine, shook the confidence of the Kremlin—so much so that there were reports
that only young people were arrested in an attempt to undermine these groups.85
Moreover, the event gave a special impetus to the formation of a new, pro-Kremlin
organization intended to co-opt Russia’s young people.
Russian government officials played a critical role in the establishment of
Nashi (Ours), which replaced the pro-Putin youth group Marching Together.86 The
latter organization was problematic and largely discredited because of its obsession
with banning books and ridding Russia of ‘pornography’.87 A new, broad-based
organization was designed to supplant it. Vasily Yakemenko, the head of Marching
Together, became Nashi’s first leader. Although nominally ‘non-partisan’, Nashi
was explicitly pro-Putin and key government officials such as Vladislav Surkov,
the head of the presidential administration and its chief ideologue, and Kremlin-
aligned political figures, like Markov, were its chief architects. Its leaders called it a
spontaneous outpouring of support for the Kremlin by Russia’s patriotic youth, but
was in reality heavily bankrolled by businesses which were either pro-government
or afraid of looking ‘unpatriotic’ (i.e. afraid that they might be punished by the
government) if they refused Nashi’s requests for money.88 Nashi expanded rapidly
and by late 2007 grew to some 100,000 members, holding annual summer camps
to indoctrinate and train members.89 It also held a series of protests against the
supposed ‘enemies’ of Russia, including opposition groups, Great Britain, and
Estonia. Moreover, its members served as de facto election monitors during the
Moscow Duma elections in the fall 2005—this vote was the first major Russian
election since the Orange Revolution and was the first real test of whether the
‘orange virus’ could ‘infect’ Russia.90 Finally, the organization received de
facto official recognition through extensive coverage on government-controlled

85  Ren TV, 19 January 2005, reproduced as ‘Russian Policies Ordered to Round Up
Young Activists at Benefits Rallies—TV’, in BBCWM, 20 January 2005.
86  Ekho Moskvy, 21 February 2005, reproduced as ‘Kremlin Moulding Youth Group
into Political Party—Newspaper’, in BBCWM, 21 February 2005.
Andrew Osborn, ‘Putin Sets Up Youth Group to Stop “Orange Revolution”’, Belfast
87 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
Telegraph, 1 March 2005; Andrew Osborn, ‘Putin Youth Protest at ‘Vulgar Pornography’ on
Show at the Bolshoi’, The Independent (London), 15 March 2005, 23.
88 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������
The quote is from Yakemenko when asked about those who funded Nashi’s 2005
summer camp. Julian Evens, ‘How Putin Youth is Indoctrinated to Foil Revolution’, The
Times (London), 18 July 2005, 28. Also see Ren TV, 10 April 2005, reproduced as ‘Russian
TV Profiles Nashi Youth Movement’, in BBCWM, 11 April 2005.
David Nowak, ‘Youth Groups Train to Fight Revolution’, Moscow Times, 14
89 �������������������������������������������������������
November 2007.
90  Interfax, 4 December 2005, reproduced as ‘Pro-Kremlin Youth Activists Watching
Vote in Moscow’, in BBCWM, 4 December 2005.
Insulate: Shielding Russia from External Democracy Promotion 63

television,91 visits by top Kremlin officials who spoke at its summer camps,92 and
several meetings between its leaders and Putin himself.93
In order to fully understand the logic behind the formation of the Nashi
movement, it is necessary to understand its aims, how it characterizes its enemies,
and how it conceives of itself. All three of these are interconnected and stem from
the perceived need to organize Russia’s young people in defense of the political
status quo. Although the government essentially controlled the main levers of
power in the society—institutions, electoral system, army, media, etc.—it did not
firmly control ‘the streets’, as the pensioners’ protests illustrated. Thus, any viable
opposition to the regime had to come from the streets, in a manner similar to
the prior color revolutions. These protests would most likely be led by young
people who, as in previous cases, were politically motivated, pro-democratic, and
idealistic enough to challenge the government. In effect, whoever controlled the
streets potentially controlled the future of Russia.94 It was therefore imperative
that the government have a strong presence amongst the young in order to co-opt
The leaders of Nashi, its Kremlin supporters, and pro-government elites were
quite explicit about its purpose. Gleb Pavlovsky, a pro-Kremlin political analyst
and head of the Effective Policy Foundation, defined a color revolution as a ‘coup’
inspired from the outside and charged Nashi members with preventing it in Russia:
‘They (the US) have tried it before, and soon they will try it here … Your job is
to defend the constitutional order if and when the coup comes’.95 Surkov was
equally clear when he announced that Nashi’s ‘task’ was ‘to defend Russia’s youth
from the political manipulations of the West’.96 These statements indicated that
the preservation of the Putin regime’s grip on power, in the face of threats inspired
from outside of Russia, was the essential element of Nashi’s existence.
Moreover, Nashi leaders and supporters did more than just imply that violent
methods were the acceptable means to achieve these goals. For example, Pavlovsky
criticized Nashi for not directly confronting the Kremlin’s opponents during

91 ��������������������������������������������������������
‘Russia’s Ren TV Sees Authorities Seeking to Manipulate Political����������������
Movements’, BBCWM, 8 June 2006.
92  Gazeta, 3 October 2005, reproduced as ‘Pro-Kremlin, Oppositionist Political
Movements Surveyed’, in BBCWM, 12 October 2005. Putin also spoke by video link. Vesti,
28 July 2007, reproduced as ‘We Are Part of Same Team, Putin Tells Nashi Activists over
Video Link’, in BBCWM, 28 July 2007.
93  ITAR–TASS, 26 July 2005, reproduced as ‘Russian Agency Details Putin’s
Meeting with Youth Movement Activists’, in BBCWM, 26 July 2005; Ren TV, 18 May
2006, reproduced as ‘Putin Tells Young Russians Army is Vital for Country’, in BBCWM,
18 May 2006.
94 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
This was well explained by the opposing youth group leaders Vasily Yakemenko
and Ilya Yashin in Scott Peterson, ‘New Political Force in Russia: Youths’, Christian
Science Monitor, 16 March 2005, 6.
95 �������������������
Julian Evens, ‘How Putin
Youth is Indoctrinated to Foil Revolution’.
96 �����
64 Authoritarian Backlash

the 2007 ‘Dissenters’ March’ and urged authorities to ‘let them [Nashi] fight’.97
Earlier, during Nashi’s formative period, Yakemenko said in an interview with
Kommersant that the pro-Kremlin youth should ‘make short work of traitors’.98
The use of the word ‘traitors’ in this last statement is quite revealing. Because the
formation of Nashi was a response to regional trends, it is ultimately best defined
by its enemies. For Nashi, the image of a Russia beset by enemies was truly its
defining characteristic.
When describing those groups whom Nashi identifies as enemies, it is first
important to understand that it equates Russia with the Putin regime. Threats to
the latter are seen as threats to the former. To oppose the Kremlin is to oppose the
Motherland. To promote democracy at the expense of the government’s hold on
power is to seek to weaken Russia and possibly cause its disintegration.99 Nashi
ideologue Boris Yakemenko, Vasily Yakemenko’s brother and a member of the
Public Chamber, made this point succinctly: ‘Now is a critical moment. Many
enemies are gathering inside and outside Russia. That is why we should help
Putin’.100 In defining these enemies, two trends emerge, one internal (fascists) and
the other external (the West).
The coalition of domestic groups opposed to the Kremlin is quite diverse. It
ranges from hardcore nationalists and neo-fascists to liberals and human rights
supporters. Nashi’s rhetoric collapses pro-democracy opponents of the Kremlin
with fascists, effectively equating the two. This was made clear in Nashi’s
manifesto, which is distributed in conveniently-carried little red books reminiscent
of communist propaganda: ‘Today beneath our eyes is forming an unnatural union
between liberals and fascists, westernisers and ultra-nationalists, international
foundations and international terrorists. They are joined by one thing—their
hatred of Putin’.101 To aid teachers and parents in identifying this threat, Nashi put

97  Ekho Moskvy, 10 April 2007, reproduced as ‘Pro-Kremlin Youth Leader Ratchets
Up Anti-Opposition Rhetoric’, in BBCWM, 10 April 2007.
Peter Finn, ‘Youth Movement Adopts Spirit of Uprisings Nearby’, Washington
98  ����������������������������������������������������������������
Post, 9 April 2005, A17.
99 �������������������������������������������������������������������������
This is last argument was made by the Vsevolod Chaplin, spokesman of the
patriarch of the Orthodox Church, to Nashi at its 2005 summer camp (co-sponsored by the
Church). This fear resonated well in Russian society given the socioeconomic problems
associated with the 1990s, which many blamed on the importation of Western-style
capitalism and democracy. ‘Youth’s Global Objective, to Make Russia a Global Leader’,
Irish Times, 1 August 2005, 8.
100 �������������������
Julian Evens, ‘How Putin Youth is Indoctrinated to Foil Revolution’, The Times
(London), 18 July 2005, 28. Further quotes in this chapter citing ‘Yakemenko’ refer to
Vasily, not Boris.
101 �����
Nick Paton
Walsh, ‘Russian Youth Group Vows to Name Fascists in Schools’,
Guardian, 27 April 2005, 18.
Insulate: Shielding Russia from External Democracy Promotion 65

together and distributed a handbook outlining this fascist threat and, according to
Yakemenko, their ‘sympathisers among the so-called liberals’.102
The wide ranging, anti-Kremlin umbrella group Other Russia—which is
comprised of pro-democracy activists such as Garry Kasparov, far-right politicians
such as Eduard Limonov, and some far-left communist groups103—is pointed to by
Nashi members as the prime example of this ‘immoral alliance’.104 It is certainly
true that Limonov’s (now banned) National Bolshevik Party is neo-fascist in tone,
programme, and symbolism, but Other Russia itself is not partisan and has very
little in the way of a programme of its own, other than to oppose the Kremlin and
United Russia. Nevertheless, those involved in Other Russia, and even those who
attended its meetings,105 are considered guilty by association. In effect, the liberals
are portrayed as standing under fascist banners.
The use of the term ‘fascist’ to refer to Russia’s enemies is widely used because
it resonates well in Russian society given the centrality of the Great Patriotic War
(World War II) to Soviet and Russian identity. It not only seeks to discredit internal
opponents as traitors, but is also an effective rhetorical tool to promote the sense
of an external threat to Russia. For example, Estonian politicians are frequently
characterized as being Nazis106 and, as tensions increased with the United States
and the West over a variety of issues (including democratization), the Kremlin
began relying more and more on its strategy of equating the supposed threat
from the West with the historic Nazi threat to Russia.107 Nashi has also sought
to exploit this connection. Yakemenko’s speech during a 2005 Nashi-sponsored

102  Channel One TV (Moscow), 11 May 2005, reproduced as ‘Nashi Movement

Presents “Full List” of Fascist Organizations in Russia, Europe’, in BBCWM, 11 May
103 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
Though this does not include the Communist Party of the Russian Federation,
led by former presidential candidate Gennady Zyuganov. Other mainstream left-of-center
parties, such as Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, did not join, largely because of the
National Bolshevik Party’s membership in Other Russia.
Vasily Yakemenko qtd. in Ekho Moskvy, 10 April 2007, reproduced as ‘Pro-
104 �������������������������
Kremlin Youth Leader Ratchets Up Anti-Opposition Rhetoric’, in BBCWM, 10 April 2007.
105 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
An important example of this were the running protests by Nashi against Anthony
Brenton, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Russia, who attended Other Russia’s meeting
in July 2006. They became so aggressive that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
called upon Nashi to stop. Conor Sweeney, ‘Moscow Tries to Quell Protests Against British
Ambassador’, Irish Times, 18 January 2007, 12.
106 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������
The foreign minister of Estonia was shown with a Hitler moustache in a display at
Nashi’s 2007 summer camp. See Chapter 5 for more details on how Estonia is often equated
with Nazi Germany. Tony Halpin, ‘Winning Young Hearts and Minds: Putin’s Strategy for
a New Superpower’, The Times (London), 25 July 2007, 29.
107 ����
See Putin’s
speech during the 2007 Victory Day parade in which he seemingly
equated the United States to Nazi Germany. Also see Markov’s and Pavlovsky’s statements
in the same article. Vladimir Isachenkov, ‘Putin Appears to Draw Parallels Between US and
Nazi Germany Policies’, Associated Press, 10 May 2007.
66 Authoritarian Backlash

Victory Day parade (called ‘Our Victory’) portrayed the battle against external
enemies then and now as one in the same, simply separated by generations: ‘The
veterans fought for Russia’s independence [on] the battlefield. Our generation will
fight for Russia’s independence in classrooms, factories and offices, in business
and economy. What we want to say to the veterans is that wherever we fight, we
shall be worthy of them and we shall never give this country away’.108 This sort
of language, and in fact the very name of the event itself, served as a symbolic
passing of the torch from those who struggled against Nazi Germany to those who
purportedly struggle against the modern day ‘fascists’ both inside and outside of
the country.109
Regime opponents are also portrayed as fifth columnists who wish to trade
Russia’s independence for the importation of Western ideas. The external
promotion of democracy in Russia is seen as a cover for a form of neocolonialism.
As the Nashi manifesto reads, ‘In the post-Soviet space, in the guise of slogans
of democracy and freedom, the West is playing a big geopolitical game, the aim
of which is to push Russia from world politics and introduce foreign management
to Russia’.110 During Nashi’s 2007 summer camp, there were many symbolic
references to this, including a ‘red-light district’ display with paintings of
Kasparov and other leaders of Other Russia dressed ‘as lingerie-clad prostitutes
who sell out their country for US dollars’.111 One entertaining protest included an
activist in a Santa Claus costume holding up a Christmas tree strung with dollar
bills at a press conference by Kasparov, symbolizing the opposition’s supposed
desire for American money.112 By utilizing rhetoric which blends domestic regime
opponents with external threats, fascists, and past enemies, the Kremlin has sought
to delegitimize those opposed to the Kremlin as, at best, little more than naive
puppets of the West, or, at worst, outright traitors. In this view, Putin and like-
minded groups like Nashi are the only ones who support Russia’s true interests.
Nashi is not the only pro-Kremlin youth movement. In fact, in what appears
to be a policy of vertical marketing, there was a proliferation of pro-Kremlin
youth movements for many subsets of Russia’s young people.113 For example,

108  RBK TV (Moscow), 15 May 2005, reproduced as ‘Pro-Kremlin Youth Leader

Pledges to Defend Russia’s Independence’, in BBCWM, 15 May 2005.
109 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Other symbolic actions of this sort included having Nashi members involved in
washing WWII monuments in preparation for Victory Day celebrations. RTR Russia TV,
14 April 2005, reproduced as ‘Pro-Kremlin Youth Movement Gets Reads for Constituent
Conference’, in BBCWM, 14 April 2005.
110  Channel One TV (Moscow), 11 May 2005, reproduced as ‘Nashi Movement
Presents “Full List” of Fascist Organizations in Russia, Europe’, in BBCWM, 11 May
111 �����������������������������������������
Halpin, ‘Winning Young Hearts and Minds: Putin’s
Strategy for a New Superpower’.
112 ����������
‘Kasparov Predicts
Russian Political Crisis Within Months’, Agence France
Presse, 7 July 2007.
113  Ren TV, 3 November 2005, reproduced as ‘Russian TV Looks at “Multiplying”
Pro-Kremlin Youth Movements’, in BBCWM, 4 November 2005.
Insulate: Shielding Russia from External Democracy Promotion 67

pro-Kremlin youths have the option of choosing between Nashi, which represents
a supposedly non-partisan, pro-Putin choice; Mestnyye (Locals), a group created
by the Moscow regional government and which is anti-immigrant in tone; the
Georgiyevtsy (named after St. George, the patron saint of Moscow), which is
affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church and has taken part in protests against
homosexuals and the erosion of morals; Rossiya Molodaya (Young Russia), which
has focused on disrupting Other Russia events and has reportedly created a ‘combat
division’ called the ‘Ultras’ for street fighting against opposition youths; and, the
explicitly partisan Molodaya Gvardiya (Young Guard), United Russia’s youth
wing.114 These groups are not competitors; instead, they have worked together on
many occasions, seeking common cause against opponents of the Kremlin and
those countries seen as threats to Russia. For example, several of these groups
protested against Other Russia’s 2006 and 2007 Dissenters’ March (where an
opposing ‘Consenters’ March’ was held) and blockaded the Estonian embassy
during the Bronze Monument row of 2007. Among these groups, Nashi has the
highest profile, given its extensive coverage on Kremlin-controlled television
and repeated meetings with Putin, followed by the Young Guard because of its
connections to the so-called ‘party of power’.
The Young Guard complements Nashi quite well. Nashi is seen as more of a
social organization, while the Young Guard’s connections to United Russia make
it a more obvious path to power for Russian youth.115 During a rally soon after
the Young Guard was created, one of its celebrity leaders, television anchor Ivan
Demidov, stated that while Nashi is the most prominent youth movement, the
only thing separating the two organizations from achieving their joint goals was
their divergent methods.116 The Young Guard was founded in Fall 2005, several
months after Nashi, as a ‘barrier against fascism’ and ‘fascist youth movements
that seek to destabilize society and win foreign funding’.117 We have already seen
how the Kremlin’s supporters conceptually collapse the pro-democracy and far-
right opposition, but the mention of foreign funding is a clear reference to the

114  Ren TV, 19 March 2007, reproduced as ‘Russia’s Ren TV Warns Authorities
Against “Playing with Radical Youth”’, in BBCWM, 21 March 2007; Steven Lee Myers,
‘Kremlin Rallies Youth to Putin’s Cause’, International Herald Tribune, 9 July 2007, 2;
Yevgenia Zubchenko and Kira Vasilieva, ‘Leave Them Alone!’, Novye Izvestia, 18 July
2007, pp. 1–2, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part A), 19 July 2007.
115 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Though this distinction is probably more blurred in reality. On many occasions,
the leaders of Nashi indicated that they see themselves as the next generation of elites,
eventually replacing those who came of age during the Soviet period. For them, the time
frame of this transition was rather short. However, as seen in Chapter 9, the promises made
to promote young people into leadership positions did not come to pass as a result of the
December 2007 parliamentary election. Interfax, 26 May 2005, reproduced as ‘Russia’s
New Youth Movement Leaders Set Out Its Political Goals’, in BBCWM, 26 May 2005.
Stephen Boykewich, ‘United Russia Deploys a Youth Wing’, Moscow Times, 17
116 ���������������������������������������������������������
November 2005.
117 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Boris Gryzlov, State Duma Speaker and United Russia partly leader, qtd. in ibid.
68 Authoritarian Backlash

external support for democracy promotion. Like Nashi, the Young Guard stands
ready to defend the regime against a color revolution. As expressed by a member
of the Young Guard’s political council, ‘the provocative attempts by politically
marginalized elements to provoke chaos at any cost and to launch an “Orange”
scenario in Russia so as to recast the country alongside imported molds’.118
Another political council member colorfully depicted the Kremlin’s opponents
as foreign-backed traitors to the motherland: ‘Wearing velvet orange gloves, they
want to strangle Russia. Western spin doctors have taught their jackal cubs how to
take to the streets, how to organize acts of provocation against legitimate Russian
authorities. We have gathered here in this square and will never allow them to foil
our plan!’119 This fear of a Russian color revolution is so intense that the Young
Guard even held drills involving thousands of members to stop one.120 Ultimately,
it is this concern over external democracy promotion, portrayed as the West
forcing alien models on Russia, which united the government and the numerous
pro-Kremlin youth movements in common cause.


Foreign NGOs, election monitors, and opposition youth movements were seen as
the key ingredients of the recipe used by the West to precipitate color revolutions
in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, and (to a lesser extent) Kyrgyzstan. A similar pattern
was seen in the abortive Denim Revolution in Belarus and, it was feared, could
occur in Russia. Thus, it was imperative that the Kremlin take a proactive stance
to undermine their ability to promote democratization in Russia. As seen through
the passage of the 2006 NGO law, the consistent attempt to discredit the European
election monitoring system, and the co-optation of Russian youth, a clear pattern
formed in which the Russian government initiated policies to this effect. As Russia
moved closer to the 2007–2008 election cycle, these policies intensified. The
ultimate result of these policies, and the application of the strategy of Insulate
during the elections, will be examined in depth in Chapter 9.

118  Ekho Moskvy, 8 April 2007, reproduced as ‘Pro-Kremlin Youth Movement to

Counter Opposition Rally with “Consenters” March’, in BBCWM, 9 April 2007.
119  Ekho Moskvy, 4 December 2007, reproduced as ‘One Russia’s Young Guard
Speak of “Enemies” at Moscow Rally’, in BBCWM, 4 December 2007.
120 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
During this training exercise, activists chanted ‘No to the Orange plague!’ and
‘The Orange will not pass’. Ren TV, 26 April 2007, reproduced as ‘One Russia Youth Wing
Stages “Anti-Orange” Drill in the Urals’, in BBCWM, 26 April 2007.
Chapter 5
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses
Against External Criticism

Of course, I am a pure and absolute democrat. But you know what the problem is—
not a problem, a real tragedy—that I am alone. There are no such pure democrats in
the world. Since Mahatma Gandhi, there has been no one.
Vladimir Putin

Democracy promotion rests upon a fundamental moral judgement: that the inherent
rights of individuals can best be secured through a democratic form of government
and any regime which departs from this norm is ultimately less legitimate than
its democratic counterparts. The notion of democracy as a ‘world value’ means
that outright rejections of democracy’s legitimacy are quite rare in the current
international system. Even states which violate its basic tenets will still claim to
be democratic in some form or striving toward democracy.
Contemporary authoritarian regimes have been aided by the proliferation of
adjectives to refer to states as different than established democracies, but yet
somehow still democratic—‘transitional democracy’, for example. Obviously,
every democracy looks and functions slightly differently. However, rather than
providing clarity, this has actually produced more confusion and has hindered
democracy promotion by allowing non-democracies to deflect external criticism
and to weaken the arguments of domestic opponents. Similarly, the value placed
on respecting cultural differences by the international community has also been
used to justify abrogations of fundamental human rights behind the veil of global
‘diversity’—that is, since countries differ in their historical, cultural, and social
characteristics, their political systems will likewise look different. In this way,
authoritarian regimes have sought to defend their continued rule through a
redefinition of the problem: their legitimacy should not be questioned because any
differences in institutions, policies, or human rights standards between themselves
and the established democracies criticizing them are merely a reflection of
differences in history or political culture. Any attempt to force them to conform
to any preconceived (i.e. liberal democratic) standards, it is argued, disregards the
diversity of the international system. All this adds another aspect to the struggle
between autocracy and democracy: one which exists in the realm of definitions,
perceptions, and framing.

Bronwen Maddox, ‘I’m a Pure
and Absolute Democrat. It’s a Tragedy That I’m the
Only One’, The Times (London), 4 June 2007, 6.
70 Authoritarian Backlash

It should not be surprising that the Kremlin has adopted the language of
democracy to obfuscate the true state of Russia’s political system. During the
Cold War, the Soviet Union and its allies formed ‘people’s republics’, which
they proclaimed were superior forms of democracy compared to the capitalist
democracies of the West, despite their record of widespread oppression and
violations of human rights. After the emergence of an independent Russia, this
strategy continued as those within the country dismissed the regime’s democratic
failings by claiming that it was a ‘managed democracy’. They were aided in this
by the democratic West which too often defended the Kremlin’s illiberal policies
as acts which, while unpleasant, where somehow meant to move Russia toward
democracy. For example, the Clinton administration supported Boris Yeltsin’s
dissolution and eventual military attack on the Russian legislature, which can
be seen in retrospect as invigorating Russian authoritarian tendencies. Clinton’s
successor, George W. Bush, declared that he saw inside his Russian counterpart’s
‘soul’ and found someone that he could trust. This had the effect of delaying
American criticisms of the deterioration of Russian democracy for years. Under
President Vladimir Putin’s tenure, the pretense of Russian democracy became
harder to justify, though the regime made a concerted effort to do just that.
This chapter examines the Kremlin’s rhetorical strategy of countering external
criticism of its slide toward authoritarianism and defending itself against those
who would call its democratic legitimacy into question. A central means by which
this has been done is through promoting the concept of ‘sovereign democracy’—
the notion that the form and functioning of Russia’s political system must be
determined by the Russians themselves. Therefore, the first major portion of this
chapter provides a comprehensive overview of this idea. Section one outlines the
tenets of sovereign democracy. Section two focuses on the international context
and illustrates how, at its core, sovereign democracy is fixated on expressing
Russian independence on the world stage and rejecting the legitimacy of external
criticisms from the democratic West.
Connected to this has been the Kremlin’s reliance on the language of diversity
to turn the tables on its external critics by accusing them of cultural imperialism and
asserting the right to define a unique, ‘Russian’ path of democratic development.
Of course, this is largely double-speak since this has in fact led to less democracy.
Section three examines the diversity argument and the Kremlin’s accusations
that the West’s criticisms are little more than neocolonialism. The final section
on sovereign democracy explores the domestic political fight over the concept,
paying special attention to how it was used to silence domestic opponents and how
it was eventually codified both in the political program of the ‘party of power’ and
as the de facto state ideology of the Russian Federation.

Jim Abrams, ‘Support For Yeltsin Came After Considering Alternatives, Official
Says’, Associated Press, 6 October 1993.
Steven Mufson and Dan Balz, ‘Bush Still “Positive” on Putin Meeting’, Washington
Post, 19 June 2001, A15.
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 71

Rather than remain solely on the defensive, Russia also engaged in a more
offensive policy of deflecting criticism from itself by accusing others of not living
up to liberal democratic standards. This too falls under the category of redefine
since it is ultimately an attempt to reframe the debate over democratization to the
Kremlin’s benefit. The quote from Putin which begins this chapter is indicative
of this approach. Putin’s claims that he is the sole democrat in the world would
be laughable if it were not used to cover up the rise of autocracy in his country.
Similar jibes at the West’s democratic credentials have also been asserted in recent
years. However, this has taken a far more serious turn in Russia’s relationship
with the Baltic states, especially Estonia. The second part of this chapter explores
how Russia has lashed out at Estonia for its supposed violations of the rights of
its Russian-speaking citizens. While there remain some significant problems in
accommodating this demographic legacy of Soviet occupation, they do not rise to
the level of Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya or represent the systematic
departure from liberal democratic values seen during Putin’s tenure; the level of
vitriol directed against Estonia was far disproportionate to the nature of Tallinn’s
policies. Nevertheless, this was meant to place the West, rather than Russia, on the

Introducing Sovereign Democracy

The phrase ‘sovereign democracy’ rose to prominence in a speech given in July

2005 by Vladislav Surkov, the deputy director of the presidential administration
and the Kremlin’s top ideologue. Speaking before the members of a Russian
business association, Surkov outlined his vision of Russia’s political future and
ignited a wide-ranging debate within Russian policy circles. His basic point
was that Russia’s sovereignty is under threat from a variety of external forces.
In addition to its overt enemies in the Caucasus, Russia also faces threats from
Europe, the US, and Western pro-democracy, pro-human rights organizations
who represent competitors seeking to undermine the stability of the Russian
Federation by criticizing the Kremlin’s policies. He cited a resolution issued by
the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which accused the
Kremlin of oppressing its Finno-Ugric minorities, as part of a ‘pre-planned series of
measures’ designed to weaken the Russian government. In addition, international
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which he referred to as ‘scoundrels’,
were accused of seeking to overthrow legitimate governments (including Russia)
through ‘orange revolutions’. A principal pro-democracy NGO, Freedom House,
was singled out for Surkov’s ire: ‘Only an idiot would be likely to believe that the
mission of that “office” is purely humanitarian’. He rejected Western criticism and
argued that the state of Russian democracy was sound and that ‘sovereignty must

  Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 13 July 2005, 1, 3, reproduced as ‘Putin’s Aide Warns About

Threats to Russia’s Sovereignty’, in BBC Worldwide Monitoring [BBCWM], 16 July 2005.
72 Authoritarian Backlash

be protected’ as Russia continues on the path of democracy. Thus, the concept of

sovereign democracy represented the Kremlin’s desire for a political system that
is protected from external pressures.
The actual functioning of such a system was not fully explained by Surkov,
but he provided some insights which indicated that a sovereign democracy would
be directed from above and would not tolerate much dissent. Russia’s ‘backward
political culture’, as he put it, required that the state assume a leading role in
establishing a ‘new political class’ and a common value system, both of which must
be based upon the president’s steady hand and United Russia. The legitimacy of
those outside of this party was called into question because, according to Surkov,
they do not serve the interests of the state. Thus, it would be impossible to move
away from the current president-dominant system because the multiparty system
which arose during the pre-Putin years was fundamentally dysfunctional. He
then called upon Russia’s business leaders to align themselves with the Kremlin
and United Russia to avoid the shapeless ‘grey mass’ of Yeltsin’s parliamentary
democracy. The unitary system centered around the Kremlin was presented as the
only possibility for a coherent, stable country.
These statements revealed a fundamental lack of faith in the oftentimes messy
process of democracy. At best, what Surkov proposed was a corporatist system in
which politics would be securely managed from above to ensure the stability of the
state and to preserve the government’s freedom of action. At worst, it would likely
resemble an illiberal system disguised as a democracy which functions to preserve
the political dominance of the ruling class and to restrict external interference in the
regime’s creeping authoritarianism. Given the Kremlin’s record of restricting press
freedoms, centralizing power, and undermining the pro-democracy opposition, the
latter interpretation of sovereign democracy is probably the more accurate of the

International Context of Sovereign Democracy

Surkov’s speech should be seen as an ideological response to events in Georgia

and Ukraine. His reference to the Orange Revolution was indicative of the
Kremlin’s fear that the overthrow of authoritarian regimes by popular revolts
could spread further throughout the region, with perceived help and/or direction
from the West. Also, the timing of Surkov’s address is likely no coincidence: in
the months leading up to the speech, Moscow assailed Washington’s support of
regime change in Belarus and the Kremlin bristled at Bush’s trip to Georgia to
celebrate the arrival of democracy in the Caucasus, a move seen as encouraging
additional color revolutions in the former Soviet Union. Thus, the concept of
sovereign democracy represented a way in which the Kremlin could counter
the pro-democracy language of the West by rejecting the legitimacy of foreign

Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 73

interference in its affairs. As such, it laid the foundation for a vigorous debate over
the state of Russian democracy, beginning in 2006, when the West’s criticisms of
the Kremlin’s policies intensified. During this period, the international focus of the
sovereign democracy concept was sharpened.
While a war of words between the Kremlin and the West over the decline of
democracy in Russia began somewhat earlier, it grew to a new level with a speech
by US Vice-President Dick Cheney during a May 2006 meeting of Baltic and Black
Sea countries held in Vilnius—a meeting to which Russia was conspicuously not
invited, even though the European Union’s foreign policy chief and NATO officials
were. (Apparently, only democratic states were invited to the event.) During his
speech, Cheney lambasted the Kremlin for restricting fundamental rights and
reversing the democratic gains of the previous decade. Russian officials reacted
harshly. For example, Leonid Slutsky, the first deputy chairman of the Duma’s
international affairs committee and a member of the Liberal Democratic Party,
lashed out at Cheney’s comments, saying that he ‘clearly sings the tune of anti-
Russian politicians of the Baltic region having accepted their double standard
in respect to Russia’. Although Slutsky is not a member of United Russia, his
sentiment regarding ‘double standards’ is also found amongst those close to the
government, such as Surkov, who likened United Russia’s dominance of the
Russian political system to cases in established countries with dominant political
parties; Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who claimed that the Organization for
Security and Cooperation applies double standards when monitoring elections in
the region;10 and, Sergei Ivanov, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister,
who argued that the ‘devotees of “pure democracy”’ use double standards as a way
to interfere in the domestic politics of states.11 Rhetoric such as this has been often
used to accuse the West of failing to see its own human rights abuses or those of
its allies. While democratic or human rights shortcomings in the West are, in most
cases, quite mild when compared to the systematic move away from democracy
seen in Russia, this has been a common refrain to deflect criticism away from the
Kremlin and toward others. This strategy will be expanded upon in the second half
of this chapter in regard to Russian attacks against the democratic credentials of
the West, and especially the Baltic states.

‘Vice President’s
Remarks at the 2006 Vilnius Conference’ [Online: White House], 4
May 2006. Available at <>,
accessed 11 July 2008.
  Ekho Moskvy Radio, 4 May 2006, reproduced as ‘Senior Russian MPs Slam US
Vice-President’s Statement on Democracy’, in BBCWM, 4 May 2006.
The Liberal Democratic Party is only nominally an opposition party. It almost
always votes with the government.
Jeremy Page, ‘We’re Democrats, Insists Kremlin’, The Times (London), 29 June
10 ��������
‘Lavrov Presses OSCE Chief on Reforms’, Moscow Times, 22 June 2006.
Sergei Ivanov, ‘A Triad of National Values’, Izvestia, 14 July 2006, 4, reproduced
11 ���������������������������������������������
in What the Papers Say (Part A), 17 July 2007.
74 Authoritarian Backlash

The highest-level, direct response to Cheney’s speech came from Lavrov,

who returned to the language of sovereign democracy by turning Cheney’s words
against him.12 In his speech, the Vice-President referred to America’s desire to see
a world based upon ‘a community of sovereign democracies that transcend old
grievances, that honor the many links of culture and history among us, that trade
in freedom, respect each other as great nations, and strive together for a century
of peace’.13 Lavrov said that he agreed with Cheney and that Russia has the same
goal, ‘to be a sovereign, strong and stable democracy’.14 Of course, Lavrov’s
response overlooked both the context of Cheney’s quote and the Kremlin-directed
shift toward authoritarianism. Instead, Lavrov turned the discussion of democracy
against the US by discussing the need for democracy ‘not only inside a country,
but also in international affairs’. The idea of a ‘democratic’ world order has been
used by both the Yeltsin and Putin governments to argue against the American-
dominated, unipolar international system and in support of a multipolar system in
which Washington’s power would be checked by the need for consensus amongst
the great powers, including Russia (Ambrosio 2005: 118). Lavrov reinforced this
notion by connecting Russia’s vision of a ‘sovereign, strong, and stable’ state with
his demand that Russia ‘be treated in the international area as an equal partner,
whose opinion is crucial to the solution to any global problem’.15 This criticism
of the state of the international system is not disconnected from the notion of
sovereign democracy, but rather constitutes an integral part of it. America’s global
preeminence, when combined with its policy of democracy promotion, has been
seen as allowing Washington to impose a uniform political standard upon other states
in line with its interest in preserving its geopolitical status as the world’s remaining
superpower. Criticism of other states’ political systems are seen as a means by
which America can weaken other governments and create superior-subordinate
relationships, as opposed to ones which recognize the equality between states.
Consequently, this debate over Russia’s right to ensure its sovereign democracy
had not just political implications, but critical strategic and security ones as well.
The Kremlin’s response to the West’s criticisms was heightened during the
summer of 2006 in preparation for the Group of 8 (G-8) summit in St. Petersburg.
Several American politicians and commentators urged Bush to boycott the meeting
to protest the decline of democracy in Russia or, at the very least, to openly rebuke

12  ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Putin also responded to Cheney’s speech in late May, but Lavrov’s comments were
more extensive. See Vladimir Isachenkov, ‘Putin Criticizes Cheney’s Remarks’, Associated
Press Financial Wire, 25 May 2006.
13 ������
‘Vice President’s
Remarks at the 2006 Vilnius Conference’.
14 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Cheney’s Criticism of Russia Will Not Hurt International Democracy Drive—
Lavrov’, Russia & CIS Military Newswire, 6 May 2006.
15 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Cheney’s Criticism of Russia Will Not Hurt International Democracy Drive—
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 75

the Kremlin.16 In fact, there was some concern that some G-8 members would
embarrass the Kremlin on Russian soil by scrutinizing its democratic record. As a
result, Russian officials went on the offensive to preempt any criticisms.
In late June 2006, Surkov provided a vigorous, and at times exaggerated,
defense of Russia’s democratic credentials. He insisted, for example, that Russia
has made the greatest ‘contribution to the democratization of the planet’ and that
‘Moscow has done much more for democracy in central Europe than Washington
or London … It’s Moscow which democratized this immense space’.17 He also
proclaimed that ‘all is well with democracy in Russia, and the Kremlin doesn’t
establish puppet parties or control television broadcasting’, despite later comments
which seemed to contradict this assertion. Moreover, the government’s relationship
with United Russia, Surkov asserted, was no different than Bush’s support for the
Republican Party and British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s support for Labour.18
However, this ignored the fact that, given the Kremlin’s control over the media,
it is in a position to provide United Russia with a powerful advantage over its
rivals and subvert political competition in the country. In fact, when asked about
this by a correspondent, he responded that the lack of positive stories about the
opposition on Russian television was simply ‘all a matter of taste’. In addition, he
defended Putin’s centralization of power, the need to foster a state-/government-
centric ideology, and the creation of a number of pro-Kremlin youth movements
by contrasting the current ‘sovereign democracy’ with the ‘non-democracy’ of
the 1990s.19 This latter point constituted another common theme in defense of the
Kremlin’s governing style: the only alternative to the political status quo was a
return to the perceived chaos of the Yeltsin years. In his response to Cheney’s May
2006 speech, Lavrov made a similar comment, stating that Russia must choose
between the current system of government or placing the country on the ‘verge
of collapse’, as seen before Putin.20 This has also been an effective rhetorical tool
which can partly explain the true depth of the Kremlin’s popularity amongst the
Russian people. Given the socioeconomic crises of the 1990s, the political stability
and economic growth of the Putin era appears better by comparison, despite the
erosion of civil liberties that has accompanied it.21

16 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
See the letter released by Senator John McCain’s office, reproduced as ‘Lantos,
Dreier, McCain, Lieberman Urge G-8 Leaders to Rebuke Russia at Summer Summit’,
States News Service, 23 June 2006. Also see Tom Raum, ‘Bush Walks Difficult Line in
Engaging Russia on Iran, Upcoming G-8 Summit’, Associated Press, 25 June 2006.
17  �����������������������������������������
Page, ‘We’re Democrats, Insists Kremlin’.
Natalia Melikova, ‘The Kremlin Speaks Out’, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 29 June
18 ��������������������������������������������
2006, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 29 June 2006.
Neil Buckley, ‘Putin Aide Defends System of Democracy in Russia’, Financial
19 ������������������������������������������������������������������
Times (London), 29 June 2006.
20 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Cheney’s Criticism of Russia Will Not Hurt International Democracy Drive—
21 ����������
Alexey K. Pushkov, ‘Putin and His Enemies’, National Interest (Winter 2005): 52–6.
76 Authoritarian Backlash

A number of Surkov’s statements were also directed against the West, claiming
that its reprimands were designed to secure its own interests and to ensure that
Russia remained weak: ‘Sometimes, words and thoughts do not coincide. For
example, they talk to us about democracy while thinking about our hydrocarbons’.22
He rejected the legitimacy of outsiders criticizing how the Russians govern
themselves and contrasted his conception of ‘sovereign democracy’ with the
‘directed democracy’ supposedly favored by the West—‘a model imposed by force
and trickery by the centres of influence’, which can never be effective because ‘it
is imposed from the exterior’.23 Instead of submitting to the standards of others,
Russia shall seek ‘to be a free nation among other free nations and co-operate with
them according to just rules without being governed by outside’.24 This concern
that external criticism could lead to a weakening of the Russian government,
and therefore allow for external control, was based in part upon perceptions of
the West’s intervention in the Orange Revolution. The idea that the West might
seek to replicate its earlier successes by undermining the Kremlin’s legitimacy
and fostering a popular revolt was widespread in Russian policy circles. Such an
outcome would weaken Russian sovereignty and place Russia in a subordinate
position to the West, an outcome which some argued had already happened in
Ukraine and Georgia as these countries moved closer to NATO and the EU.
This constituted a central theme in Sergei Ivanov’s January 2006 article entitled
‘The New Russian Doctrine’ in which he identified the ‘violent assault on the
constitutional order of some post-Soviet states’ as one of the most serious threats
Russia faced.25 Given this stance, it should not be surprising that he would take
up the mantle of sovereign democracy just before the G-8 summit and produce
perhaps the most pointed attempt to link the concept of sovereign democracy to
the defense against external threats.
On the eve of the G-8 meeting, Ivanov made it very clear that Russia would
not be passive in the face of the West’s reprimands. In an article published in
Izvestia, he provided an exceptional insight into the Kremlin’s thinking, given
the increased focus on the state of Russia’s democracy surrounding the summit.
Ivanov argued that the reemergence of Russia as a great power rests upon three
pillars: sovereign democracy, a strong economy, and military might.26 The first
pillar is seen as the very foundation of the Russian state because it is based upon
the right of the Russian people to determine their own political system and to
defend it ‘from external pressure by any and all means, including armed force’.

22  �����������������������������������������
Page, ‘We’re Democrats, Insists Kremlin’.
‘Russian Ideologue Defends “Directed Democracy” Ahead of G-8 Meet’, Agence
23 ��������������������������������������������������������������������
France Presse, 28 June 2006.
24  �����������������������������������������
Page, ‘We’re Democrats, Insists Kremlin’.
Sergei Ivanov, ‘The New Russian Doctrine’, Wall Street Journal (Europe), 11
25 �������������������������������������������
January 2006, 13.
Sergei Ivanov, ‘A Triad of National Values’, Izvestia, 14 July 2006, 4, reproduced
26 ���������������������������������������������
in What the Papers Say (Part A), 17 July 2007.
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 77

However, Russia’s willingness to assert its independence through the principle

of sovereign democracy was not without costs: ‘By declaring its own ideological
project, Russia has entered a harsh and uncompromising competitive struggle. We
should not evade this inevitable confrontation; rather we should defend our position,
consistently and with solid arguments, against our critics and open opponents’.
This statement revealed that Ivanov perceived the international system as being
inherently conflictual and divided between those who wish to impose their political
standards upon others and those who seek to act independently in accordance with
their own perceived interests. Russia, by choosing the second path, is confronted
by two sources of threat: international terrorists and Russia’s ‘soft opponents’ in
the West. This latter group includes ‘those of our partners in the community of
democratic states who are dissatisfied to see an independent, strong, self-confident
Russia, with a developed economy and a clear political stance, globally competitive
and capable of defending its sovereign path of development’. The fact that Ivanov
perceived the democratic West as an opponent is quite telling. While he would not
put it this way, since he would maintain that Russia remains a democracy despite
substantial evidence to the contrary, this worldview is in line with the growing
alignment of states by regime type (authoritarian with authoritarian, for example)
and increasing conflict between states of different regime types (democratic
versus authoritarian). Rather than threatening Russia directly through military
force or armed attack, the democratic states use ‘democratic slogans … as a cover
for active interference in the internal affairs of other states—states which are
upholding their own sovereign interests, different from the “standards” forcibly
imposed in the world community’. Thus, Ivanov argued that the West’s policy of
democracy promotion is actually a cover aimed at weakening a resurgent Russia
and advancing its geopolitical interests; the notion that the West’s support for
human rights and democracy is done out of an honest belief in those principles was
simply discarded. The ultimate goal of this ‘interference’ is to create conditions
which will precipitate regime change and bring to power compliant governments.
While the physical danger represented from the democratic camp is not as great
as from terrorists, it still represents a serious source of threat to the autonomy and
stability of the Russian government and state. This latter part is important because
the Kremlin inherently links the two and therefore undermining the government
equates to undermining the state.
The notion that Russia faces political threats from the West formed the very
foundation of the sovereign democracy project. One of the ways to resist external
pressure was to respond in kind with an alternative political program which would
discredit democracy promotion and could serve to reinforce the legitimacy of
the regime in power. This represented a departure from the earlier conception of
‘managed democracy’, which was oriented more toward the domestic legitimization
of the Kremlin’s consolidation of power. By contrast, sovereign democracy’s
heavy emphasis on guaranteeing Russia’s sovereignty is best understood within
the context of Russia’s relationship with other states. While alternative notions of
sovereignty (such as the preservation of the territorial integrity of the state against
78 Authoritarian Backlash

centrifugal forces) were not discarded through this new formulation, sovereign
democracy ‘highlights international problems in the first place’ and is designed to
‘animate the image of Russia as a “besieged fortress”’ (Okara 2007). In some ways
this second perception is correct: as regional democratic trends gain increasing
traction, the remaining authoritarian regimes have indeed come under growing
political pressure. Comments by Russian officials, including Putin, fed into this
perception of a Russia under siege. One argument to this effect was that external
criticisms of its political system were akin to neocolonialism. This was meant to
evoke the perception of an imperialist West (especially the US) with designs on
undermining Russian independence in order to get access to its natural resources in
a manner similar to the European colonialists in previous centuries. This language
will be examined in the following section.

Diversity and Neocolonialism

Putin’s April 2005 state-of-the-nation address to the Russian Duma has been cited
as the origin of the sovereign democracy concept.27 In this speech, Putin discussed
Russia’s domestic political system in some depth and, coming just months after
the Orange Revolution, should be seen as a high-level response to the events in
Ukraine and the prospect that the color revolutions may spread. A central theme of
this speech was Russia’s right to choose its own ‘path’ toward democracy, based
upon ‘its historical, geopolitical, and other characteristics’.28 This argument was
referenced above and represents another key aspect of the rhetorical defense against
regional democratic trends: deflecting criticisms of the state of Russian democracy
by asserting that the very act of criticism is illegitimate. After Putin’s 2005 state-
of-the-nation address, Kremlin officials consistently repeated the theme that
differences in historical, cultural, and social development meant that any attempt to
have a single standard of democracy would invariably fail. Instead, democracy had
to develop in an organic or ‘natural’ way, or risk ‘destablizing’ the state in question
and possibly the entire region.29 The Russian Foreign Ministry took exception to
the Bush administration’s 2006 National Security Strategy which condemned the
Russian government for a ‘diminishing commitment to democratic freedoms and
institutions’ and linked improvement in US-Russian relations to Moscow’s support
for democratic progress both at home and throughout the former Soviet Union.30

27 �������������������������
Vitali Ivanov, ‘Why Does Putin
Need the Sovereign Democracy Discussion?’,
Izvestia, 11 October 2006, 6, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part A), 11 October 2006.
28  RTR Russia TV, 25 April 2005, reproduced as ‘Putin Focuses on Domestic Policy
in State-of-Nation Address to Russian Parliament’, in BBCWM, 25 April 2005.
Sergei Lavrov qtd. in RTR Russia TV, 12 May 2005, reproduced as ‘Russian
29 ����������������������
Foreign Minister Warns Against ‘Imposed’ Change in CIS’, in BBCWM, 12 May 2005.
30 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘The National Security Strategy of the United States’ [Online: White House],
March 2006, 44. Available at <>, accessed
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 79

In response, the Foreign Ministry asserted that ‘No one has … a monopoly on
interpreting what democracy is’ and that any uniform standard imposed by the
US ‘not only cannot bring success, but [is] fraught with discrediting the idea’.31
As Sergei Ivanov colorfully exclaimed, ‘Democracy is not a potato that can be
transplanted from one garden to another’.32
According to this line of reasoning, no two states will progress along the path of
democracy at the same rate or in the same way, and the application of democratic
values in any particular case will necessarily look different than those found in other
countries. However, these differences should not be taken as indicative of any lack
of commitment to democratic values. Thus, when outsiders comment negatively on
the state of the Russian political system, they are ignoring the fact that the objects
of their criticism (e.g. the relationship between the Kremlin and the press, the
creation of political parties, the centralization of power, etc.) are merely reflections
of historical, cultural, or social differences. Any attempt to hold Russia to the same
standards as other states is both practically and morally wrong. Consequently, the
very act of external criticism at best disregards the diversity of the international
system; at worst, it violates the rights that all peoples have to determine their own
political development and constitutes an attempt by outsiders to forcibly impose
their values upon others. A similar argument was used during the 1990s in the so-
called ‘Asian values’ debate during which regimes used the language of diversity
to defend authoritarianism by referring to international standards of human rights
and civil liberties as inherently ‘Western’ and assailing any attempt to universalize
them as ‘neoimperialism’. In the new millennium, similar language was used by
the Kremlin to justify its shift toward authoritarianism and to attack democracy
It is no coincidence that one of the first references to the West as neocolonialists
occurred during the time of the Orange Revolution. In early December 2004, Putin
condemned the involvement by the US and EU in Ukraine in particularly harsh
language. He intimated that the West was acting as ‘a nice but strict uncle in a pith
helmet’ who sought to ensure that those with ‘a dark political skin … live their lives
in accordance with some political expediency. And if, God forbid, the ungrateful
native objects, he is punished with the help of a missile-bomb truncheon as it
happened in Belgrade’.33 This statement was clearly meant to evoke a series of
images from the colonial period, such as the popular representation of the British
colonialist in a pith helmet whose mission was to control the native peoples in
accordance with the notion of the white man’s burden of civilizing non-whites.

11 July 2007.
31 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Vladimir Isachenkov, ‘Russia Dismisses US Criticism of its Democracy Record’,
Associated Press, 20 March 2006.
32  RIA News Agency, 13 February 2005, reproduced as ‘Democracy Cannot Be
‘Transplanted’, Russian Defense Minister Warns US’, in BBCWM, 13 February 2005.
33  RTR Russia TV, 6 December 2004, reproduced as ‘Russia Ready to Mediate but
Will Not Interfere in Ukrainian Crisis—Putin’, in BBCWM, 6 December 2004.
80 Authoritarian Backlash

Similar language would be used repeatedly by the Kremlin over the next several
years. Moreover, the reference to ‘Belgrade’ refers to the US-led, NATO military
campaign against Serbia over its treatment of the Kosovo Albanians in 1999—
an event which had serious, negative ramifications for Russian perceptions of
American power.34 Igor Ivanov, who was foreign minister at the time and later
served as secretary of the Security Council (the equivalent of national security
advisor) under Putin, argued that NATO’s claims of the ‘humanitarian’ reasons for
the war were really a cover for its geopolitical interests. Like Western involvement
in Ukraine, the war with Serbia was seen as imperialist: ‘This is why’, Igor Ivanov
claimed, ‘by defending Yugoslavia’s right to sovereignty today, we are defending
the future of the world and of Europe against the latest form of neocolonialism, the
so-called NATO colonialism’.35 Consequently, we can see a continuity in language
across time: the Kremlin’s belief that political values (humanitarianism, human
rights, democratization) are used by the West to justify their interference in the
domestic politics of other states. Just as NATO intervened against Serbia based
upon the principle of humanitarian intervention in Kosovo, some drew a parallel
to Chechnya and asked whether the West would seek to involve itself in an ethnic
conflict on Russian soil.36 Similarly, just as the US and EU supported regime
opponents in Ukraine, might they do the same in Russia? Putin’s comment about
‘pith helmets’ came just a few days after another statement in which he blasted
the current ‘dictatorship in international affairs’ which is sometimes ‘beautifully
gift-wrapped in pseudo-democratic phraseology’.37 Thus, from the Kremlin’s
perspective, democracy promotion and imperialism go hand in hand.
Following the Orange Revolution, Russian officials continued to make
similar statements. For example, Modest Kolerov, who was appointed to head
the Kremlin’s newly-created agency unofficially charged with preventing color
revolutions in the former Soviet Union, claimed that external pressure on the
democracy issue sought to impose a ‘banana republic scenario’ on Russia, clearly
evoking images of American interventions in Central America.38 In an interview on
an American television network just before the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Putin
responded to the interviewer’s questions about the state of Russian democracy by
giving a lengthy defense of the Russian political system, raising questions about
the quality of democracy in the US, and explicitly tying democracy promotion to

Michael Wines, ‘Muscovites Savor a Caper After Being Down So Long’, New
34 ��������������������������������������������������������������������
York Times, 16 June 1999, A19.
35  Russia TV, 27 March 1999, reproduced as ‘Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov
Kosovo Crisis Speech at State Duma Session’, in BBCWM, 29 March 1999.
36 ������������
Constantine ������������������������� Paranoia’, Japan Times, 1 April 1999.
Pleshakov, ‘Russia’s New �����������
‘Putin Attacks US “Dictatorship” in World Affairs’, Agence France Presse, 4
37 ����������������������������������������������������
December 2004.
Maksim Glikin, ‘Against Democratization’, Vedomost, 17 August 2005, A2,
38 ������������������������������������������
reproduced in Defense and Security (Russia), 19 August 2005.
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 81

If you allow me, I will finish the topic about problems of democracy. You and
I know very well what arguments some countries of the West used to enhance
their actions during the colonial expansion in Africa and Asia. If you look at
newspapers of that time, you will see that they are not much different from the
arguments which are attempted to be used against the Russian Federation. Only
the words civilization and the civilizing role have been replaced by the words
democratization and democracy, and we all see this very well.39

Putin then went on to say that ‘benevolent criticism’ was welcome, but that
any attempt to use democracy promotion ‘in order to interfere with out domestic
affairs’ was ‘totally unacceptable’. The line between these two categories,
however, appeared to be quite thin in the Kremlin’s thinking. Less than a year
later, almost this exact same language was used in Putin’s April 2007 state-of-the
nation address which, once again, linked ‘pseudo-democratic phraseology’ with
‘the so-called civilizing role of the colonizing states’.40 Subsequent statements,
such as Putin’s implied analogy between the US and the Third Reich expressed
during the WWII Victory Day parade on Red Square41 and his condemnation of
‘imperialism in world affairs’42 reinforced this sentiment.
If the ‘diversity’ argument is centered on the impracticality of external democracy
promotion, the accusations of the West’s neoimperialist intentions are based upon
its moral illegitimacy. Both of these arguments sought to obscure the fact that
Russia is not moving closer toward democracy but has steadily undermined liberal
democratic values at home and abroad through institutional changes and policy
choices. While, as McFaul (2006: 10) correctly asserted, many of these changes
could be seen as aiming to strengthen state capacities, reverse centrifugal forces in
the country, and establish a stable political system, ‘when analyzed together, the
thread uniting these events is clear—the elimination or weakening of independent
sources of power’, especially when ‘Putin has not initiated one reform in the name
of deepening democracy’. This analysis is supported by a variety of sources,
including the much-maligned (at least by the Kremlin) Freedom House institution
which in its 2007 Countries at the Crossroads (Walker and Kelly 2007: 2) report
specifically referred to the ‘Russian Model’ as not only influencing the nature of
Russia’s political development, but also serving as an example for other autocrats
and prospective authoritarian leaders. Thus, the sovereign democracy argument,
with its codicils of diversity and anti-imperialism, served as an attempt to shield

39 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
Reproduced as ‘Putin Gives Interview to US TV Channel on Eve of G-8 Summit’,
in BBCWM, 13 July 2006.
40  RTR Russia TV, 26 April 2007, reproduced as ‘Putin Delivers Annual Address to
Parliament—Full Text’, in BBCWM, 27 April 2007.
41 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
Stephen Boykewich, ‘Putin Swipes at Estonia, US at War Victory Celebration’,
Agence France Presse, 9 May 2007.
‘Putin Issues Sharp Warning to US, Vows to Counter “Imperialism”’, Agence
42 �������������������������������������������������������������������
France Presse, 31 May 2007.
82 Authoritarian Backlash

the regime from outside criticism and allow the Kremlin’s illiberal actions to be
dismissed as misunderstandings or willful misrepresentations by the West.

The Consolidation of Sovereign Democracy

In addition to being directed outward against its external critics, sovereign

democracy was also developed as a guiding principle for the Russian political
system at home, a process which was not without some dispute. Much of the
domestic criticism of sovereign democracy centered on how the concept furthered
Russia’s slide toward authoritarianism. The Gazeta newspaper argued that Surkov
had replaced the statist ideology of Count Sergei Semionovich Uvarov—who
proposed basing the legitimacy of the tsarist regime upon the three principles
of Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality43—with his own triad of ‘ideological
integrity, sovereign democracy, modernized economy’.44 This new formulation
stressed the economic development of Russia, but implied that there should be
only one guiding ideology of the state, interpreted by the Kremlin to serve the
interests of perpetuating the regime. Gazeta later likened the Kremlin to ‘the
leaders of the rogue states’ who use the principle of sovereign democracy to attack
the legitimacy of critics both abroad and at home.45
Boris Nemtsov, a pro-democracy politician and frequent critic of Putin,
contended that adding an adjective to the term democracy was yet another sign
of the growing dictatorship in Russia.46 Gleb Pavlovsky, a pro-Kremlin political
strategist, dismissed Nemtsov as expressing the views of a ‘pro-American
minority’, a phrase meant to link internal critics to external forces aimed at
undermining Russian sovereignty.47 This line of reasoning was also used quite
assertively by Surkov who attacked opponents of sovereign democracy as ‘so-
called “intellectuals”, who think the sun rises in the West’48 and ‘marginal alliances
of former bureaucrats, active Nazis, and fugitive oligarchs, egged on by visiting
diplomats and by the naive idea that foreign countries will help them’ in their aim

43 ����������������������������������������������������
Nicholas I rejected the principle of ‘Nationality’ (Narodnost) as one of the three
pillars of tsarist legitimacy because it implied that the ethnic Russians (russkii) were the
principal people of state. Such a formulation would not have been conducive for control
over the multinational empire.
‘In Search of Russian Democracy: The Summit Approaches’, What the Papers Say
44 ���������������������������������������������������������
(Part A), 30 June 2006.
45, 12 January 2007, reproduced as ‘Russian Website Challenges Moral
and Practical Value of “Sovereign Democracy”’, in BBCWM, 14 January 2007.
46  Ekho Moskvy Radio, 25 July 2006, reproduced as ‘Russian Pundits Discuss
“Sovereign Democracy”’, in BBCWM, 25 July 2006.
47 �����
48 ������������������������
‘Deputy Director of the Presidential
Administration Vladislav Surkov Speaks on
the Sovereign Democracy’, The Russian Business Monitor, 27 November 2006.
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 83

to ‘destroy [Russian] society’.49 By referring to opponents in this way, effectively

calling them enemies of the Russian people, the Kremlin discredited them, further
defending the regime from criticism.
Given the Kremlin’s growing control over the Russian political system,
the debate within the regime over sovereign democracy was perhaps more
consequential than that taking place outside of it. Soon after the G-8 summit in July
2006, a political fight erupted between Russian First Deputy Prime Minister (and
the man who would emerge as Putin’s handpicked successor) Dmitri Medvedev,
on the one hand, and Surkov and Sergei Ivanov on the other. Medvedev stated
that he did not like the term because the adjective before ‘democracy’ ‘creates a
strange feeling. It gives the impression that some other, nontraditional democracy
was under discussion’.50 The issue immediately arose as to whether the sovereign
democracy principle would appear as part of the political platform for Putin’s
party, United Russia.51 In a speech before the Duma faction of United Russia,
Putin hinted that he supported the concept. However, others within the organization
expressed views similar to Medvedev’s.52 As a result, sovereign democracy was
initially omitted from the political program that United Russia planned to release
in September 2006,53 though some in the party’s hierarchy maintained that it would
be included.54 After Putin surprisingly came out and strongly criticized the concept,
sovereign democracy seemed all but dead.55 Nevertheless, once United Russia’s
political program was officially released in October, sovereign democracy was
added as the defining plank in its platform, and promoted as the one issue which
would fundamentally distinguish the party from its rivals in the December 2007
parliamentary elections.56
The debate over sovereign democracy did not end there, however. In January
2007, Medvedev gave a speech to the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland,
which amounted to his debut on the world stage. In this speech, he took what many

49  Argumenty i Fakty, 27 November 2006, reproduced as ‘Kremlin Aide Sets Out
Main Tenets of “Sovereign Democracy”’, in BBCWM, 2 December 2006.
50  NTV Mir, 24 July 2006, reproduced as ‘Pundits Discuss “Sovereign Democracy”
in Light of Putin Successor’s Interview’, in BBCWM, 24 July 2006.
Yvegenia Zubchenko, ‘Discussion or Division’, Novye Izvestia, 25 July 2006, 2,
51 ����������������������������������������������
reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part A), 25 July 2006.
52 �����
53 ��������������������������������
Francesca Mereu, ‘United Russia Pans “Surkov Democracy”’, Moscow Times, 26
July 2006.
54  ITAR–TASS, 31 August, reproduced as ‘One Russia’s Doctrine is Sovereign
Democracy, Says Party Secretary’, in BBCWM, 31 August 2006.
55 ����������������������������
Mikhail Fishman, ‘President Putin �����������������������
Confuses Western Political
Kommersant, 11 September 2006, 1, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 11
September 2006.
56 ��������������������������������������������������������������������
Sergey Varshavchik, ‘United Russia to Build “Sovereign Democracy”’,
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 3 October 2006, 3, reproduced in Russian Press Digest, 3 October
84 Authoritarian Backlash

saw as an additional swipe at the concept of sovereign democracy: ‘Russia is a

country that endured the most severe trials in the twentieth century: revolution, civil
war, the world wars, economic collapse. Today we are building new institutions
based on the fundamental principles of full democracy. This democracy requires no
additional definition. This democracy is effective and is based on the principles of
the market economy, supremacy of the law and government that is accountable to
the rest of society’.57 Nevertheless, later that month, Medvedev and Surkov denied
that there was any significant rift between them.58 Even if not explicitly supported
by Medvedev, sovereign democracy appeared to be the guiding principle of United
Russia, as seen during its party congress in October 2007, which launched its
campaign for the December 2007 parliamentary elections. At this meeting, party
officials handed out a number of documents to journalists—one of which was
‘a thick anthology entitled, “Sovereign Democracy”’.59 This signaled that the
sovereign democracy concept was likely to go unchallenged within the party.
Russian political commentators were divided over what this debate within the
Kremlin actually represented. Did it reflect genuine unease with the concept amongst
some within the Kremlin or was it an expression of factions within the regime
jockeying for position to succeed Putin?60 Others pointed to another possibility:
Was it simply fabricated for international consumption to deflect Western criticism
by pretending that there remained space for an open debate within the Russian
political system?61 Regardless of which possibility is correct, sovereign democracy
was promoted as the governing ideology of the Russian Federation. This decision
was evident in the country’s new, official history textbooks: in the final chapter,
entitled, ‘Sovereign Democracy’, Surkov is quoted liberally and the chapter
itself reads as a broad-ranging defense of Putin’s policies.62 Thus, the sovereign
democracy concept has become consolidated as a chief pillar in the rhetorical
defense against Western democracy promotion. The second pillar, that of directing
criticisms outwards, will be examined in the following sections.

57 �������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Speech at the World Economic Forum’, 27 January 2007, <www.medvedev2008.
ru/english_2007_01_27_.htm>, accessed 11 July 2007.
58  ITAR-TASS, 31 January 2007, reproduced as ‘Russian Deputy PM Denies Any Rift
with Putin Aide on “Sovereign Democracy”’, in BBCWM, 31 January 2007.
Irina Nagornykh, ‘Dmitri Medvedev is Not on the Candidate Lists’, Kommersant,
59 ������������������������������������������������������������������
1 October 2007, 4, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 1 October 2007.
60  Ekho Moskvy Radio, 24 July 2005, reproduced as ‘Russian Officials’ Latest
Utterances Point to Kremlin Infighting—Pundit’, in BBCWM, 24 July 2006.
61 ��������������������������������
Francesca Mereu, ‘United Russia ����������������������������������������
Pans “Surkov Democracy”’; Nikolai Gulko
and Irina Nagornykh, ‘The Party Strays Off Course’, Kommersant, 12 September 2006, 2,
reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 12 September 2006.
‘Sovereign Democracy Gets a History’, Moscow Times, 11 July 2007.
62 ��������������������������������������
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 85

Tu Quoque

The term tu quoque, Latin for ‘you also’, is an ad hominem legal defense in which
the accused does not defend him/herself on the basis of fact or law, but rather points
the finger at the actions of their accuser, claiming that they, too, have committed
the same offense and therefore have no right to accuse another. This defense has
been largely discredited because one can not exculpate oneself by identifying the
crimes of others. Nevertheless, it continues to be used and is a powerful rhetorical
tactic to redirect attention from oneself. A similar line of defense has been used
by the Kremlin against charges of being undemocratic. This section will briefly
outline a few of the tu quoque attacks against the West generally. The subsequent
sections will focus on Russian rhetoric against the Baltic countries, particularly
In defending the state of Russia’s political system from external criticism,
Surkov argued that its democratic failings should be seen in light of those of the
West throughout history: ‘One of the most advanced democracies in the world [the
United States] permitted segregation only 40 years ago, but it was regarded as a
democracy. Well this country’s culture apparently permitted segregation then. We
understand it. We are like that too’.63 At some level this is a perfectly legitimate
argument: America’s policy of segregation was indeed a democratic failing in that
the country did not live up to its core beliefs as outlined in the Declaration of
Independence and Constitution. Because of America’s racist culture at the time,
the abrogation of the rights of a large number of citizens was deemed socially and
politically acceptable. As the country progressed toward living up to its principles,
this policy was rightly discarded. Thus, democracy is not an end result, but a
process. Similarly, Kremlin officials make the argument that they, too, are involved
in a transition toward democracy and that occasional democratic shortcomings
(or, as it is argued, policies which are incorrectly perceived to be undemocratic
from the outside) are to be expected. It is therefore wrong for the West to expect
perfection from a Russian government in transition.
The problem with this argument is that there are few to no substantive signs
from the Russian government that it has made a fundamental commitment to
democracy. In fact, rather than moving toward further democratization, the trend
line is moving in the opposite direction. The earlier quote from McFaul, that the
Putin administration had not instituted a single policy aimed at strengthening
democracy, is indicative of this absence of progress. If the Kremlin were as serious
about democracy as its rhetoric claims, then there should be signs to this effect.
Kremlin officials have made other comments along similar lines which
attempt to equate their own actions with those of the United States or to assert that
their own version of democracy is in fact superior to that found in America. For
example, Putin famously defended the Kremlin’s control over the media by asking,

63  Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 31 August 2006, 1, 3, reproduced as ‘Sovereign Democracy

for All’, in What the Papers Say (Part B), 31 August 2006.
86 Authoritarian Backlash

in effect, that if America’s free press were so free then why was Bush able to fire
Dan Rather, an American news anchor who was removed from his position by his
network (and not President Bush) after airing a story during the 2004 presidential
campaign which used forged documents.64 Similarly, Surkov claimed that Putin’s
consolidation of power is no different than the policies of former US President
Franklin D. Roosevelt, who expanded the powers of the federal government
during the Great Depression and whom Surkov called twentieth century Russia’s
‘ideological ally’.65 Sergei Ivanov argued that Russia was, in fact, more democratic
than the US since America has fewer choices in its political system and elects its
president in an undemocratic manner: in Russia ‘there are at least four parties in
parliament, and not two, and where the people, and not the electoral college, select
the president’.66
It is somewhat unclear whether these statements are truly meant to be willful
misrepresentations or are merely misunderstandings of the American political
system specifically and of democracy in general. For example, when Sergei Ivanov
listed China and Russia alongside the US, the EU, India, Brazil, and Japan as
fellow democracies,67 was this a rhetorical tactic to equate the legitimacy of these
seven governments or evidence that he is operating from a completely different
definition of democracy than that commonly accepted amongst democracies?
One can not be completely sure. Ultimately, the effect is the same: undermining
the legitimacy of external criticism by redirecting attention away from Russia’s
democratic failings and toward others. A clear case of this can been seen in the
Kremlin’s attempt to place the West on the defensive by attacking Estonia for its
purported liberal democratic failings.

The Rhetoric of the Russia-Estonia Conflict

After the incorporation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the Soviet Union
during the Second World War, ethnic Russians and other Russian-speakers migrated
to the Baltics and altered the demographic balance in these states. This was most
notable in Estonia and Latvia, where the titular nation’s overall population was

John Hughes, ‘Lost in (Russian) Translation’, Christian Science Monitor, 27 April

64 ����������������������������������������������
65 �������������������������������������������
Steve Gutterman, ‘Kremlin Ideologue Likens Putin ���������������������������������
to Franklin D. Roosevelt’,
Associated Press, 8 February 2007. Political elites aligned with the Kremlin also pointed to
FDR, who was elected to more than two terms as president, as an example that Putin should
follow. However, the two-term limit was, at the time, merely an informal tradition, unlike
the Russian constitution which prohibits more than two consecutive terms. See Viktor
Khamrayev, ‘Vladimir Putin Asked to Follow Franklin Roosevelt’s Example’, Kommersant,
9 February 2007, 3, reproduced in Russian Press Digest, 9 February 2007.
‘Combing All Democracies Anglo-Saxon Style Would be Wrong—Ivanov’, TASS,
66 �������������������������������������������������������������������
6 June 2007.
67 �����
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 87

reduced from 90 per cent to 64 per cent in Estonia and from 77 per cent to 54
per cent in Latvia (Chinn and Kaiser 1996: 93–128). In order to preserve the
cultural and ethnic identity of these countries, Tallinn and Riga introduced strict
citizenship and language requirements after independence, effectively denying
automatic citizenship to those whose families moved there after WWII.68 Non-
citizen residents must acquire a certain level of fluency in the titular language,
as well as adhere to other requirements. Since most ethnic Russians did not
speak Estonian or Latvian (neither of which is a Slavic language), hundreds of
thousands of Russian-speakers were left stateless. Since the early 1990s, Moscow
has complained vociferously about Estonia and Lativa’s treatment of Russia’s
‘compatriots’ (as they are commonly referred to by Kremlin officials), and the
human rights record of these countries. These complaints overlook two key facts:
first, that many Russian-speakers had started the process of acquiring citizenship
by the close of the 1990s or had returned to the Russian Federation; second, that
the level of human rights guarantees and democracy in the Baltics far exceeded
those in Russia.
The language used by the Kremlin to describe conditions for Russian-speakers
in the Baltics centered on three general themes: the human rights of the Russian-
speakers were being violated; these states had a ‘democratic deficit’ because they
did not allow non-citizens to vote in statewide elections; and, by seeking to reject
the legacy of the Soviet Union, the Baltic states glorified Nazis. Although this
rhetoric was used since the 1990s, it increased as Russia shifted toward greater
authoritarianism after 2000 and as the Baltic states were scheduled to join both
the EU and NATO in 2004. These events made it even more important that the
Kremlin divert attention away from the contrast between its growing autocracy
and the consolidation of democracy in Estonia and Latvia. Again, it is important
to note that every year more Russian-speakers acquire citizenship in these states;
as a result, the problem of stateless Russian-speakers should have become less of
an issue. Moreover, given the membership criteria of the EU and NATO, which
require that applicants meet high levels of democratic development and civil
liberties, the liberal democratic credentials of these states should have been in
even less dispute. Nevertheless, the Kremlin consistently exaggerated problems in
these countries to serve its political ends.
An example of the type of language used to describe the human rights conditions
for the Russian-speakers in Estonia can be found in statements made by the Deputy
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yuri Fedotov, in preparation for the 60th session of
the United Nations Commission for Human Rights. Fedotov stated that Russia
would seek the condemnation of Tallinn and Riga for ‘violations of human rights’

68 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Ethnic Russians who could prove that their ancestors lived in Estonia or Latvia
before World War II were automatically eligible for citizenship in these countries. Lithuania,
which had a far smaller influx of Russian-speakers, gave automatic citizenship to all those
living in the country at the time of independence.
88 Authoritarian Backlash

and ‘undisguised discrimination’ against Russian-speakers.69 During the meeting

itself, Fedotov repeated these claims, calling these violations ‘serious’.70 Later, he
would refer to Estonia and Latvia as a ‘sickness’ in the heart of Europe.71
It is certainly true that the challenges faced by Russian-speakers in Estonia are
real. At the time of Estonian independence, the vast majority of Russian-speakers
had lived in Estonia for decades without needing to learn the local language
and have found Estonian difficult to learn; others have been unwilling to learn
Estonian, seeing it as a symbol of the end of Russian hegemony over the region.72
Moreover, although Estonia’s interethnic relations are free of violence (though the
2007 monument row discussed below raised some questions about this), having
approximately ten per cent of the country’s population without citizenship and
resentful of their newfound status as a minority is certainly not conducive to
long-term stability.73 However, Fedotov’s statements are misleading. Over half
the number of the non-citizens in 1991 have been naturalized and the share of
ethnic Russians who have become Estonian citizens is increasing every year.74 In
contrast to Estonia’s citizenship laws, which have become more liberal over time,
Russia’s citizenship’s laws are actually quite strict, though there has been a push
to ease naturalization in order to compensate for Russia’s declining population.
Moreover, the Kremlin’s claims of the ‘stateless’ status of the Russian speakers is
somewhat disingenuous: these individuals retain their Soviet passports for travel
to Russia.75 Russia could simply grant these individuals Russian citizenship if it so
chose—a precedent set by the Kremlin in Georgia when it granted citizenship to
Abkhazians and South Ossetians without Tbilisi’s consent (see Chapter 7). While
this would likely cause problems with Estonia’s NATO allies (since it may raise
the specter of Russian irredentism), it seems that the Kremlin would rather have
an issue than a solution to the problem. Finally, while language requirements for
some professions have meant that Russian-speakers are effectively excluded from
some jobs, a critical part of Estonia’s ascension to the EU was predicated upon
its adoption of human rights and minority protections, which Tallinn fulfilled.
In fact, the European Commission held that, although there was room for some

69 �������������������������������������������������
‘Russia to Employ International Organizations to Protect��������������������������
Rights of Russian
Speaking People in Latvia, Estonia’, Economic News (RIA Oreanda), 24 February 2004.
70 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Summary Record of the 7th Meeting’, United Nations Commission on Human
Rights, 22 March 2004, E/CN.4/2004/SR.7, 12.
71 �����������
‘Russia to Press Estonia, Latvia on Human Rights at UN Forum’, Agence France
Presse, 13 March 2005.
Chinn and Kaiser, Russians as the New Minority, 97, 103.
72 ������������������
73 ������������������������������������������������
Steven Woehrel, ‘Estonia: Current Issues and US Policy’,
Congressional Research
Service, 11 July 2007, RS22692, 3.
74 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Citizenship’ [Online: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Estonia], 4 April 2008. Available
at <>, accessed 11 July 2008.
75 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Moscow Calls on EU to Urge Latvia, Estonia to Naturalise Russian Minority’,
Agence France Presse, 21 December 2006.
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 89

improvement, ‘the rights of the Russian-speaking minority (both with Estonian

nationality and without) are observed and safeguarded’.76
It is also not without some degree of irony that the Kremlin has called into
question Estonia’s commitment to democracy. Fedotov asserted that the inability
of non-citizens to vote in Estonian parliamentary elections represented a ‘a serious
and long-term deficit of democracy’ in the country.77 The Russian Duma also
called upon the EU to ensure that the democratic rights of non-citizens in Estonia
and Latvia were respected by allowing them to vote in European parliamentary
elections.78 Non-citizens are, in fact, allowed to vote in municipal elections and,
if they so choose, are eligible for citizenship, as long as they learn Estonian. In
addition, Tallinn’s democratic credentials are otherwise without question: Freedom
House rates Estonia a ‘1’ for political rights and a ‘1’ for civil liberties, the highest
rating possible. Nevertheless, the Kremlin continued to condemn Estonia, even
going so far as referring to it as a threat to Russian security. According to Sergei
Ivanov: ‘Countries that distance themselves from democratic norms and human
liberties will as a rule become sources of danger to their neighbors, because they
tend to provoke military and political tension … It is therefore why I, minister of
defense, am forced to speak about the situation in Latvia, Estonia and some other
countries in the [NATO] alliance’.79 Again, this statement is quite ironic since it
is Russia which had been steadily moving away from these norms, not Estonia.
Moreover, it is unclear how Estonia, with a population of some 1.4 million people
and a very small military, could be considered a threat to Russia’s security, with
one hundred times the population, a massive military, and thousands of nuclear
weapons. However, the purpose here is clearly not to describe reality, but to
advance the Kremlin’s agenda of diverting attention away from its own democratic
The third line of attack against Estonia is that the government ‘glorifies
Nazis’. Given the unprecedented death and destruction that Germany caused
during the Second World War, referring to political opponents as ‘Nazis’ is an
attempt to discredit them, identity them as a danger to liberal democratic norms,

76 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Agenda 2000—Commission Opinion on Estonia’s Application for Membership
of the European Union’ [Online: European Commission], 15 July 2007, DOC/97/12.
Available at <>,
accessed 11 July 2008.
77 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Summary Record of the 7th Meeting’, United Nations Commission on Human
Rights, 22 March 2004, E/CN.4/2004/SR.7, 12.
Alexandra Chebanu, ‘Human Rights in Latvia, Estonia Should Be Ensured’, TASS,
78 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
10 June 2004.
‘Russian Defmin: Moscow Sees Estonia, Latvia as Sources of Threat’, Baltic
79 ��������������������������������������������������������������������
News Service, 13 July 2004.
80 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������
This is described quite eloquently by the Estonian Foreign Minister, Kristiina
Ojuland, in a press conference given days after Ivanov’s statement. Estonian Radio, 15
July 2004, reproduced as ‘Estonian Foreign Minister Brands Russian Accusations as
Demagoguery’, in BBCWM, 16 July 2004.
90 Authoritarian Backlash

and associate them with racism, fascism, and totalitarianism. In many ways,
it is the worst political label that one could attach to another and is often used
as a rhetorical device, devoid of any real connection to the tenets of National
Socialism.81 In the rhetorical battle between Moscow and Tallinn, the Kremlin has
associated the Estonian government with the Nazis, asserting that they are actively
engaged in ‘continuing praise of supporters of the Nazis’ and the ‘persecution
of anti-Nazi veterans and Soviet law enforcement personnel’.82 This argument
is based upon a fundamental divide between how the Baltic states and Russia
perceive the period during and after the Second World War. In 1939 the Soviet
Union and Germany signed what came to be known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop
Pact which, in accordance with a series of secret protocols, allowed for the USSR
to acquire the Baltic states. Once WWII began, the Soviets invaded. However,
once Germany attacked the USSR, some citizens from the Baltic states sided with
Germany (including joining German military units) in order to fight against the
Soviet Union, which was seen as illegally occupying their countries. With the
Allied victory over Germany, the Baltic states were reincorporated into the Soviet
Union, resulting in serious human rights abuses against the citizens of these states,
including mass killings and deportations.
Politicians and commentators in the Baltic states make three assertions.
First, both the initial incorporation of the Baltic states into the USSR, and the
subsequent annexation in 1944, were illegal, illegitimate, and should be considered
an ‘occupation’ of the sovereign, internationally-recognized countries of Estonia,
Latvia, and Lithuania. This argument has formed the basis of the citizenship laws
in Estonia and Latvia: since the occupation was illegal, the transfer of ethnic
Russians into these territories was likewise illegal and in contravention of the
Geneva Conventions; therefore, granting automatic citizenship only to those who
can trace their lineage (regardless of ethnicity) to the pre-WWII republics is simply
rectifying historical wrongs. Second, those who sided with the Germans against the
Soviet Union were seeking to liberate their country from foreign occupiers. Actions
by the Baltic states to recognize their sacrifice is legitimate because of the illegality
of the occupation and it in no way condones the racist policies of Nazi Germany.
Finally, the Baltic leaders have repeatedly sought global acknowledgment that the
Soviet Union’s crimes are just as bad those of Nazi Germany in that they were
both totalitarian regimes which committed massive human rights abuses. Only by
recognizing the USSR’s horrific past, in particular its treatment of its neighbors,
can the region fully heal the wounds of the Second World War.
The Russian government completely rejects these assertions, taking tremendous
pride in the actions of the Soviet Union during the Great Patriotic War. They

This is akin to Leo Strauss’s notion of reductio ad Hitlerum, a logical fallacy

81 ����������������������������������������
which attempts to dismiss the arguments of another side by connecting them to something
Adolf Hitler had supported.
82 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
Yuri Fedotov qtd. in ‘Moscow to Raise Topic of Baltic Russian-Speakers at
Upcoming Meetings’, Baltic News Service, 20 February 2004.
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 91

argue that the Baltic states joined the Soviet Union willingly after it ‘liberated’
these states. Therefore, their annexation was legal and should not be called an
occupation. Any attempt to label it as such is an attempt to ‘rewrite the history
of the Second World War’83 and delegitimizes the sacrifices of the Soviet people
during the Second World War. By extension, if the Soviet effort is discounted, then
this implies support for the USSR’s opponent, Nazi Germany. Moreover, since
the Soviet Union legally incorporated the Baltic states, those who moved there
after the war were legal, internal migrants, especially those who fought in World
War II. Again, if Estonia and Latvia refuse to grant citizenship to them and their
descendants, Tallinn and Riga are, in effect, violating the rights of ‘antifascist
veterans’,84 making these governments, by implication, pro-fascist. Furthermore,
those who fought against the Soviet Union from the Baltic states were not
seeking to liberate their country, but rather fought to ensure a Nazi victory and
therefore should be considered illegitimate ‘Nazi accomplices’.85 For example,
a reunion of anti-Soviet soldiers (called ‘so-called freedom fighters’ and ‘bandit-
like formations’) in Tartu, Estonia was blasted by the Russian Foreign Ministry
as an indication of the growing ‘brown peril’ in Europe.86 Finally, the Kremlin
categorically rejects any attempt to liken the Soviet Union to Nazi Germany.87
As Lavrov described it, it is ‘sacrilegious and dangerous to put an equality sign
between liberators and [occupiers]’ (the USSR and Germany, respectively).88
Since it is assumed that those who fought against the Nazis are inherently good
(not necessarily a true assumption, but one used by the Kremlin to justify Soviet
actions), by downplaying the differences between the two, the Baltic states are
seemingly refusing to recognize the absolute the absolute evil of the Nazi regime;
thus, it is argued, they are in fact seeking to rehabilitate Nazi Germany.89 By
implication, Tallinn’s citizenship laws are also associated with the racist policies

83 �����
84 �����
85  Interfax News Agency, 13 March 2005, reproduced as ‘Russia Says Will Use UN
Forum to Slate Baltic Rights Record’, in BBCWM, 13 March 2005.
‘Moscow Slams Estonian Freedom-Fighters’ Reunion’, Baltic News Service, 19
86 ���������������������������������������������������
July 2005.
87  RIA News Agency, 12 June 2004, reproduced as ‘Russia Dismisses Estonian
Demand for Apology as “Unfounded”’, in BBCWM, 12 June 2004.
‘Russia Opposed to Estonia Heroisation of Fascism—Lavrov’, TASS, 20 December
88 �����������������������������������������������������������
89 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������
Also going on here is an attempt by the Putin administration to defend its
incorporation of the Soviet past and achievements into the Russian Federation’s historical
and political identity. Since the Russian Federation is advanced the successor to the USSR,
the sins of the Soviet period have been consistently downplayed and Soviet leaders, including
Stalin, have been at least partly rehabilitated. Thus, the arguments of the Baltic states—from
calling the annexation ‘occupation’ to claiming that, like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union
was a brutal, totalitarian state—are seen as attacking Russian national identity itself. On the
recent shift in historical memory in Russia, see Shawn Walker, ‘Putin Rewrites Russia’s
92 Authoritarian Backlash

of the Nazi regime, as seen by the effortless transition made by Kremlin officials
from these historical arguments to discussions about the current status of Russian-
speakers in Estonia.
This debate has developed into a largely unwinnable clash between two
fundamentally different perspectives of history. Nevertheless, the Russian
arguments are largely misrepresentations or exaggerations. The Soviet Union’s
annexation of the Baltic countries was never recognized by the United States, most
Western countries, or the governments-in-exile of these states. The legal basis of
the Baltic states’ claims to an illegal occupation has significant strength in the
historical record and international law, as seen by the 2004 European Court of
Human Rights decision in Penart v. Estonia. Moreover, massive human rights
abuses by the Soviet Union did, in fact, occur in these territories. The governments
of the Baltic states have been very clear not to support Nazi ideology or to downplay
the horrors of the Nazi period. Instead, the Kremlin is engaged in a logical fallacy
of equating criticism of the Soviet Union with being pro-Nazi. The governments
of the Baltic states categorically refute the policies of Nazi Germany, but also say
that the Soviet Union was bad as well. This neither dismisses the sacrifices made
by those who fought for the USSR nor glorifies Nazis.
The purpose of the Kremlin’s arguments is not historical accuracy, however.
Like the arguments about human rights abuses and the Baltic states’ democratic
deficit, this is an attempt to place the West on the defensive. This was evident in
a statement made by Sergei Ivanov at a ceremony honoring Russian diplomats
killed during the Second World War: ‘Attempts to make a mockery of history are
becoming an element and an instrument of the foreign policy of certain countries
… Unfortunately, certain organizations such as NATO and the EU connive with
these attempts’.90 In effect, Ivanov is arguing that the West has embraced a pro-
Nazi government by admitting Estonia into its military and political institutions.
Thus, international concern over liberal values, human rights, and democracy
should not be directed at Russia, but elsewhere.

Russia, Estonia, and International Institutions

The Kremlin has also utilized international institutions to deflect attention away
from itself and redefine the problems of human rights and democracy as existing
outside of Russia. This has come largely in two forms: attempting to place the
European Union on the defensive by arguing that it is not doing enough to secure
minority rights in Estonia and pushing international organizations to condemn
Estonia. Associated with both of these tactics is a refusal to allow others to examine

School History Books Under Soviet-style Control Laws’, The Independent (London), 20
August 2007.
90 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Steve Gutterman, ‘Russian Foreign Minister Says EU, NATO Connive with Efforts
to Rewrite History’, Associated Press, 7 May 2007.
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 93

Russia’s human rights record, even if it is done by the very same institutions which
Russia has called upon to criticize others.
During the period leading up to the admission of the Baltic states to the European
Union, Russia sought to ensure that Brussels would force Latvia and Estonia to
implement new policies friendly to Russian-speakers. In a letter to the EU listing
fourteen ‘concerns’, Moscow said that it wanted Riga and Tallinn to significantly
ease the naturalization process, grant automatic citizenship to retired Soviet soldiers,
create state-financed Russian-language high schools, and make Russian an official
language in areas populated by Russian-speakers.91 These concerns were raised
in the context of Russia’s assertion that the 1997 Partnership and Cooperation
Agreement (PCA) between Moscow and Brussels would not automatically extend
to EU newcomers and therefore would have to be renegotiated. In April 2004, the
EU and Russia signed a protocol to the PCA and issued a joint statement in which
both sides welcomed ‘EU membership [for the new members] as a firm guarantee
for the protection of human rights and the protection of persons belonging to
minorities. Both sides underline their commitment to the protection of human rights
and the protection of persons belonging to minorities’.92 Russian officials took this
statement to mean that the EU was now responsible for guaranteeing the human
and minority rights of Russian-speakers in the Baltics and that any extension of the
PCA to the new EU members (which needed to be ratified by the Russian Duma)
would be contingent on the EU’s policies.93 This view was confirmed by the
Russian Duma which adopted a declaration making relations between the EU and
Russia dependent on this issue.94 Similarly, the Russian Foreign Ministry released
its own statement which also linked Russia–EU relations to the status of Russian-
speakers and asserted that the Baltic states were treating accession as ‘a sort of
‘letter of indulgence’ permitting them to declare absence of a problem as such and
to continue … to infringe on the rights of the Russian-speaking population in the
most sensitive areas’.95 While directed at the Baltic states, this also represented
an indirect condemnation of the EU in that it questioned whether the organization
held its applicants to the standards set out in the Copenhagen Requirements of
1993, which mandated that applicants guarantee ‘democracy, the rule of law,

91 ����������������������������� Pressure Brussels for Extra Bonuses’, Baltic News

‘Moscow Using Baltic Card to ��������������������������������������
Service, 31 January 2004.
92 ����������������������������������������
‘EU and Russia Confirm Extension of the PCA ���������������������������������
to the Enlarged EU’ [Online:
European Union], 27 April 2004. Available at <
2004/20040062.htm>, accessed 11 July 2008.
‘EU, Russia to Continue Handling Minorities Issue’, Baltic News Service, 28 April
93 ����������������������������������������������������
94 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Robert Serebrennikov, ‘State Duma Urges Baltia States to Fulfill Human Rights
Committments’, TASS, 29 April 2004.
95 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Moscow to keep Issue of Estonian, Latvian Russian-Speakers on the Burner’,
Baltic News Service, 29 April 2004.
94 Authoritarian Backlash

human rights and respect for and, protection of minorities’.96 This criticism was
made more explicit in other statements by Kremlin officials who argued that they
did not, in fact, meet these requirements97 or, if the EU believed that they did, then
the requirements themselves are the problem.98 Either way, the EU was accused of
not living up to the joint agreement of April 2004 and having ‘double standards’
when it comes to human and minority rights protections: one which purports to
advocate these principles when dealing with outside countries (particularly Russia
and other non-democracies) and another for its members which are allowed to
violate these principles with the tacit approval of the EU.99
In addition to the EU, Russia sought to get the United Nations bodies to denounce
the Baltic states, such as the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of
Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) and the United Nations Commission on Human
Rights (UNCHR). Russia raised the issue of Estonia in the UNCERD and it issued a
report critical of Tallinn’s treatment of Russian-speakers.100 The Kremlin’s response
to this document was one of vindication of its own criticisms of Estonia: ‘The
outcome of the committee’s examination of Estonia’s reports clearly demonstrates
the validity of the international community’s concern, including independent
experts in the field of human rights, regarding continuing problems with ensuring
basic human rights in the country’.101 This response, however, ignored the several
‘positive aspects’ of Estonia’s minority rights policies, which were prominently
cited in the report.102
It should come as no surprise that Russia would also seek to find a sympathetic
reception in the UNCHR, an institution which has had a problematic record
of actually advancing the causes of human rights or democracy since most of
its recent members were either non-democracies or routine violators of human

96 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Accession Criteria’ [Online: European Union]. Available at <
enlargement/enlargement_process/accession_process/criteria/index_en.htm>, accessed 11
July 2008.
97 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������
See Sergei Lavrov’s statement in ‘Russia’s Lavrov Again Slams Estonia, Latvia on
Minorities’, Baltic News Service, 19 October 2004.
98 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
See Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizov’s statement in ‘Russia to
Make Another Attack at Estonia, Latvia in Brussels’, Baltic News Service, 23 November
99 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Kremlin officials have repeatedly made statements to this effect. See, for example,
the statements by Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Russian envoy to the EU, in Lyudmila
Alexandrova and Viktoria Sokolova, ‘Moscow Unhappy About Russian-Speaking Minority
in Latvia, Estonia’, TASS, 9 November 2004 and Maria Danilova, ‘Official: Russia and EU
Make Some Progress, but Obstacles Remain’, Associated Press, 19 December 2005.
100 �����������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination: Estonia’, 19 October 2006, CERD/C/EST/CO/7.
101  RIA Novosti, 28 August 2006, ‘Russia Claims Vindication by UN Report on
Rights Abuses in Estonia’, in BBCWM, 28 August 2006.
102 �����������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination: Estonia’, 19 October 2006, CERD/C/EST/CO/7, 2–3.
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 95

rights which used the commission to attack the West and shield themselves
from external criticism (Rahmani-Ocora 2006).103 For example, some recent
members of the UNCHR included China, Cuba, Libya, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi
Arabia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, as identified above, Yuri Fedotov
brought Russia’s concerns to the UNCHR in 2004 and 2005. In 2006, Russia
submitted a draft resolution clearly aimed at Estonia and Latvia to the United
Nations Human Rights Council (the UNCHR’s replacement), entitled, ‘Human
Rights and Arbitrary Deprivation of Nationality’.104 In a statement, the Russian
Foreign Ministry asserted that this proposal was crucial to dealing with ‘existing
problems in this field in certain parts of the world, particularly in states that regard
themselves as being advanced or established democratic institutions’.105 Again,
according to the Russian government, the problem of human and minority rights,
as well as democracy, is something that exists outside of Russia, especially in
states which recently joined the EU, and therefore the West has no right to criticize
Russian policies.
Russia also attempted to utilize European institutions to push its human rights
agenda. In July 2004, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s
Parliamentary Assembly passed a resolution which called upon Latvia and
Estonia to enact comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.106 The Kremlin
reacted quite positively to this outcome, repeatedly citing it to show that Tallinn
and Riga were outside of the European mainstream.107 However, the resolution
that was adopted was far weaker than the one initially proposed by Russia and
ultimately treated these states far more gently than subsequent Russian statements
would lead one to believe.108 Russia has had somewhat less luck since then in

103 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Eventually this body was scrapped because its biases were seen as undermining
the legitimacy of the entire United Nations system.
104 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
This was passed by the UNHRC and reported in ‘Report to the General Assembly
on the Second Session of the Human Rights Council’, 22 March 2007, A/HRC/2/9, 21.
105 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Adoption at the second resumed session of the UN Human Rights Council of
the Russian Draft Resolutions “Human Rights and Arbitrary Deprivation of Nationality”
and “Integrity of the Judicial System”’ [Online: Embassy of the Federation of Russia in
the Republic of Chile]. Available at <>, accessed 11
July 2008.
106 �����������������������������������
‘Edinburgh Declaration of the OSCE ���������������������������������������
Parliamentary Assembly and Resolutions
Adopted at the Thirteenth Annual Session’ [Online: Rt. Hon Bruce George MP], July 2004.
Available at <>, accessed 11 July 2008].
107 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
For example, see Natalia Simorova, ‘OSCE Concerned Over Russians in Latvia,
Estonia—FM’, TASS, 16 July 2004; Natalia Simorova, ‘Moscow Regrets Estonian FM’s
Remarks About Russia’, TASS, 19 July 2004; ‘Russia’s Lavrov Again Slams Estonia,
Latvia on Minorities’, Baltic News Service, 19 October 2004; Vitaly Kuchkin and Olga
Levitskaya, ‘Latvia, Estonia Ignore OSCE Recommendations—Russian FM Official’,
TASS, 22 November 2004.
‘OSCE Resolution Re National Minorities Not Harsh on Estonia’, Baltic News
108 ���������������������������������������������������������������
Service, 7 July 2004.
96 Authoritarian Backlash

other European institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights, which
ruled against Russian-speakers in the Baltics in decisions referred to by Kremlin-
aligned officials as ‘excessively politicised’ (that is, not pro-Russian).109 Moreover,
the June 2006 decision by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
(PACE) to end minority rights monitoring in Latvia brought a sharp rebuke from
the Kremlin.110 These have been only some of the more recent setbacks for Russia’s
attempt to bring Western international institutions to bare against Estonia, leading
the Russian government to accuse them, in effect, of giving Tallinn a pass on its
treatment toward its Russian-speaking minority. Specifically, the West is accused
of being ‘timid’,111 participating in ‘indifference and connivance’ toward the
Russian-speakers,112 and applying ‘double standards’ to Russia and the Baltics.113
This final accusation, of double standards toward human rights and democracy, is
particularly interesting since Moscow itself has long sought to use international
institutions to criticize others, but refuses to allow these same organizations to
examine its deteriorating record on human rights and democracy.
The touchiest subject for the Kremlin has been the ongoing conflict in Chechnya,
where Russia has been accused of massive human rights abuses in the first (1994–
1996) and second (1999–2000) Chechen wars. The Kremlin has sought to portray
these conflicts (especially the second war) as part of the international struggle
against terrorism. According to reports, Russian and EU officials held talks on
human rights in 2005 and, while Moscow repeatedly brought up the situation in
the Baltics, ‘Russian officials again called the attention to their European partners
to the fact that it is hopeless and counterproductive to speculate in the human rights

109 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
Boris Gryzlov qtd. in Diana Rudakova, ‘Some Rulings of Human Rights Court
Excessively Politicised’, TASS, 29 May 2006. Also see ‘Russian MFA Information and Press
Department Commentary Regarding Examination in European Court of Human Rights of
the Sysoyevs vs. Latvia Case’ [Online: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs], 9 July 2006.
Available at <>
accessed 11 July 2008.
110 ��������������������������������������
Yelena Volkova, ‘Moscow Bewildered by PACE’s
Decision to Stop Dialog with
Latvia’, TASS, 29 June 2006.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko in ITAR–TASS, 22
111 �����������������������������������������������������
November 2005, reproduced as ‘Russia Urges Europe to Stand Up for Russian Minorities in
Baltic’, in BBCWM, 22 November 2005; Russia’s envoy to the EU, Sergei Yastrzhembsky,
in Maria Danilova, ‘Official: Russia and EU Make Some Progress, But Obstacles Remain’,
Associated Press, 19 December 2005.
112 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
Russian envoy to the OSCE, Alexei Borodavkin, ‘Russia Envoy at OSCE for
Objective Assessment of Events in Estonia’, TASS, 3 May 2007.
113 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
Chairman of the Duma’s International Affairs Committee, Kostantin Kosachev,
in Lyudmila Alexandrova and Viktoria Sokolova, ‘Moscow Unhappy About Russian-
Speaking Minority in Latvia, Estonia’, TASS, 9 November 2004; Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov in Valery Agarkov and Anna Kurbanova, ‘EU Protects Riga, Tallinn from Criticism
Over Human Rights—FM’, TASS, 20 October 2005.
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 97

situation in Chechnya’.114 Moreover, before the UNCHR, where he attacked the

Baltics for their human rights policies, Fedotov accused those who criticize Russia
for its policies in Chechnya of ‘[misusing] human rights rhetoric for justifying
terrorists’.115 In addition to Chechnya, Russia’s minority rights policies—in the
Mari El Republic (whose Finno–Ugric population are akin to the Estonians) have
placed Moscow on the defensive, much to the seeming joy of Tallinn which has
taken the opportunity to accuse Moscow of its own ‘double standards’.116 Finally,
in a closed-door European Parliament meeting on human rights issues, Lavrov
reportedly ignored the set agenda items and focused instead on the situation in the
Baltics, while at the same time rejecting the legitimacy of any criticisms by the EU
of itself or its allies as an attempt to impose Western values upon others.117

The Bronze Soldier Monument Row

In 2007, the conflict between Russia and Estonia rose to a new level over the so-
called Bronze Soldier monument. The short version of these events is as follows.
In January 2007, the Estonian government approved the removal of a monument
installed in the heart of Tallinn to commemorate the third anniversary of the
Soviet Red Army retaking the country in 1944. The monument became a physical
representation of the controversy over Estonian-Soviet historical memories: after
Estonian independence, the statue became an important symbol for many Russian-
speakers who saw it as an expression of the continuity between themselves, their
Soviet past, and their current ties to Russia; by contrast, many Estonians saw
the monument as a symbol of Soviet domination over their country and wanted
it removed. When the Estonian government sought to move the monument (as
well as the remains of Soviet soldiers buried on the site) to a military cemetery
elsewhere in the city, days of mass protests, rioting, and looting erupted in late
April 2007. Estonian police responded with force and one Russian citizen was
killed—the reasons why a Russian citizen was involved in protests in Estonia
and who killed him both remain unclear. Within days, the monument was moved
and a rededication ceremony was held in time for Victory in Europe Day. The
Russian government reacted harshly to these events and a Kremlin-aligned youth
movement besieged the Estonian embassy in Moscow. In addition, government

114 �����������������������������������������������������������������
Alexandra Ursova, ‘Russia, EU Agree to Hold Regular Human Rights
Consultations’, TASS, 2 March 2005.
115 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Sam Cage, ‘Treatment of Russian Speakers in Baltics in ‘Baltant Violation’ of
International Standards’, Associated Press, 17 March 2005.
116 ����������
‘European Parliament to Discuss Situation of Russia’s Mari Minority’, Baltic
News Service, 10 May 2005; ‘Russian Ambassador to Estonia Defends Moscow’s Ethnic
Minorities Policy’, Baltic News Service, 19 October 2005.
117  Eesti Paevaleht (Tallinn), 18 May 2006, reproduced as ‘Foreign Minister Lavrov
Raises Issue of Russian Minorities in Estonia, Latvia’, in BBCWM, 23 May 2006.
98 Authoritarian Backlash

and private Estonian websites were flooded with denial-of-service attacks, which
Estonian officials claimed were directed from the Kremlin and represented the first
What is interesting about this series of events is that the rhetoric used by
the Kremlin to attack Estonia represented the crystallization of the Russian
government’s attempt to redefine the problems of human rights and democracy
in the region. The Estonian government may easily be accused of having
been insensitive, provocative, and acting in a politically-motivated manner.118
Nevertheless, the level of vitriol displayed by Russian officials was in no way
proportionate to the actions of the Estonian government. The Russian response
was so exaggerated that it had the effect of uniting the West behind Tallinn and
unintentionally reminding those in the region of the stark differences between
Russia and the democratic world.
After passage by a two–thirds majority in the Estonian parliament in January
2007, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves signed legislation approving the removal
of the Bronze Soldier statue to a military cemetery and the reburial of the Soviet
soldiers. This sparked an immediate, negative reaction from the Kremlin and
Kremlin-aligned politicians. Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Duma’s
International Affairs Committee and United Russia member, called it ‘immoral’,
‘offensive’, ‘a desecration’, and ‘another chapter of the heroization of Nazism’.119
Other government officials used terms such as ‘blasphemous’120 and ‘monstrous’.121
A few days after the Estonian bill was signed, the Duma unanimously passed its
own bill whose title alone, ‘On the Demonstration of Neo-Nazi and Revanchist
Mood in Estonia’, made plain the feelings of the Russian legislature and tapped
into Russian rhetoric about the liberal credentials of the Estonian government.122
Once the riots over the monument’s removal erupted, this rhetoric was taken
to another level. Lavrov said that ‘the Estonian government has spat on values’
and the Duma called for diplomatic relations with Estonia to be broken off and
the enactment of economic sanctions.123 Several Kremlin-aligned officials focused
on what they considered Tallinn’s liberal democratic and human rights failings.

118 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
This last point is relevant because the vote to remove the monument came as
the two main parties in Estonia’s ruling coalition were in a tight parliamentary election
119 ����������
‘Estonian President
Signs Bill Allowing Removal of Controversial Red Army
Statue’, Associated Press, 11 January 2007; ‘Russia Intends to “Defend” Remains of Soviet
Soldiers in Estonia’, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 15 January 2007.
120 �������������������������������������������������
Sergei Lavrov qtd. in ‘Russia Harshly Criticizes Planned
Removal of Red Army
Statue in Estonia’, Associated Press, 16 January 2007.
121 �������������������������������������������������������������������
Russia’s ambassador to Estonia, Nikolai Uspenski, qtd. in ‘Estonia ���������
Storm with Soviet Statue Vote’, Agence France Presse, 15 February 2007.
122 �����������������������������������������
‘Russian Lawmakers Criticize Estonia for Planned
Removal of Red Army Statue’,
Associated Press, 17 January 2007.
123 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������
Jari Tanner, ‘Estonia Removes Soviet Monument Amid Riots, Russian Warns of
Sanctions’, Associated Press, 27 April 2007.
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 99

For example, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said that the Duma was seeking ‘to
attract attention to the challenging flouting of human rights in Estonia and demand
the severest reaction from the international community’124 and Kosachev said that
Western international organizations should take a stand against this ‘violation
of elementary norms of human morals’.125 Mikhail Margelov, the chairman of
the Federation Council’s International Affairs Committee, urged human rights
organizations and democratic international institutions to ask the following
question of the Estonian government: ‘May one speak about you sharing European
values, common for all us Europeans—the supremacy of the law, human rights
and democracy—while at the same time trying to defend yourselves with such
barbaric methods? European values and barbarism are incompatible concepts’.126
A similar argument was expressed by Lavrov, who criticized the ‘cruel violence’
of the Estonian government and ‘expressed bewilderment over the absence of the
proper reaction of the European Union to the actions of Tallinn that contradict
European values and culture’.127
When taken in context, however, these comments emerge as little more
than willful exaggerations and political rhetoric. On the one hand, the Estonian
government neither destroyed the statue nor desecrated the remains of the Soviet
soldiers buried at the monument. The site’s location was deemed inappropriate
because of its central location in Tallinn and the emotions surrounding it.
Regardless of one’s position on the history of Estonian-Soviet relations, the
former prime minster of Estonia, Mart Laar, was correct in saying that it ‘was one
of the most hated monuments in Estonia’.128 Since, as the Estonian Prime Minister
Andrus Ansip said at the time, ‘monuments must unite people, but this monument
in question is splitting the people’,129 the decision was made to move it somewhere
more appropriate and less controversial. In addition, the remains of the soldiers
were either reburied or returned to their families. Thus, it could not be honestly said
that the actions of the Estonian government rose to the level of ‘blasphemy’. On
the other hand, it is also important to reiterate that the action could be legitimately
seen as insensitive and provocative toward the Russian-speakers, some of whom
already perceived of themselves as being victims of discrimination. Nevertheless,
while the Estonian government maybe should have been more concerned with

‘Duma Speaker Demands Severest Reaction to Estonia’s Actions’, TASS, 28

124 ���������������������������������������������������������������
April 2007.
125 ����������������������
‘Russian MP Calls for PACE Debates on Situation in Estonia’, TASS, 28 April
126  Channel One Worldwide (Moscow), 28 April 2007, reproduced as ‘Russian
Senator Calls for International Pressure on Estonia’, in BBSWM, 28 April 2007.
‘Russian-Estonian Row Ongoing’, Xinhua General News Service, 3 May 2007.
127 ��������������������������������
‘Ex-Estonian Leader Suggest Baltic States, Russia Form Commission’, Associated
128 ��������������������������������������������������������������������
Press, 4 May 2007.
129 ����������
‘Estonian President
Signs Bill Allowing Removal of Controversial Red Army
Statue’, Associated Press, 11 January 2007.
100 Authoritarian Backlash

the feelings of this minority, the Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen was also
probably correct in writing that it ‘cannot be a human rights issue’.130 Certainly
it was of an emotional symbolic nature, but moving the statue did not violate the
fundamental rights or civil liberties of the ethnic minority population. If they had
destroyed it, then the ethnic Russians and the Russian government may have had
a legal or moral argument; but that simply did not happen. Moreover, the Russian
government’s comments were more than ironic coming just weeks after the
Kremlin’s heavy-handed crackdown on peaceful protests by anti-regime activists
in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The protesters in Tallinn were far more violent than
those in Russia and the Kremlin’s reaction to its own protesters was equal to or
even more forceful than that of Tallinn.
In addition to the events in Tallinn itself, the political crisis and rhetoric
crossed into Russia. Kremlin-aligned youth groups (including Nashi and Young
Russia) blockaded the Estonian embassy in Moscow for over a week and some
activists even attempted to physically assault the Estonian ambassador when
she tried to give a press conference at the offices of Argumenty i Fakty.131 One
Russian newspaper criticized the Kremlin for allowing the protests against the
Estonian embassy in clear violation of Russian domestic law and international
law while, by contrast, cracking down on anti-government protesters just weeks
before.132 In addition, a series of denial of service attacks—in which an internet
site is flooded with hits in order to make it unavailable to viewers—were launched
against Estonian websites. Estonian officials claimed (though could not confirm)
that these attacks were from internet addresses connected to the Kremlin, making
this possibly the first ever government-coordinated ‘cyberwar’.133
The outcome of these events was probably not as the Russian government had
intended.134 The Kremlin’s claims about human rights abuses in Estonia only made
the contrast between Russia’s official commitment to liberal democratic values

130 �����������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Tallinn Memorial: Vanhanen Emphasises Non-interference, Kanerva Calls
for EU Solidarity’, Helsingin Sanomat [Online], 30 April 2007. Available at <
english/article/1135226921208> accessed 11 July 2008.
131 �����������������������������������������������������������������
Jari Tanner, ‘Estonia Re-Erects Statue at Military Cemetery Amid Protests’,
Associated Press, 30 April 2007; Maria Danilova, ‘Dispute Between Russia and Estonia
Over War Memorial Heats Up in Moscow’, Associated Press, 2 May 2007.
132  Moskovskiy Komsomolets, 4 May 2007, reproduced as ‘Moscow Daily Says
Estonian Embassy Siege “Shameful”, “Unlawful”’, in BBCWM, 4 May 2007.
133 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
Mark Landler and John Markoff, ‘First War in Cyberspace: The Lessons of
Estonia’, International Herald Tribune, 29 May 2007, 1; Joshua Davis, ‘Hackers Take Down
the Most Wired Country in Europe’, Wired Magazine [Online], 21 August 2007. Available
at <>, accessed 11 July
134 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
Like many of the policies outlined in this book, Russian actions may have
multiple objectives. In addition to placing the West on the defensive, the Kremlin likely
also sought to give itself a political boost by appealing to nationalist emotions within the
country and distracting ordinary Russians from problems at home.
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 101

and the reality that much more stark. During this diplomatic row, Ilves visited
Georgia to express solidarity with another democratic country also pressured by
Russia. There he proclaimed, ‘Democratic countries should stay together’.135 In
fact, this appeared to be the case: rather than placing it on the defensive, Russia’s
response to the monument row united the West against what was perceived as an
increasingly antagonistic and authoritarian Russia. For example, NATO countries
expressed their deep concern with the Russian government’s inaction (or actions,
given the link between the youth groups and the Kremlin) against the embassy of
their fellow alliance member.136 Bush also made a powerful show of support for
Estonia in the midst of the diplomatic crisis by announcing that he would welcome
the Estonian President to the White House.137 The European Parliament, as well
as individual EU members, called upon European countries to stand with Estonia
against Russia.138 Finally, despite Russia blasting the human rights records of
Estonia and Latvia as being ‘unacceptable and unworthy of Europe’ at a May 2007
Russia-EU summit,139 EU leaders, including the president of the EU, Germany’s
Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the president of the European Commission, Jose
Manuel Durao Barroso, reportedly stood up to the Russian leader, despite a
previous pattern of reluctance to confront Russia on human rights issues.140


Russia’s rhetorical defense against regional democratic trends has assumed two
forms: advancing the concept of sovereign democracy as a way to undermine
the legitimacy of external criticism and diverting attention away from itself
by criticizing the liberal democratic credentials of others. Although both have
been presented as promoting a liberal agenda—creating the ideological basis of
democracy in Russia and supporting human rights abroad—these are based upon
fundamental misrepresentations or exaggerations.
The Russian government’s assertion that its right to define its own democratic
institutions is under threat from outside is not accurate. It is a truism that every

135 ��������������������
‘Georgian, Estonian Presidents
Vow to Stand Together Against Russian Rhetoric’,
Associated Press, 7 May 2007.
136 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘NATO Statement on Estonia’ [Online: North Atlantic Treaty Organization], 3
May 2007. Available at <>, accessed 11 July
‘Bush to Host Estonian Leader Amid Russia Dispute’, Agence France Presse, 4
137 ����������������������������������������������������
May 2007.
138  Ekho Moskvy Radio, 11 May 2007, reproduced as ‘Russian MP Criticizes EU
Resolution Defending Estonia’, in BBCWM, 11 May 2007.
Dario Thuburn, ‘EU, Russia Clash over Democracy at Volga Summit’, Agence
139 ������������������������������������������������������������������
France Presse, 18 May 2007.
140 �����
Anne Penketh,
‘Merkel Rounds on Putin
��������������������� ������������� The
over Arrest of Protesters’,
Independent (London), 19 May 2007, 3.
102 Authoritarian Backlash

democracy will look and function in a distinct way, based upon historical, cultural,
and institutional differences. If one examines the leading democracies in the current
international system (the US, United Kingdom, France, India, Japan, etc.), none of
them are the same and in fact some of them are radically different (e.g. the level
of political centralization in the British House of Commons would be completely
unacceptable to Americans who emphasize checks and balances), though they all
recognize each other as liberal democracies and respect the diversity of democracy.
There is no universal form of democracy that is advanced by the West. In fact, Bush
directly addressed this issue at the June 2006 G-8 summit: ‘I fully understand,
however, that there will be a Russian-style democracy. I don’t expect Russia to
look like the United States’.141 What is asserted by democratic powers, however,
is that all countries which want to be considered democracies should follow
certain rules: free and fair elections, a free press, substantive checks on power, etc.
Those states which are engaged in a transition to democracy will live up to these
standards to a certain degree, but will be moving toward greater freedoms and
political competition. In Russia, just the opposite is occurring. External criticisms
of the Kremlin’s governing style are not based upon a desire to make Russia look
like every other democratic country, but are made precisely because it is moving
away from the very principles it espouses. Russia’s ‘form’ of democracy has
become less and less democratic over time, regardless of how many times the
Kremlin asserts that it is in fact democratic. Ultimately, the ‘sovereign’ component
of sovereign democracy does not stand for the Russian people’s right to determine
their own political future, but rather for the Kremlin’s right to determine Russia’s
political future.
A similar thing can be said about the Russian government’s criticisms of
the West generally and Estonia in particular. While there is always room for
improvement in every country’s human and minority rights policies, a difference
must be made between those governments which have made a fundamental
commitment to liberal democracy and those which have not. Clearly, the Kremlin
has steadily shifted toward the second category. By contrast, although there remain
problems with integrating Russian-speakers into its political system, Estonia has
made this commitment. Nevertheless, the Kremlin has persisted in condemning
others while resisting any scrutiny of itself. Like its assertion of the democratic
nature of sovereign democracy, no matter how many times it accuses Tallinn of
gross human rights abuses, it does not change the fact that Estonia is far freer than
However, the ultimate purpose of these policies is not to accurately reflect
reality, but rather to obfuscate the differences between democratic and authoritarian
states. Authoritarian regimes often seek to manipulate the language of democracy
to place democratic countries on the defensive and weaken their resolve to
promote democracy abroad. The proliferation of what Ivan Krastev (2006: 52)
calls democracy’s ‘doubles’—‘regimes that claim to be democratic and may look

141 ������������������ Putin at News Conference’, Associated Press, 15 July 2006.

‘Remarks by Bush, ���������������������������
Redefine: Rhetorical Defenses Against External Criticism 103

like democracies, but which rule like autocracies’—is part of this trend. Russia’s
Potemkin democracy, with is uncompetitive elections, impotent legislature,
meaningless multiparty system, and the veneer of open political debate, is a clear
This page has been left blank intentionally
Chapter 6
Bolster: Russian Support for
Authoritarianism in Belarus

A revolution in Belarus is a revolution in Russia.

Alexander Lukashenko

One of the key means by which regional democratic trends are spread is through
example. The fall of an authoritarian regime shows those in nearby states that
such an event is possible. If a pattern of democratic transitions forms, this could
provide a sense of momentum and inevitability which could further energize pro-
democracy forces. However, if a regime is able to maintain its hold on power
in the face of democratic revolutions in nearby countries, it is possible that
this demonstration effect might be muted and any sense of momentum halted.
Therefore, it is in the interests of authoritarian leaders to undermine the spread
of democracy by helping like-minded regimes through a strategy of bolster. By
providing assistance, the bolstering country is reinforcing the ability of the target
state to resist regime change and therefore complements the latter’s own strategy
of insulate. A clear example of this in practice is Russian policy toward Belarus.
Belarus is an important country for Russia. It lies at the easternmost border
with the democratic states of Europe and is perhaps the closest to Russia in terms
of culture, religion, and language. In addition, its foreign policy orientation has
been decisively pro-Russian and its slide toward authoritarianism under the
presidency of Alexander Lukashenko foreshadowed Putin’s consolidation of power.
Therefore, ‘losing’ Belarus to democracy would have dramatic reverberations in
Russia and significant consequences for the Kremlin. As a result, despite serious
problems in the personal relationship between Lukashenko and Putin, Russian
support for Belarus has been extensive. The fact that Russia continues to help
Belarus despite these problems illustrates just how important the survival of the
Lukashenko regime is to the Kremlin. Although this pattern of support preceded the
color revolutions, it intensified in the period 2004–2006, when there was the most
danger to Lukashenko, and receded after the March 2006 Belarusian presidential
election, when it became clear that, at least in the short-term, the president was
firmly in power.

  Centre TV (Moscow), 11 July 2005, reproduced as ‘Belarusian President Vows to

Resist Political Change’, in BBC Monitoring International Reports [BBCMIR], 11 July
106 Authoritarian Backlash

This chapter examines how Russia has sought to bolster or reinforce the
government of Belarus. It begins with a brief overview of Russia–Belarus relations
after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The subsequent sections thematically cover
the Kremlin’s support for the Lukashenko regime by focusing on the ways in
which this support counters those forces which have traditionally been seen to
promote democratization: conditionality, diffusion, and integration. Although
Moscow should not receive sole credit for Lukashenko’s survival, Russian policy
has helped sustain authoritarianism in Belarus. These sections cover Russian
policy through 2006. Following these sections is an overview of how the tensions
from mid-2006 to the present, in part precipitated by a row over natural gas, have
affected Russia–Belarus relations. The conclusion of this chapter posits the future
of the Lukashenko regime and how Russian interests will be affected by political
change in Belarus.

Russia–Belarus Relations

Russia–Belarus relations are deeply connected to the national identity of the

respective countries and peoples (Kuzio 2003). For Russia, the near simultaneous
development of the state, nation, and empire led Russian national identity to
have a strong imperial content, which was later reinforced by the Soviet Union.
Consequently, the development of a Russian identity based upon the nation–
state of the Russian Federation has been weak, when compared to the notion
of reintegrating at least parts of the former Soviet Union. Belarus is seen as the
country closest to the Russians, and it constituted one of the three components
(along with Ukraine) of Kievan Rus’. Therefore, it seemed only logical that the
eastern Slavs should be joined together; this became the ‘imperial default’ for
many Russians (Kuzio 1998: 227). Similarly, it is widely accepted that Belarus’s
national identity as a nation-state is extremely weak (Marples 1999, Ioffe 2003).
From the elimination of its cultural elite under Stalin, to its rapid urbanization, as
well as the russification and de-ethnization of communist ideology, Belarusian
national identity was the most ‘Soviet’ and pro-Russian in nature. A separate
Belarusian existence does not have a firm foundation in the public consciousness
and rejoining Russia has widespread support. Consequently, the pattern of Russia–
Belarus relations in the post-Cold War period has been a reflection of the ebb and
flow of various reunification proposals.

Given the birth eastern Slavic identity in Kiev, Ukraine is sometimes seen as the
closest national cousin to Russia. However, there has been a push for a level of cultural and
historical separation from the ‘Great Russians’ amongst many Ukrainians in the western
part of the country. This has not been the case amongst most Belarusians. In fact, it has been
argued that Belarus is a ‘denationalized’ nation which looks more to Russia (and the Soviet
Union) for its identity than inward at its own culture and history.
Bolster: Russian Support for Authoritarianism in Belarus 107

The first moves toward reintegrating the two states began under former
Belarusian Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kebich. In September 1993, the Belarusian
government, along with nine former Soviet republics, signed a framework
agreement on establishing a ‘ruble zone’ and economic union. This was followed
by a bilateral Monetary Union Treaty signed by Kebich and his Russian counterpart
in April 1994. Given the widespread popularity in Belarus for reunification,
Kebich sought to use this treaty to boost his popularity in the runup to the July
1994 presidential election (Danilovich 2006: 36–7). While this was popular, it
was not enough to overcome his otherwise poor performance as prime minister.
Consequently, Alexander Lukashenko, who was against the idea of union, assumed
the presidency in 1994 on the basis of an anti-corruption platform.
Upon taking power, however, Lukashenko reversed course and became a
steadfast supporter of Soviet nostalgia and reunification with Russia. In 1995, he
held a referendum restoring the Soviet-era flag and state symbols, as well as making
Russian an official language. Attempts to expose the USSR’s bloody past were
immediately halted. In addition, a Treaty of Friendship, Good-Neighborliness, and
Cooperation with Russia was signed.
Actual moves toward establishing a full union between the two states began
in April 1996, during the Russian presidential campaign. In order to undercut
nationalist and communist candidates, Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a
treaty with Lukashenko creating a ‘Community’ between Russia and Belarus.
This document called for political and economic integration and the creation of a
number of supranational institutions, symbols, and an anthem. Although ratified by
both legislatures, the treaty was quite ambiguous and disagreements over the pace
and nature of integration were not resolved. Nevertheless, a second treaty, signed
a year later, upgraded the Community to a ‘Union’ and sought to strengthen joint
institutions. One of its chief aims was the ‘consistent progress toward voluntary
unification’. As a result of this treaty, the Parliamentary Assembly of Belarus and
Russia opened in Kaliningrad and passed a number of draft laws and resolutions.
Moreover, a Union budget was adopted and a commission was established to
harmonize laws between the two countries. Nevertheless, progress was glacial and
many provisions of the 1996 and 1997 treaties were simply not implemented.
Further agreements and treaties, including a pledge by both sides in 1999 to
‘deepen’ the Union and set a timetable for reintegration, have not been able to
overcome very serious disputes over both the conception and implementation of
union. The central problem has been one of structure: Would Belarus and Russia
achieve union as ‘equals’ or would the former, which is many times smaller than
Russia in terms of its economy, population, and landmass, be subordinate to the
latter? Under the first formulation, supported by Lukashenko, Belarus would
retain its sovereignty and have an equal say over union policies. By contrast, most
Russian officials believe that Belarus should simply join the Russian Federation

  ITAR–TASS, 23 May 1997, reproduced as ‘Text of Russia–Belarus Union Charter’,

in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts [BBCSWB], 26 May 1997.
108 Authoritarian Backlash

as one or more federal units, as expressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in

August 2002.
In addition, a huge impediment to unification has been the political ambitions of
the two presidents. At home, Lukashenko has used the idea of the Union to increase
his popularity and to distract the population from his increasingly authoritarian
governing style and unreformed economy. However, it was also widely thought that
his support for reunification was actually a cover for his larger political ambitions:
Lukashenko, who was quite popular in Russia and had assumed a larger presence
in Russian politics in the late 1990s, reportedly thought he could achieve political
dominion over both Belarus and Russia by succeeding the ailing Yeltsin, if the two
countries were merged. This idea ended abruptly when Yeltsin resigned and Putin
became president. Putin’s leadership style does not allow for political rivals and
he has seen Lukashenko as a threat. Moreover, unlike Yeltsin, Putin’s high level
of popularity has meant that he has not had to use the prospect of reintegration
for domestic political purposes. Consequently, he has sought to slow down the
pace of reintegration—his August 2002 statement was seen as an attempt to make
Lukashenko an offer he had to refuse. As a result of these disputes, the Russia–
Belarus Union has not been established in any substantive form. In addition, a
series of natural gas disputes damaged relations in recent years. This has caused
Lukashenko to occasionally flirt with the West, but his continued authoritarianism
has left him with few options for a shift in foreign policy orientation.
Despite all of this, the prospects for Russian-Belarusian reunification remain
alive. Neither side appears willing to scuttle it completely. Although he has often
attempted to recast himself as a nationalist defending Belarusian interests against
Russian encroachments, Lukashenko’s popularity and legitimacy ultimately rests
upon the prospect of reintegration with Russia. Furthermore, this notion remains
popular in Russia, even if the Kremlin itself is less enthusiastic about it. Despite
political discord between Moscow and Minsk, Putin has continued to support
Lukashenko politically and diplomatically, and has not sought to legitimize
the Belarusian opposition. Moreover, Putin has not pressured Lukashenko to
democratize, nor has he cut off all subsidies for Belarus, both of which have had
the effect of propping-up the Lukashenko regime. In addition, Putin has continued
to support the idea of reunification rhetorically, commenting in his April 2007

This followed a June 2002 meeting in which Putin �������������������������������������
criticized plans for a unified
parliament and argued that Russia’s economic interests would take precedence over any
merger plans. Andrei Zolotov Jr., ‘Putin Surprises With Belarus Plan’, Moscow Times, 15
August 2002.
The exception to this is in regards to military integration, which has continued apace
and has resulted in the de facto military subordination of Belarus to Russia (Deyermond
2004, Martinsen 2002).
Bolster: Russian Support for Authoritarianism in Belarus 109

state-of-the-nation address that ‘Russia is open to any forms and models of

Russia–Belarus relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union have been
mixed. The Union is far more on paper than a reality. Moreover, tensions between
the two states have gotten worse in recent years, with both sides at times launching
barbed attacks against the other. Nevertheless, the Kremlin’s policies toward Minsk
has helped authoritarianism persist in Belarus. The following sections illustrate
how these policies have protected the Lukashenko regime from the democratic
trends in Europe by providing Belarus with an alternative to Western integration
and the means to resist Western pressure.


Democratic states attempt to spread democracy to authoritarian regimes most often

through conditionality: a process by which a mix of benefits and punishments are
offered to a nondemocratic government in hopes of precipitating a democratic
opening. The United States, as well as European institutions such as the European
Union (EU), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE),
and the Council of Europe (CoE), have tried to bring Belarus’s increasingly
authoritarian political system in line with democratic principles through policies
which seek to isolate Minsk and apply pressure along diplomatic, political,
economic, and strategic/military lines. In some cases, they have actively aided
opposition groups within Belarus. However, Russian policy has alleviated Western
pressure by providing the Lukashenko government with an alternative source of
support in each of these areas.


The diplomatic isolation of Belarus is focused on excluding it from the Western

community of states. The Bush administration has been particularly harsh in its
rhetoric toward Minsk, calling it an ‘outpost of tyranny’ and the ‘last true dictatorship
in the center of Europe’. In October 2004, the US passed the Belarus Democracy
Act, which imposed sanctions upon Belarus and funded opposition groups in the
country. Its explicit aim was to foster regime change. Since then, the White House
has continued to isolate Minsk through public statements, and Bush administration
officials have met repeatedly with anti-Lukashenko opposition forces in order to
raise their profile and to show American support for their struggle.

  RTR Rossiya (Moscow), 26 April 2007, reproduced as ‘Putin Delivers Annual

Address to Parliament—Full Text’, in BBCMIR, 27 April 2007.
Guy Dinmore, ‘US Aid for “Blue” Belarus Opposition’, Financial Times, 4 June
2005, 7.
110 Authoritarian Backlash

By contrast, the EU has been more willing to pursue a policy of engagement.

However, it too has openly criticized the Lukashenko regime’s policies as
detrimental to the country’s European identity and has helped fund the democratic
opposition in Belarus (Korosteleva 2002: 60–61). An attempt to engage Belarus was
made in 1999 through an offer of conditional incentives if the Lukashenko regime
followed democratic procedures for the upcoming elections. These ultimately
failed as the elections remained marred with corruption. Benita Ferrero-Waldner,
the EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy,
stated before the European Parliament that Belarus’s political system placed it
outside ‘the family of European nations’. In a paper released in 2006, the EU
referred to the people of Belarus as the ‘first victims’ of their country’s isolation.
These statements were in line with the EU’s broader Belarus policy: in late 1996
and early 1997, following the fraudulent November 1996 referendum which
granted Lukashenko nearly unlimited power, the EU abandoned steps toward a
Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Belarus (making it the only country
in Europe without such an agreement), suspended ministerial contacts, and froze
nearly all aid programs to the country. Moreover, in the summer of 1998, senior
Belarusian officials were banned from entering EU territory (Guicherd 2002: 319).
The list of Belarusian officials on the so-called ‘visa ban’ has steadily increased
over time. Poor EU–Belarus relations makes the completion of a trade agreement
impossible, meaning that bilateral trade remains governed by an outdated 1989
agreement between the EU and the USSR.
Other European institutions, such as the OSCE and the CoE have attempted
to influence Belarus’s political system (Wieck 2002). The OSCE Troika issued
a strongly worded statement criticizing the November 1996 referendum, and
the organization created an ‘Advisory and Monitoring Group’ to promote
democratization in Belarus and allocated financial support for Belarusian groups
to monitor the Lukashenko regime and its policies. Since then, the OSCE’s
primary role in promoting democratization in Belarus has been to condemn the
conduct of Belarusian elections, which have been consistently flawed. In January
1997, the Parliamentary Assembly of the CoE suspended the Special Guest
status of Belarus’s National Assembly and Belarus was not invited to the CoE’s
October 1997 summit. In fact, Belarus is the only country in Europe which is not a
member of the CoE. Like the OSCE, the CoE has repeatedly condemned Belarus’s
flawed election results and CoE officials and bodies have continuously called for
democracy in Belarus and lent moral support to opposition forces.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, ‘Political Situation and the Independence of the Media’
[Online: European Union], 5 July 2005. Available at <
news/ferrero/2005/sp05_417.htm>, accessed 11 July 2008.
‘What the European Union Could Bring to Belarus’ [Online: European Union].
Available at <>, accessed
11 July 2008.
Bolster: Russian Support for Authoritarianism in Belarus 111

Although Belarus has been effectively exiled from the West because of
Lukashenko’s policies, this is not the case with its eastern neighbor. Russia has not
sought to isolate Belarus or put any serious pressure on the Lukashenko regime to
democratize. Just as important has been Putin’s willingness to provide Lukashenko
diplomatic cover in response to Western criticisms of Belarus’s fraudulent
elections. Parliamentary elections in October 2000 and March 2001 solidified
Lukashenko’s power and increased Belarus’s international isolation. Nevertheless,
the Kremlin refused to follow Western calls to punish the regime for its actions.
Later, in the aftermath of the September 2001 Belarusian presidential election,
which European institutions universally pronounced unfair and fraudulent, Putin
telephoned Lukashenko and congratulated him on his ‘convincing victory’.10
A similar pattern occurred after the October 2004 elections, which included
a referendum allowing Lukashenko to run for president an unlimited number of
times and a parliamentary election in which opposition parties failed to win a
single seat. Again, Western institutions and countries were unanimous in their
rejection of the legitimacy of both votes, while the Kremlin disregarded Western
criticisms and recognized the fraudulent elections. Pavel Borodin, the Russia–
Belarus Union State Secretary and a close Putin ally, also declared the votes
legitimate and framed Western criticism as a reaction to the process of Belarus-
Russia unification.11 Igor Ivanov, secretary of the Russian Security Council and
former foreign minister under Putin, gave a lengthy defense of the conduct and
outcome of the referendum.12 Official Russian observers echoed these comments
and the Russian Foreign Ministry called the vote ‘transparent’.13 Later, the
Kremlin opposed American sanctions imposed against Belarus under the Belarus
Democracy Act.14 Without the Kremlin’s support, it would have been far more
difficult for Lukashenko to brush off Western disapproval.
In the aftermath of the Orange Revolution, the Russian government became
more strident in its defense of the regime in Minsk. For example, Putin moved
quickly to support Lukashenko in April 2005 by meeting with him in the Kremlin
the day after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Belarusian
opposition figures, during which she stated that it was ‘time for change to come
to Belarus’.15 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected Rice’s comments:

‘Putin Congratulates Lukashenko on His Re-election: Kremlin’, Agence France

10 ��������������������������������������������������������������
Presse, 10 September 2001.
11 �������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Press Conference with Russia and Belarussia Union State Secretary Pavel ������
Borodin’, Official Kremlin International News Broadcast, 19 October 2004.
12 ��������������������������������������������������������
‘Russian Security Council Secretary Invites Respect for Popular
Will Expressed at
Referendum in Belarus’, RIA Novosti, 1 November 2004.
13 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Andrew Jack and Tom Warner, ‘Putin Blesses Favoured “Near Abroad” Candidates’,
Financial Times (London), 20 October 2004, 3.
‘Russia Condemns US Decision to “Sanction” Belarus over Referendum’, Agence
14 ���������������������������������������������������������������������
France Presse, 21 October 2004.
‘Analysis: Rice and “Change” in Belarus’, UPI, 21 April 2005.
15 ������������������������������������������
112 Authoritarian Backlash

‘We would not, of course, be advocating what some people call regime changes
anywhere … We think the democratic process, the process of reform cannot be
imposed from outside’.16 Russia’s support for Belarus at this time of increasing
American pressure was considered so important that Lukashenko publicly
thanked Putin and Lavrov ‘for the immense support we received from them in
a very complex period of our history as an independent state’.17 He even made
jokes about Rice’s statement, seemingly secure in his knowledge that he had
the Kremlin’s backing.18 Two months later, Russia rejected out of hand a CoE
recommendation that its relationship with Belarus be conditioned on the regime’s
records on human rights and civil liberties.19 Rather than follow the Western lead
in isolating Belarus, Moscow appeared willing to oppose the West by maintaining
its extensive bilateral relations with the pariah state.
In the run-up to the March 2006 presidential election, Russian officials came out
in favor of Lukashenko and opposed to any attempt to pressure Belarus. Russian
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov made it clear that Russia would not depart from
its support of the regime. In a statement during the 42nd International Conference
on Security Policy in early February 2006, Ivanov identified Lukashenko as
‘the most popular politician in Belarus. Whether you [the West] like it or not’,
and issued an ominous warning to opponents of the regime in Minsk: ‘We treat
negatively a flare-up of disorders after the elections and believe it is necessary to
do [our] utmost to prevent them’.20 This statement indicated that Moscow would
not countenance a color revolution in Belarus. Later that month, other Russian
officials came out in support of Lukashenko and opposed to any attempt to pressure
the Belarusian regime. During a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart, Russian
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized the West for attempting to dictate
political standards to Belarus and warned against attempting a ‘regime change’
in the country.21 In response, the Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynaw
thanked Russia for its support and claimed that ‘it is on the western front that we
encounter our biggest problems, including the intent to influence processes taking

16 �����
17 ��������
Mikhail Petrov,
‘Lukashenko Thanks Putin
for Supporting Belarus in Int’l Arena’,
TASS, 22 April 2005.
18  RIA News Agency, 22 April 2005, reproduced as ‘Belarusian Leader Arrives in
Moscow, Laughs off Criticism from Rice’, BBCMIR, 22 April 2005.
19  Interfax, 27 June 2005, reproduced as ‘Russia to Ignore PACE Recommendations
in Dealing with Belarus’, in BBCMIR, 27 June 2005.
20 ����������������������������������������������������������������������
Sergei Babkin and Sergei Latyshev, ‘Russia Takes Negative Attitude to Possible
Disorders in Belarus’, TASS, 5 February 2006.
21  RIA Novosti, 27 February 2006, reproduced as ‘Russia Warns Against Attempts at
“Regime Change” in Belarus’, in BBCMIR, 27 February 2006.
Bolster: Russian Support for Authoritarianism in Belarus 113

place within our country’.22 This theme of external pressure on Belarus’ political
system was common for Belarusian officials in the weeks before the vote.23
In the aftermath of the election, international observers resoundingly criticized
the manner of the vote.24 Opposition candidates were restricted from effectively
campaigning, anti-Lukashenko rallies were dispersed by Belarusian security
services, and the regime tightened its near monopoly on the Belarusian media.
Both the US and the EU threatened Belarus with additional sanctions for its refusal
to allow a free and fair vote. Russia, however, resisted these diplomatic moves.
Observers from the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States
(CIS) attacked ‘the biased claims and harsh evaluations’ of Western countries and
denied that there were any ‘systematic or widespread’ irregularities, calling the
vote ‘free, open, and transparent’.25 The Russian Foreign Ministry came to the
same conclusions as the CIS observers.26
Through 2006, the Kremlin continued to provide diplomatic legitimacy to
the Lukashenko regime. In a statement before the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe Lavrov called upon the CoE and the EU to ‘engage’ Minsk
without preconditions.27 This had the effect of undermining Western attempts to
isolate Belarus and legitimize the pro-democracy opposition. As seen in the next
section, the Kremlin also sought to help Lukashenko more directly by reinforcing
his stature in Belarus itself.


Besides diplomatic isolation, the democratic states of the West have attempted to
apply political pressure on the Lukashenko regime through democracy assistance
programs and direct appeals to the Belarusian people. The Belarus Democracy
Act of 2004 appropriated American money for radio and television broadcasts
into Belarus, as well as aid to pro-democracy political parties and exile groups.
In 2005 alone, some $11.8 million was spent by the US to fund non-regime civil
society groups (Shepherd 2006: 76). As stated above, Rice met with regime
opponents in April 2005, and, in February 2006, Bush met with the wives of
Lukashenko opponents who had disappeared (and are presumed dead) in order

22 �����
23  Belapan News Agency (Minsk), 21 February 2006, reproduced as ‘Belarusian
President Accuses West of Blackmail’, in BBCMIR, 21 February 2006.
24 ������������������������������������������������
Maria Danilova, ‘European Observers Say Belarus Presidential
Vote Neither Free
Nor Fair’, Associated Press, 20 March 2006.
25  Belarusian Television (Minsk), 20 March 2006, reproduced as ‘CIS Observers
Praise Belarus Poll’, in BBCMIR, 20 March 2006.
‘Russian Foreign Ministry Says Belarusian Elections Clean’, RIA Novosti, 20
26 ������������������������������������������������������������
March 2006.
27  ITAR-TASS, 29 May 2006, reproduced as ‘Russian Foreign Minister Addresses
PACE Session in Moscow’, in BCCMIR, 29 May 2006.
114 Authoritarian Backlash

to boost their profile and express American support for their attempt to find out
the truth about their husbands. The US has also worked especially closely with
Belarus’s neighbors, Lithuania and Poland, to promote democracy in Belarus. For
its part the EU has appealed directly to the Belarusian people with pledges of
support, direct assistance, and closer ties should Belarus become a democracy.28
Starting in fall 2006, the EU also began funding its own broadcasts into Belarus
through Deutsche Welle (Tapiola 2006: 68). Moreover, at recent US–EU summits,
Washington and Brussels issued repeated resolutions supporting democracy
in Belarus and condemning the Lukashenko regime. While these resolutions
represented the growing diplomatic isolation of Belarus, they also appealed
directly to the Belarusian people to support regime change.
The Kremlin found a solid, if troublesome, ally in Lukashenko and sought
to ensure that he remained in power through positive intervention in Belarus on
his behalf. This policy was less a show of support for Lukashenko himself, than
a move based upon a fear that, if he were deposed, Belarus would move toward
democracy and possibly a foreign policy realignment westward like Ukraine and
Georgia. In fact, the political considerations of keeping the status quo in Belarus
overrode personal animosity between Putin and Lukashenko. For example, the
Lukashenko regime had come under growing domestic and international pressure
following his refusal in 1999 to accept the original termination date for his first
term.29 In response, the Kremlin rushed to his aid by making the case to the
Belarusian people that he was crucial to ensuring reintegration between Russia
and Belarus.30 This was seen as so important that the Belarusian opposition called
upon Yeltsin and then-Prime Minister Putin to end their support because it was
having the effect of strengthening Lukashenko’s regime.31 This was rejected.
The Kremlin’s policies during the October 2000 and March 2001 Belarusian
parliamentary elections were reactive. Rather than openly supporting Lukashenko
before the election, Putin sought to assuage any anger by the Belarusian
people over elections which were widely (outside of Russia, of course) seen as
fraudulent. For example, after the first round of voting, Putin called Lukashenko
to congratulate him on his electoral ‘victory’ and to invite him to a summit at

28 ������������������������������������������������������������
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, ‘The European Approach to Democracy ����������
in Post-communist Countries’ [Online: European Union], 19 January 2007. Available at
<>, accessed 11 July 2008. It
should be noted, however, that the EU’s actions have been meager, however.
29 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
Under the 1994 constitution, Lukashenka’s term was supposed to end in 1999.
However, this was changed at his behest through a questionable 1996 referendum.
30  Russian Public TV, 4 June 1999, reproduced as ‘Russian Premier and Belarusian
President Talk of Friendship and Cooperation’, in BBCWM, 4 June 1999; Belarusian Radio
First Programme, 20 July 1999, reproduced as ‘Russian Deputy Prime Minister Visits
Belarus, Hails Union of Two States’, in BBCWM, 20 July 1999.
31  Belapan, 20 October 1999, reproduced as, ‘Opposition Calls on Russia to Stop
Supporting President Lukashenka’, in BBCSWB, 22 October 1999.
Bolster: Russian Support for Authoritarianism in Belarus 115

the Russian president’s official dacha near Sochi.32 At the summit, Lukashenko
thanked Putin for his support.
In the subsequent Belarusian presidential election in September 2001, the
Kremlin took a more proactive role (Danilovich 2006: 122). For example, Putin
openly supported Lukashenko and a number of visits from prominent Russian
officials at the Kremlin’s behest helped to boost Lukashenko’s domestic support.
Furthermore, Russian television stations, which are broadcast into Belarus and
watched by many Belarusians, avoided negative reports on Lukashenko and
devoted nearly all of their coverage to a positive portrayal of the Belarusian
president (Timmermann 2002: 292).
After the election, Putin cooled toward Lukashenko. His August 2002 comment
that Belarus should simply join Russia marked a significant downturn in relations
between the two regimes. This was reversed in 2003–2005 as a result of increasing
Western criticism of Russian policies, Belarus’s brief (but unrequited) flirtation
with foreign policy realignment, the imposition of the Belarus Democracy Act,
and the color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine (Trenin 2006b: 80). During
this period, Putin regularly met with Lukashenko, conferring upon him political
legitimacy and recognizing his important role in Russian politics. Moreover, given
the widespread popularity in Belarus of both the Union project and Russia itself,
Putin’s meetings with Lukashenko further helped to reinforce the latter’s domestic
standing. In July 2005, for example, the two presidents met to discuss moving the
Union forward. This represented their sixth meeting in 2005 alone.33
There appeared to be some wavering in the Kremlin’s policy toward the
Belarusian regime just prior to the March 2006 presidential elections in Belarus. In
Putin’s annual press conference for international journalists in late January 2006,
the Russian president was circumspect in response to a question about Russia’s
support for Lukashenko.34 Nevertheless, fears of a color revolution in Belarus
forced the Kremlin to support Lukashenko regardless of the difficulties between
the two regimes. For example, Russian state-controlled television portrayed
Lukashenko in a positive light and dismissed the legitimacy of the opposition.35
A little more than a week before the vote, these same stations ran stories which
openly criticized the Belarusian opposition and leveled charges against Ukrainian,
Georgian, and Western governments for interfering in Belarus’ internal affairs.36
Around the same time, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov met publicly with

32  RIA News Agency, 16 October 2000, reproduced as ‘Putin Invites Belarusian
President to Sochi’, in BBCSWB, 17 October 2000.
33 �������� Petrov, ‘Putin, Lukashenko to Discuss Union State’, TASS, 20 July 2005.
Mikhail ����������������������������������������������������
34  RTR Russia TV (Moscow), 31 Janurary 2006, reproduced as ‘Putin’s Annual News
Conference for International Journalists—Full Text’, in BBCMIR, 1 February 2006.
35 ���������������������������
‘Russian State TV Suggests Qualified
Backing for Lukashenka Ahead of Belarus
Poll’, BBCMIR, 28 February 2006.
36 �������������������������������������������������������������� ������� BBCMIR,
‘Russian TV Highlights Attacks on Opposition Ahead of Belarus Poll’,
7 March 2006.
116 Authoritarian Backlash

Lukashenko, conveyed Putin’s greetings to the Belarusian president, and praised

the two presidents for their work together on the Russian-Belarus Union.37 During
this meeting, Fradkov all but endorsed Lukashenko for a third term:

It’s vital to synchronizing our actions in the economic field and integration
processes. This will be in line with the political expectations of the Belarusian
people in connection with the presidential election … I’m sure that the people
of Belarus will make the correct choice—the one that promotes cooperation
between our countries and the union of the two states.38

In addition, it was announced that Belarus would pay far less for its natural gas
imports than Ukraine—contrasting the benefits provided to a cooperating, pro-
Russian government in Minsk with the Kremlin’s punishment of an uncooperative,
pro-Western government in Kiev.39
In the aftermath of the election, the Kremlin again sought to calm the
Belarusian people and legitimize Lukashenko’s fraudulent victory. Putin publicly
congratulated Lukashenko and expressed his hope that both sides could now make
‘real progress’ on the Russian-Belarus union state.40 In April, Putin hosted his
Belarusian counterpart in St. Petersburg and again praised his reelection, calling
on the opposition to accept the electoral outcome.41 Without the Kremlin’s support,
it would have been far more difficult for Lukashenko to perpetrate his consistent
electoral fraud.


Belarus is also economically isolated in Europe. The US and the EU have imposed
restrictions on financial aid to the country and EU–Belarus trade is hampered by
the lack of a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Although neither the US nor
the EU has imposed comprehensive economic or trade sanctions against Belarus,
there have been long-standing discussions within European capitals over the
possibility of tying economic relations with Belarus to its acceptance of Western
values.42 On 21 June 2007, the EU expelled Belarus from its Generalized System

37 ���������������������
‘Lukashenko, Fradkov Plan to Agree on Further Union State Cooperation’, TASS,
7 march 2006.
Pyotr Netreba, ‘Putin and Fradkov Endorse Alexander Lukashenko’, Kommersant,
38  �����������������������������������������������������������������
9 March 2006, 2, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B) (Russia), 9 March 2006.
39  Gazeta (Moscow), 9 March 2006, reproduced as ‘Russian Paper Views Gas
Pipeline’s Role in Moscow-Minsk Politics’, in BBCMIR, 10 March 2006.
40  Interfax, 20 March 2006, reproduced as ‘Putin Greets Belarusian President-Elect’,
in BBCMIR, 20 March 2006.
41 ������� Praise for ‘Dictator’ Stokes Russia-West Row on Belarus’, Agence France
‘Putin ����������������������������������������������������������
Presse, 28 April 2006.
‘“Oppose Fresh Lukashenko Term”, Says Report’, European Report, 14 May
42 �����������������������������������������������
2005; PAP News Agency, 19 May 2005, reproduced as ‘Polish Opposition Wants Cabinet to
Bolster: Russian Support for Authoritarianism in Belarus 117

of Preferences trading program, a decision which cost Belarus approximately

€400 million per year.43 However, this move was largely ineffective because of the
pattern of West-Belarus economic relations over the past decade. In general, trade
between the West and Belarus is far less than what should normally be for a country
of Belarus’s size, level of industrialization, and geographic location. Structural
problems within Belarus’s manufacturing base and the noncompetitiveness of
Belarusian products on the world market limit the ability of Belarus to export
to the West. A lack of hard currency also prevents Belarus from importing many
products from the West. Moreover, in terms of trading partners, Belarus’s economic
fate is much more closely tied to Russia that to the West. Belarus ranks third (after
Germany and Italy, and equal to Ukraine) among Russia’s trading partners and,
for Belarus, Russia is responsible for 50–60 per cent of its total trade as well as 90
per cent of its energy supplies.44 By contrast, Belarus’s trade with the entire EU is
approximately half that of its trade with Russia.45 The trading relationship between
Belarus and Russia is also imbalanced in Belarus’s favor: it largely imports fuel and
raw materials from Russia and exports finished goods (Ioffe 2004: 93). As a result,
the opportunities for the West to use economic pressure against the Lukashenko
regime are limited.
In addition to its trading relationship, Russia has been instrumental in sustaining
the Lukashenko regime through economic assistance. Without it, Belarus’s
unreformed economic system would simply not be able to survive: not only did
Lukashenko reverse even the modest economic reforms made by his predecessor,
but he returned to a neo-socialist model of state economic control, ranking among
the bottom of post-communist states in overall progress in economic reform.
Russian assistance has come in two forms: energy subsidies and beneficial trading
relations.46 Russia heavily subsidized supplies of oil and natural gas to Belarus,
selling them at prices well below market values. This, in turn, boosted Belarus’s
standard of living and helped the Belarusian manufacturing sector because
Belarusian exports to Russia were made more competitive in terms of pricing.
Furthermore, Russia cancelled much of Belarus’s debt, largely accrued from
energy imports. Overall, Russian subsidies have accounted for some 20 per cent
of Belarus’s gross domestic product (Åslund 2002: 182). In addition, the Russia–

Raise Belarus Issue at EU Forum’, in BBCWM, 19 May 2005.

Andrew Rettman, ‘Belarus Joins Burma as EU Trade Outcast’, EUobserver, 21
43 �����������������������������������������������������������
June 2007.
44 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
Timmermann, ‘The Union of Belarus and Russia in the European Context’, 285.
Also see Republic of Belarus: Statistical Appendix, International Monetary Fund, Country
Report No. 05/218, p. 42.
45 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Belarus’ [Online: European Union], 15 September 2006. Available at <trade.>, accessed 11 July 2008.
46 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
World Bank, ‘Belarus: Addressing Challenges Facing the Energy Sector’, June
2006, v. Also see IMF, ‘Republic of Belarus: 2006 Article IV Consultation’, August 2006,
Country Report No. 06/314.
118 Authoritarian Backlash

Belarus customs union, a product of the reunification process, has helped Belarus
far more than Russia, given the differences in size and markets. Finally, Belarus
has been allowed to use barter rather than currency in its dealings with Russian
businesses, thus permitting it to export far more of its own products than it would
under a competitive trading relationship.
Russia–Belarus economic ties have helped Belarus maintain a relatively high
standard of living when compared with other countries in the former USSR. Its
economy (measured by GNP) has grown an average of 6.6 per cent from 1995–
2005 and in recent years the economy has grown at approximately 9 per cent.47
Moreover, its level of inflation has been reduced dramatically48 and its rating on
the United Nations Human Development Index remains high relative to the other
former Soviet republics (except for the Baltic states).49 All of this has made it
significantly easier for the Lukashenko regime to maintain its hold on power and
keep some level of mass popularity. It is important to note that the Belarusian
economy has not been reformed to allow for market-based efficiencies, economic
decentralization, or international competition. Moreover, with the exception of
Russian moves to purchase an increasing stake in Belarus’s energy sector, Belarus
has very low levels of foreign direct investment and no access to international
capital markets.50 Consequently, Belarus’s economy has been maintained almost
entirely through Russian largesse.


The eastward enlargement of NATO has further isolated Belarus. Although

the Alliance has a smaller membership than either the CoE or the EU, NATO
expansion to 26 countries represents the de facto strategic and military alignment
of Europe under one organization. More importantly, the Alliance borders to the
west and north of Belarus. With the clear desire by Ukrainian President Viktor
Yushchenko to seek NATO membership, Belarus may soon find itself surrounded
by NATO countries on three sides. While other European countries are not part of
NATO (Austria, for example, borders six Alliance members), these states extensive
political and economic ties with other Alliance members, such as through the EU.
While it is highly unlikely (if not impossible) that Russia will ever join NATO, it
does have a special relationship with the alliance under the NATO–Russia Council.
By contrast, even if it were interested in joining, Belarus would be ineligible due to
the Alliance’s requirements that a state must be committed to democratic values in

47 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Belarus at a Glance’ [Online: World Bank], 12 August 2006. Available at <devdata.>, accessed 11 July 2008.
48 �����
49 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Human Development Report, 2007/2008’ [Online: United Nations], 230. Available
at <>, accessed 11 July 2008.
50 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������
World Bank, ‘Belarus: Window of Opportunity to Enhance Competitiveness and
Sustain Economic Growth’, 8 November 2005, report No. 32346-BY.
Bolster: Russian Support for Authoritarianism in Belarus 119

order to be considered. Therefore, Belarus’s relationship with NATO places it out

of the mainstream of European security policy. Without its close military alliance
with Russia, Belarus would be strategically and militarily isolated on the continent.
Belarus’s overall level of cooperation with NATO has been relatively low.51
Instead, Lukashenko has been a fierce critic of the alliance, calling it an ‘insidious
and horrible monster’, and he took the lead in opposing NATO expansion during its
first and second post-Cold War rounds.52 He also promoted Belarus as the defender
of the western border of the Slavic–Orthodox peoples who, he claimed, are under
direct threat from Western ambitions (Rontoyanni 2000: 81). In September 2006,
Lukashenko proclaimed Belarus’s willingness to ‘die for Russia’ should NATO
tanks begin ‘rolling … to Russia’.53 Although this rhetoric has been toned down at
times, Belarus’s relationship with the Alliance is not positive.
Belarus’s close alliance with Russia, however, prevents its complete strategic
and military isolation. The military relationship between Russia and Belarus
began in July 1992 with a host of military agreements. These ties were deepened
significantly following Lukashenko’s shift toward authoritarianism and an
eastward-focused foreign policy. The absence of any real conflict on a series of
military issues—such as denuclearization, the status of Russian troops in Belarus,
the leasing of military facilities to Russia—has allowed for additional agreements
and treaties to be signed between the two countries. In fact, bilateral military
integration has proceeded much further than economic or political reunification,
to such a point that Martinsen (2002: 401) has argued that Belarus has been
effectively transformed ‘into a Russian military outpost’. Belarus’s importance
to Russian security has been made explicit in Russia’s national security concepts
and military doctrines since the late 1990s. Consequently, Belarus is effectively
shielded from any attempts by the West to forcibly promote regime change, in the
unlikely event that it should choose to do so.
Belarus’s relationship with Russia has also allowed Lukashenko to portray
his country as an important part of the global move to ‘balance’ the US and its
allies, often referred to as promoting global multipolarity to counter American
unipolarity (Ambrosio 2005: 104–17). This became especially important after
the unilateral, American missile attacks against Afghanistan and Sudan (August
1998), the US-British air strikes against Iraq (December 1998), and the war
against Serbia over Kosovo (Spring 1999). Lukashenko’s language was not too
distant from that emanating from the Kremlin. After a slight lull following the 9/11

51 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Interestingly enough, however, Belarus is a member of the Partnership for Peace
program and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, and even participated in a NATO
peacekeeping exercise in June 2005 as well as other small operations in 2006.
Allexander Feduta, ‘Lukashenko Looks East For Aid’, Moscow News, 17 March
52 ����������������������������������������������������
1999, 10.
53 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Though it is highly unlikely that he asked the Belarusians’ opinion on this matter.
Belarusian Radio, 29 September 2006, reproduced as ‘Text of Belarusian President News
Conference for Russia Regional Media’, in BBCMIR, 29 September 2006.
120 Authoritarian Backlash

terrorist attacks, Russian support for multipolarity rebounded and has continued
through to the present, as demonstrated by Putin’s denunciation of the evils of an
American-led unipolar world at a European security conference held in Munich in
February 2007.54 By continuing its close relationship with the Belarusian regime,
the Kremlin supplied Lukashenko with a rhetorical tool to portray Belarus as
playing a significant role in the international system, despite its isolation on the
European continent.
Russian policy toward Belarus provides Minsk with de facto military protection,
an integrated alliance system, and a degree of status not shared by other former
Soviet republics; it prevents Belarus’s strategic and military isolation in Europe.
This has reinforced Russia’s diplomatic, political, and economic support and has
helped Minsk resist Western pressures.


The process of diffusion is not merely about geographic proximity. Instead, it is

most effective when there already exists a conception of the state as part of a larger
community or civilization: countries are more likely to be subjected to a norm
cascade from countries are like them in terms of their regional identity. Nowhere
is this more powerful than in Europe, which has long had a collective identity as
‘European’, even if the boundaries and content of such an identity has changed
over time (Lowenthal 2000, Leontidou 2004). In the post-Cold War period, this
has been tied closely to the values of human rights and democracy. Built into this
idea is the notion of a state’s ‘degree of Europeanness’—while not all democratic
states are European, there is a strong assumption that all truly European countries
are democracies (Moisio 2002: 97). Since the fall of communism in Eastern
Europe, a dominant theme for East European states has been the desire to ‘return
to Europe’—that is, to rejoin the European community of peoples from which they
were estranged during the period of Soviet domination (Hagen 2003). For nearly
all countries in geographically-defined Europe, this was not an issue:

the manner in which they presented themselves reflected both a historical narrative
of being ‘European’ and a commitment to ‘European values’, including democracy.
Thus, it is important to look closely at the language and rhetoric of state leaders
who seek to define their respective countries as either European or not.

In some cases, such as Ukraine, the definition of a state’s identity remains

contested (Kuzio 2001). The 2004 election pitted those who sought a closer
relationship with Europe against those who wanted a closer relationship with
Russia. The ultimate victory of western-focused Viktor Yushchenko over eastern-

54 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
Shada Islam and Leon Mangasarian, ‘Putin Slams US, NATO for Threatening
Global Security’, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 10 February 2007.
Bolster: Russian Support for Authoritarianism in Belarus 121

oriented Viktor Yanukovych was also a victory for those who, like Yushchenko,
believed that ‘[Ukraine’s] road to the future is the road followed by united Europe.
Together with its nations we belong to the same civilization and share the same
goals. History, economic prospects and the interests of the people give a clear
answer to the question of where our future lies. Our place is in the European Union.
Europe holds Ukraine’s historic chance to fulfill its potential’.55 Yushchenko’s
language contrasts sharply with that used by Lukashenko to define Belarus.
The official Belarusian national concept is that it, along with Russia, belongs
to a separate civilization than Europe—one that is Slavic and Orthodox. The East’s
values, according to this conception, are fundamentally different than those of the
West. Consequently, the regional trends evident in the West hold little in the way
of an example for Belarusian political, social, or economic development. This
thinking has many similarities to the Slavophile ideology of imperial Russia. The
Slavophiles argued that the Westernizers were wrong in ignoring Russia’s history,
culture, and contributions to humanity. In essence, Russia had retained what the
West had lost: its soul. Russian culture and social arrangements were superior to
the West because they were based upon organic collectivism and the true Orthodox
Christian faith—in contrast to the Western values of capitalism, rationality, and
individuality, all of which leave humanity mired in spiritual poverty. Russia
represented a unique civilization whose soul was under siege from alien (Western)
forces and influences, introduced by Peter the Great’s reforms. They desired to
return Russia to its pre-Petrine roots and based their model society on that of
the peasants, who were seen as uncorrupted. The supranational and imperialist
Pan–Slavism movement in Russia, which aimed to unite the Slavs against the
West, developed out of the Slavophile ideology (Kohn 1953). The possibilities of
a Russia–Belarus Union state reinforce these trends by providing Belarus with a
clear choice in identities between ‘Europe’ and the ‘East’.
In a June 2003 interview, Lukashenko discussed his belief in the distinctiveness
of the ‘Eastern European civilization’, which includes the Slavic countries of
Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, and the role that Belarus has in defending it:
We have just been following our own path, and this path has taken us to a
situation where we have kept alive the sacred things characteristic of this Eastern
European civilization in the hearts, souls and minds of our people. This civilization
has always been here. We have held on to these features. We have preserved all the
best and most treasured traits that have been passed down for centuries. Belarusians
have preserved them. We have not discarded them.56
Looking to the West, rather than to Russia, would be disastrous for Belarus:
‘Belarus’s westward drift would be tantamount to breaking away from the Eastern
Slavic civilization, where the country belongs … In the West [we] would be in

55  UT1 (Kiev), 23 January 2005, reproduced as ‘Ukrainian President Addresses

Nation after Inauguration’, BBCMIR, 23 January 2005.
56  STV (Minsk), 30 June 2003, ‘Text of Belarusian President’s Interview Ahead of
Independence Day’, BBCMIR, 1 July 2003.
122 Authoritarian Backlash

the subordinate, and not commanding position. Following in the footsteps of the
Baltic countries would be very wrong’.57
Lukashenko has also mixed this idea of civilizational separateness with one
of a fundamental conflict between the Western and Orthodox civilizations and the
desire of the West to impose its values upon the East.58 In a speech on Orthodox
Easter in April 2006, Lukashenko identified ‘uniform foreign standards’ (by which
he meant Western values) as anathema to the Belarusian people, and claimed that
these standards would ‘destroy our moral and spiritual values and bring evil,
violent discord, permissiveness and sinful passions for gain and violence instead
of the good to society’.59 This conflict between civilizations also became part of
his criticisms of the “color revolutions”, which he believed were being imposed on
the East by Western powers. After the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Lukashenko
called the color revolutions ‘plain banditry disguised as democracy’ in his state-of-
the-nation address.60 More recently, during his Victory Day speech in May 2007,
he reiterated his conception of the West imposing its beliefs and undermining
Belarusian values.61
The pattern of looking toward Russia, rather than Western Europe, has also been
grounded in widespread nostalgia for the Soviet Union. Prior to the communist
period, Belarus was among the poorest regions in Europe. After World War II, and
massive Soviet investment in the devastated (and territorially enlarged) republic, the
Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was a showcase for Soviet manufacturing
and economic development. Despite the serious economic problems throughout
the rest of the USSR during the Gorbachev period, the Belarusians emerged in the
best shape of all the former Soviet republics (with the exception of the Baltics),
with a more balanced economy than the others. This instilled a high level of pride
in Soviet achievements and further reinforced the connection between Soviet and
Belarusian identity. Lukashenko capitalized on these feelings by reintroducing
Soviet symbols at the expense of uniquely Belarusian ones—for example, the
white–red–white flag of the post-Soviet period was replaced by a version of the
republic’s Soviet flag. Moreover, the touchstone for the Belarusian historical myth
was changed from the declaration of state sovereignty in July 1990 to the July
1944 liberation of Minsk by the Soviet army (Eke and Kuzio 2000: 527). Soviet-
era textbooks and historiography were reintroduced into the Belarusian schools

57 �����������������������������������
Larisa Klyuchnikova, ‘Ten-year-old Policy
of Russia–Belarus Union Correct—
Lukashenko’, TASS, 23 September 2004.
58 ����������������������
Yury Svirko, ‘Russian Patriarch,
Belarus President Call for Slav Union’, Agence
France Presse, 27 June 2001.
59  Belarusian Radio, 23 April 2006, reproduced as ‘Belarusian President Speaks out
Against Foreign Influence in Easter Speech’, in BBCMIR, 23 April 2006.
60  Belarusian Television, 19 April 2005, reproduced as ‘Belarusian President Delivers
State-of-Nation Address’, in BBCMIR, 19 April 2005.
61  Belarusian Television, 9 May 2007, reproduced as ‘Belarus President Addresses
Participants in Victory Day Festivities’, in BBCMIR, 9 May 2007.
Bolster: Russian Support for Authoritarianism in Belarus 123

and the glorification of the Soviet period became official state policy. These moves
were precursors to the Soviet nostalgia promoted by Putin upon assuming the
Russian presidency. By focusing on the Soviet Union, Lukashenko perpetuated
the Soviet mindset of East versus West, further alienating Belarus from European
trends and identity.
Moscow’s support for the Russia–Belarus Union has had the effect of reinforcing
these notions. The ‘Eastern’ foundation of the proposed union was evident in April
1996 when the signing ceremony of the Community treaty was blessed by the head
of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexiusi II.62 Similarly, the Patriarch
honored Lukashenko in 2001 with the first ever ‘Christian Orthodox Unity’ award.63
After the March 2001 parliamentary election in Belarus, Putin honored Lukashenko
with the Russian Order ‘For Services to Fatherland’ in April 2001 for his support for
the reunification of Belarus and Russia.64 While this award may be a small matter in
and of itself, it was important symbolically in that it implied Belarus’s identity lay
eastward, since the ‘fatherland’ was indeed Russia.
The entire Union project itself, and Russia’s continuing support for his eastward
identity orientation, legitimized Lukashenko’s definition of Belarus as an ‘Eastern’
rather than ‘European’ country. This stands in sharp contrast to nearly all other East
European states, which have defined themselves as integrally connected to West
European culture, trends, and identity. Without feeding this alternative identity,
it would have been far more difficult for Lukashenko to separate Belarus from
the European community of nations. Instead, the regime would have come under
increasing pressure to follow the desires of the anti-Lukashenko opposition, who
define Belarus as a fundamentally European country which should adhere to the
principles of democracy and human rights.65 Thus, by feeding a sense of Belarusian
separateness from Europe, Russian policy has effectively undermined the degree
to which democratic regional trends are perceived as applying to Belarus.


The role of integration in promoting democracy in the European setting is

closely tied to the process of diffusion because of the overlap between the EU
as an international organization, on the one hand, and its values and European

Andrei Shtrokh, ‘Russia, Belarus Sign Agreement on Deeper Integration’, TASS,

62 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
3 April 1996.
63 �������������
‘Belarussian President Lukashenko Gets Orthodox Unity Award’, RIA Novosti, 23
January 2001.
64 ����������
‘Vladimir Putin Awards Russian Order to Alexander Lukashenko’, RIA Novosti,
2 April 2001.
‘Belarus Opposition Figure Advocates European Course’, BBCMIR, 1 November
65 �������������������������������������������������������
2004; ‘Opposition Leaders Pay Pre-Election Visit to Brussels’, European Report, 29 May
124 Authoritarian Backlash

identity, on the other. The primary attractiveness of EU membership lies in the

widespread belief that there is no legitimate alternative to a ‘return to Europe’.
This is epitomized in most European states by joining the organization.66 If
EU membership is seen as necessary for the well-being of one’s country, then
it is more likely that politicians will advance, and populations will embrace, an
agenda which increases the chances for membership. The criteria for membership
developed by the EU ‘requires that [a] candidate country has achieved stability
of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect
for and protection of minorities’ (Moisio 2002: 96). Therefore, as states prepare
themselves for EU consideration, they will adjust their political system to conform
to EU requirements—namely, the consolidation of democracy. However, if a
country rejects EU membership, then its prospects for integration will have little
to no impact. As seen in this section, Lukashenko has promoted the notion that
EU membership will be harmful to Belarus’s well-being and that the alternative
(integration with Russia) is a more attractive option.
For the regime in Minsk, the EU represents the worst of the Western values
of crass materialism and unchecked capitalism, as opposed to Belarus, which
represents the spiritual values of the East. This message is promoted through
the state-controlled media in Belarus and, as a result, only a small part of the
Belarusian population blames Lukashenko for their current economic problems
(Zolnikov 2002: 137). Moreover, according to Lukashenko, the aftermath of EU
expansion has caused serious ‘problems’ for new members, including ‘[difficulties
for] peasants, unemployment, competition, competitiveness, and more’—all of
which Belarus should avoid by merging with Russia.67
Given these perceptions of the EU, membership in the organization is simply
not an option for the Lukashenko regime. Lukashenko has made it very clear that
he does not wish to relinquish his hold over society or accede to EU rules.68 More
importantly, however, the regime and (seemingly) the population itself are simply
unwilling to undertake the economic reforms required for membership. Short-term
economic stability (in terms of pensions, salaries, employment, etc.), rather than
long–term economic reform and structural change, became the accepted mantra of
Belarusian society (Ioffe 2004: 89). Thus, EU membership would be too painful

66 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
There are obviously several European states which feel comfortable in their
European identity without being compelled to join the EU—for example, Norway and
Switzerland. However, nearly all of the East European states, with the exception of Belarus
and Russia, have been admitted to the organization, are in the official queue for membership,
or are seeking to join.
67  Belarusian Radio, 20 July 2004, reproduced as ‘Belarusian President Hails Results
of His 10 Years in Office’, BBCMIR, 20 July 2004.
68 ������������
‘Belarusian President Scolds Estonia, Latvia’, Baltic News Service, 23 September
Bolster: Russian Support for Authoritarianism in Belarus 125

and ‘expensive’ for Belarus to undertake.69 Even if it were to apply, Brussels

would not accept Belarus because of its unreformed economy and authoritarian
The ‘Belarusian model of development’, as Lukashenko described it, stands
in opposition to Western-style capitalism and market economics, and avoids
‘throw[ing] unprepared people into the market abyss’.70 It emphasizes state
control over the economy and has been described as ‘a Soviet theme park’ which
‘establish[es] a Soviet-type model, without a Communist party’ (Åslund 2002:
173). For example, large state firms account for some 80 per cent of Belarus’s
gross domestic product and have not been privatized; moreover, the collective
and state farm system has been preserved, unlike any of the other former Soviet
republics. Its state sector is not profitable and the business climate in Belarus is
extremely poor.71 According to an IMF report, ‘the current macroeconomic policy
mix is ultimately unsustainable’.72 Painful structural reforms have been avoided
only by Russian subsidies and beneficial trading relations. If the two countries
were to merge, Belarus would presumably be able to purchase its energy supplies
at Russian domestic prices, which are far below world market values and even less
than Belarus’s subsidized price.
It is assumed that integration with Russia would be beneficial to Belarus, or
at least far less painful than westward integration. According to one poll, support
for integration with Russia (62 per cent) was far greater than for integration with
the EU (15–18 per cent) (Guicherd 2002: 320). Lukashenko argued that one of
the cornerstones of the Belarusian model was integration with Russia, largely
because of the potential benefits for Belarusian society, but more importantly
because ‘[n]obody is waiting for us in other markets’.73 There seems little point in
attempting to look westward since Belarus, in its current form, will not be accepted.
Therefore, it is believed that the country’s future lies eastward. Without a change
in Lukashenko’s thinking or in public sentiments, it is unlikely that the incentives
of EU integration will be sufficient to entice a democratic opening in Belarus.
The EU represents not only economic reform, but also Western-style democracy.
As criticism of his ruling style increased, Lukashenko’s rhetoric against the West
became more and more hostile, and he increasingly contrasted Western values and

69  Alexander Lukashenko qtd. in �����������������������������������������������

Larisa Klyuchnikova and Andrei Fomin, ‘Belarus
Does Not Plan to Join EU’, TASS, 14 February 2003.
70 ����������������
‘Address by the President
of the Republic of Belarus A.G. Lukashenko at the
Final Plenary Meeting of the Standing Workshop of High-level Officials of the Republican
and Local Administration’ [Online: President of Belarus], March 22, 2002. Available at
<>, accessed 11 July 2008. [Hereinafter,
Lukashenka, ‘Address’.]
71 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Zuzana Brixiova, ‘Economic Transition in Belarus: Achievements and Challenges’,
International Monetary Fund, 9 June 2004.
72 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
International Monetary Fund, ‘Republic of Belarus: Selected Issues’, 28 June
2005, Country Report No. 05/217, 19.
73 ����������������������
Lukashenka, ‘Address’.
126 Authoritarian Backlash

conceptions of democracy with those in Belarus. For example, he attacked ‘foreign

models of liberalism’ and defended a uniquely Belarusian model of democracy,
based upon Belarusian values.74 The ‘Belarusian model’ concept, while largely
economic, is also ‘sociopolitical’ in nature.75 As Lukashenko explained during
the 2002 Independence Day celebrations, ‘The wise Belarusian people, having
lived through the first several years of independence in a state of lawlessness,
rejected foreign proposals. They chose their own consistent and evolutionary path,
all the while maintaining law and order and avoiding conflict and strife—holding
to the path of peace and creative labour’.76 In reality, this ‘model’ places a heavy
emphasis on social stability based upon a direct relationship between the people
and their president to create a populist, patrimonial, and president-dominated
state. Of course, this comes at the expense of any real opposition. Nevertheless,
Lukashenko defended his country’s political system as unique and in line with
Belarus’s collectivist approach to politics.
This ‘model’ of political development was not too distant from Putin’s notion
of a ‘managed democracy’, both of which stand in sharp opposition to Western
notions of liberal democracy. In contrast to the EU’s membership requirements,
the Kremlin has not made progress on the Russia–Belarus Union dependent
upon democratization in Belarus. Instead, the dueling political interests of the
two presidents, and not the nature of political reforms in the two countries,
has precipitated the current halt in substantive reintegration. Nevertheless, the
proposed Union provides Belarus with an alternative to the EU. Without at least
the prospect of integration with Russia, Belarus would come under increasing
pressure to choose between two, very stark choices: complete isolation in Europe
or integration with the EU. The latter would require political and economic
changes which would be disastrous for the regime and would almost definitely
see Lukashenko himself removed from power and possibly subjected to criminal
charges. By having the option of looking eastward, there is less need to undertake
the painful reforms necessitated by seeking EU membership.

After the Belarusian Presidential Election

Relations between the Putin and Lukashenko regimes have been rocky since Yeltsin
stepped down as Russia’s president. The fraternal ties between the two countries
were definitely frayed as problems over the scope and pace of reintegration, as well
as the political ambitions between both presidents, emerged. Putin’s policy toward

74  Belarusian Radio, 14 April 2004, reproduced as ‘Belarusian President Delivers

State-of-Nation Address’, in BBCMIR, 14 April 2004.
75  Belarusian Radio First Programme, 11 April 2000, reproduced as ‘Belarusian
President’s State-of-the-Nation Address to Parliament’, in BBCSWB, 14 April 2000.
76 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Belarusian Leader Hails National Development in Independence Day Speech’,
BBCMIR, 2 July 2002.
Bolster: Russian Support for Authoritarianism in Belarus 127

Minsk has been torn between its desire to assume greater control over Belarus and
fears that Moscow’s policies may provoke a backlash which would undermine the
Lukashenko regime and precipitate a color revolution in Belarus. The highpoint of
relations between the two occurred during the March 2006 Belarusian presidential
elections. However, this support was merely tactical and based on the political
expediency of ensuring that Lukashenko remained in office. Once it was evident
that the threat of regime change had passed, the underlying tensions flared up,
causing a rupture in relations during late 2006 and spring 2007.
At the core of the recent dispute is Gazprom’s announcement in mid-2006
that it would significantly increase the price Belarus pays for natural gas from
$46.68/1000m3 to a figure four times that price.77 Gazprom, Russia’s primary
energy exporter, is effectively state-controlled and consequently operates as an
agent of the Kremlin and its interests. This was not the first time that Moscow and
Minsk faced a serious dispute over natural gas prices: in 2002 and 2004, Gazprom
attempted to gain control over Belarus’s transmission lines which go from Russia,
through Belarus, and on to Europe, by threatening price increases (Nygren 2007).
A deal signed in 2004, which gave Gazprom a greater stake in the Belarusian
gas pipeline company Beltranshaz, was set to expire at the end of 2006. In 2006,
Gazprom’s price for continued energy subsidies was control over Beltranshaz.
Lukashenko refused, threatening Russia with a ‘break-up of all relations’ rather
than give up control over Beltranshaz or pay world market prices for natural gas.78
Some had predicted a second ‘gas war’, like that in Ukraine in January 2006.79
Eventually, a deal was struck close to midnight on New Year’s Eve, just hours
before Gazprom had threatened to cut off natural gas to Belarus.
Despite this agreement, however, the energy dispute continued. Russia
imposed a tariff on oil exports to Belarus. Belarus retaliated by imposing a new
transit tax on Russian oil moving through the country to Europe and, when this
tax was not paid, reportedly siphoning off oil in lieu of payment. Eventually,
these oil shipments were cut off and a war of words erupted between Moscow
and Minsk. Consequently, relations between the two states were seriously harmed
with Lukashenko stoking anti-Russian sentiments in Belarus and seeking to
balance Russia through a newfound alliance with Ukraine’s president, Viktor
Yushchenko.80 In early January 2007, for example, Lukashenko proclaimed that
Russia was attempting to take over Belarus and that ‘we can only rely on ourselves

77 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Anna Skornyakova et al., ‘Lukashenko Is Being Readied for a Hostile Takeover’,
Kommersant, 12 May 2006, 1, 3, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B) (Russia), 12
May 2006.
‘Minsk Threatens to Sever Russian Ties Over Gas Row’, Agence France Presse,
78 ������������������������������������������������������
29 September 2006.
79 ����������������������
Sebastian Smith, ‘“No Progress”
in Countdown to Russia–Belarus Gas War:
Russia’, Agence France Presse, 28 December 2006. See Chapter 7.
Svetlana Gamova et al., ‘Lukashenko Goes For Broke’, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 10
80 �����������������������������������������������������
January 2007, 4, reproduced in What the Papers Say, 10 January 2007.
128 Authoritarian Backlash

… the most important thing for all of us, is our sovereignty, nothing is dearer
to us than that’, and ‘we will never allow any one to dictate terms to us’.81 The
Kremlin appeared to believe that it had left Lukashenko with no choice other than
to surrender to Russian demands or risk losing power.82 In response, Lukshenka
sought a third option: look westward. In late January 2007, Lukashenko stated that
Belarusians wanted to be ‘willing pupils’ to Western Europe and, in mid-February,
he went further by proclaiming that Belarus is not only a European country, but
‘at the center of the civilized world’ and was interested in joining the EU.83 These
statements seemed to indicate how far Lukashenko was willing to go, at least
rhetorically, in his break with Russia.
It quickly became clear, however, that Lukashenko was in no way willing to
reform his country’s political and economic systems, nor were there any positive
signs from Brussels that Belarus would even be considered for closer relations
absent these reforms. Therefore, Minsk had no option other than to return to an
eastward foreign policy orientation. Moreover, there appeared to be a softening
toward the Belarusian regime on the Russian side, seemingly out of a fear that
they had pushed Lukashenko too far.84 Consequently, the rhetoric emanating from
both countries returned to a more positive footing and expressions of support
for the idea of reintegration. This was particularly evident in mid-March when
Lukashenko rejected an offer from an opposition leader to align forces against
Russian ambitions; Lukashenko also ended his brief flirtation with a westward
realignment.85 Instead, Russia and Belarus signed a series of economic agreements
in the latter half of March. The following month, Russia was willing to discuss
a stabilization loan of some $1.5 billion for Belarus.86 This culminated in
Lukashenko’s Easter speech in which he proclaimed that the Belarusians and ‘the
brotherly Russian people’ would face their mutual threats together.87 At the end of
the year, Lukashenko and the outgoing Putin held a meeting during which Russia
continued its policy of exporting natural gas to Belarus at well below market

Korshak, ‘Once Fraternal Russia and Belarus Count down to Cut Off’, Deutsche
81 ��������������������������������������������������������������������
Presse-Agentur, 8 January 2007.
Mikhail Rostovsky et al., ‘A Slavic Farewell Demarche’, Moskovsky Komsomolets,
82 ��������������������������������������������������������
11 January 2007, 3, reproduced in What the Papers Say, 11 January 2007.
83 �������������������������������������
‘Belarus Ready to Be West’s “Willing Pupil”: Lukashenko’, Agence France
Presse, 25 January 2007.
‘Russia’s Strategic Course Towards Belarus’, TASS, 21 March 2007.
84 ���������������������������������������������
85 ������������������������������������������������������
Mikhail Zygar and Vadim Dovnar, ‘Alexander Lukashenko Prepares ������������
Unfavorable Day for the Opposition’, Kommersant, 15 March 2007, 9, reproduced in What
the Papers Say, 16 March 2007.
‘Russia, Belarus Sign Economic Relations, Sugar Supply Agreements’, TASS, 23
86 ��������������������������������������������������������������������
March 2007; ‘Russia Still Pondering Stabilization Load for Belarus’, TASS, 6 April 2007.
87  Belarusian Television (Minsk), 8 April 2007, reproduced as ‘Belarus President
Stresses Ties with Russia, Own Strength in Easter Speech’, in BBCMIR, 8 April 2007.
Bolster: Russian Support for Authoritarianism in Belarus 129

prices, despite the rise of energy prices worldwide.88 Also agreed to were the final
details on the stabilization loan, which Belarus would be able to repay over fifteen
years. It appears that, once again, Russia was willing to assist the Lukashenko
regime sustain its separation from the West.


Given the political dynamics in Europe, which have seen nearly every former
Soviet-bloc state in the region make the transition to some substantive form of
representative government, Belarus and Russia stand together as bastions of
authoritarianism on a continent of democracies. Russia’s unique situation (in
terms of its size, natural resources, political culture, and geopolitical status)
has made it easier for the Kremlin to resist these trends. However, it is highly
improbable that the Lukashenko regime could have survived in its current state
without Moscow’s extensive assistance. Lukashenko’s power and position appear
to be secure, with little effective opposition within the country, and it is also able
to withstand external pressures. This could easily change if Russia’s support of
Lukashenko ended. However, for the foreseeable future, this appears unlikely
because the political status quo in Belarus remains in the Kremlin’s interests.
Although the bilateral problems of recent years have not been fully resolved, there
are indications that Russia has chosen stability over withdrawing its support for
Lukashenko and precipitating a leadership crisis in Belarus.
If Lukashenko were to fall, there would be two likely outcomes. First, the
collapse of the regime could lead to a democratic opening like that seen in Georgia,
Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. The main opponents to Lukashenko have made it clear
that they wish to bring Belarus into the European fold, with a corresponding Western
political, economic, and possibly strategic alignment. This could be a disaster for
the Kremlin: not only would they lose their closest ally, but it might provide an
impetus to opponents of authoritarianism in Russia. Thus, Lukashenko’s fall, even
if gratifying from a personal standpoint, is likely not in the political interests of
the Russian regime. The second outcome is that Lukashenko could be replaced by
someone within his ruling circle who would maintain his policies and authoritarian
governing style. A relatively painless transition, like that in Turkmenistan after
President Niyazov’s December 2006 death, may result in a beneficial outcome for
the Kremlin, which would be rid of the often troublesome Lukashenko. Niyazov
did not groom a successor and used personal populism, rather than institutions,
to govern; Lukashenko has followed a similar pattern, though not with such an
extreme cult of personality. Therefore, if Niyazov could be succeeded with a
minimum of political instability, the replacement of Lukashenko with a similar,

88 ������������������������
The price was $119/1000m3, lower than Russia sells to anyone and even lower than
Turkmenistan sells to Russia itself. Ruslan Gorevoi, ‘Gifts for a Dictator’, Versiya, 24–30
December 2007, 10, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part A), 25 December 2007.
130 Authoritarian Backlash

more pro-Moscow leader, might appear possible. However, there are reasons for not
being too optimistic. Unless Lukashenko mysteriously and suddenly dies (which,
of course, is a possibility, given the recent spate of possible political assassinations
of Kremlin opponents), removing the incumbent president will probably be a
difficult and potentially brutal affair which could leave the succeeding regime
too weak to survive, possibly leading the country toward chronic instability and
resulting in the first outcome identified above. Consequently, concerns over the
potential political aftermath of Lukashenko’s fall from power are likely to give the
Kremlin pause before withdrawing its support.
This is not to say that the political interests are the only ones driving Kremlin
policy toward the Lukashenko regime. Belarus remains Russia’s closely ally and
represents a military/strategic bulwark against Western (in particular, US and
NATO) expansion to the east. As one Russian commentator put it, ‘We have lost
Ukraine and if we now lose Belarus, in a certain period the North Atlantic alliance
will be standing along the full length of our western borders … This is an issue of
prestige and security’.89 In this context, ‘losing’ Belarus referred to the possibility
of a color revolution and precipitating a definitive shift toward the West. Moreover,
the symbolism of Belarus’s alignment with Russia is also key: reintegrating parts of
the former Soviet Union into some form of an interstate political entity would begin
to reverse what Putin in April 2005 called ‘the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of
the century’ and a ‘genuine tragedy’.90 While the recreation of the former USSR
is seen almost universally as impossible, a union with Belarus would restore a
level of great power and imperial status to Russian national identity. However, a
color revolution in Belarus would make it more likely that the Belarusians would
seek to integrate with the EU, rather than Russia. Thus, the political interests of
the Kremlin in ensuring the survival of authoritarianism in Belarus, its military/
strategic interests in the country, and the symbolic value of the possibilities for
a Russia–Belarus Union converged into a policy of consistent and broad-based
support for the Lukashenko regime and authoritarianism in Belarus.

‘Russian NGOs to be Brought under Financial Control’, RIA Novosti, 29 June

89 ������������������������������������������������������
90 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Putin: Soviet Collapse “Greatest Geopolitical Catastrophe” of 20th Century’,
Associated Press, 25 April 2005.
Chapter 7
Subvert: Undermining Democracy
in Georgia and Ukraine

I’m sure that Russia will recognize the benefit of having democracies on her borders.
George W. Bush

The color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine represented a reversal of political

trends in the former Soviet Union. They were hailed in the democratic West as
free expressions of the will of the people, but seen as particularly dangerous to
the remaining autocratic regimes in the region as the spread of revolutions from
Georgia (Rose), to Ukraine (Orange), to Kyrgyzstan (Tulip) raised the prospect of
democratic contagion which could threaten their rule. Fears that the ‘orange virus’
might reach into the Russian Federation prompted the Kremlin to take a harder line
at home and abroad against pro-democracy forces. Rather than recognizing the
benefit of having democracies along its borders, as the quote above optimistically
predicted, Russia became concerned about the domestic implications of the
political dissimilarity between itself and its neighbors. In a seeming effort to
subvert democratization along its borders, the Kremlin has adopted increasingly
antagonistic policies toward Georgia and Ukraine, including a variety of economic,
political, and diplomatic pressures.
Because a successful democratic transition in close proximity represents an
ever-present symbolic threat of the possibility of regime change, the strategy of
subvert has a clear logic to it: if a new democracy fails or is seen as worse than
the regime it replaced, then the pattern of regional democratic trends could be
halted or reversed. Within the context of Georgia and Ukraine, this strategy makes
even more sense. The color revolutions resulted not only in democratic changes,
but fundamental shifts in their foreign policy orientation toward the West. For
example, the presidents of both countries have expressed their desire to join the
European Union (EU) and, more ominously for Russia, the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO). Most analysis on Russia’s reaction to NATO expansion has
rightly focused on the strategic level—that is, how alliance enlargement will be
perceived as threatening Russia’s national security, state interests, and geopolitical
standing (Black 1999, Smith and Timmins 2001, Monaghan 2006). However, NATO
membership for Georgia and Ukraine also has important domestic implications.
Alliance membership for Georgia and Ukraine would help consolidate democracy

 �������������� Pro-Democracy Revolt in Georgia’, Agence France Presse, 10 May

‘Bush Salutes ����������������������������������
132 Authoritarian Backlash

in the former Soviet Union and reinforce the symbolic value of the color
revolutions. Both of these would heighten the potential domestic threat of regional
democratic trends for the Kremlin. Since the Atlantic Alliance requires applicant
states to be democratic, undermining or delegitimizing democracy in Tbilisi and
Kiev would bring multiple benefits to Russia: not only would the negative political
effects of the color revolutions be reversed, but, since nondemocratic states cannot
join NATO, the strategic dangers of NATO expansion would also be counteracted.
Therefore, in addition to exploring Russian policy toward Tbilisi and Kiev, it is
also necessary to consider how possible NATO enlargement acts as a potential
political threat to the Kremlin.
This chapter begins with an overview of Russia’s relations with Georgia and
Ukraine before the color revolutions in order to provide a contrast between the pre-
and post-revolution periods. The subsequent two sections illustrate the changes in
Russian policy toward these two states after the color revolutions. In the case
of Russia and Georgia, the historically strained relations had improved slightly
before and immediately after the Rose Revolution, but quickly deteriorated and
eventually ruptured in late 2006. More dramatically, Russia’s relationship with
Ukraine departed sharply from the growing amity which characterized relations
prior to the Orange Revolution. Each section covers three issue areas: rhetorical
attacks, economic pressures, and support for substate ethnic groups. The subsequent
section explores how possible NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine can be
understood within the context of democratic contagion. The conclusion of this
chapter posits the future of Russia’s relations with these two states, as well as
considers how Russia is likely to react to any further NATO enlargement.

Before the Color Revolutions

Russia–Georgia relations have been persistently troubled since the collapse

of the Soviet Union (Sammut 2003, Chigorin 2003, Chepurin 2004, German
2004, Devdariani 2005). Immediately after independence, Georgian elites, led
by President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, attempted to construct Georgian identity in
opposition to historical Russian domination, leading to strongly anti-Russian
rhetoric which laid the foundation of poor relations between the two countries.
However, this was not all Tbilisi’s fault: Georgia was (rightfully) seen as among
the most anti-Russian of the former Soviet republics, evidenced by the country’s
initial refusal to join the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States
or to agree to allow Russian military bases on its soil. Therefore, it was in Russia’s
interests to break Georgian resistance to the establishment of a Russian sphere of
influence within the region. Gamsakhurdia’s violent overthrow (in which Russian
soldiers may have taken an active role) led to the return of former Soviet Foreign
Minister Eduard Shevardnadze as the head of the newly-formed State Council in
February 1992 and eventually as president in 1995. This did little to resolve the
fundamental problems between Russia and Georgia.
Subvert: Undermining Democracy in Georgia and Ukraine 133

One of the most intractable issues has been Russian support for the secessionist
Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as for the pro-Russian
autonomous region of Adjara. The newfound Russian army reportedly gave
weapons to the secessionists and facilitated the supply of thousands of ‘volunteers’
from the Russian Federation to fight on behalf of the anti-Georgian forces (Lukic
and Lynch 1996: 362). There are even reports of Russian bombers attacking
Georgian positions in Abkhazia. Through this military pressure, Moscow also
forced Tbilisi to accept the introduction of Russian ‘peacekeepers’ into South
Ossetia and Abakhazia. Rather than facilitate a political compromise and the
restoration of Georgian sovereignty over these provinces, the peacekeepers have
allowed the secessionists to establish de facto independence from Tbilisi and
prevented Georgian armed forces from reasserting their sovereignty over them.
Both of these territories continue to look to Moscow for protection, and it is feared
that Russia will eventually seek to annex them. This is particularly the case with
the Ossetians, who are divided between North Ossetia (which is in Russia) and
South Ossetia.
Related to this issue, Russian military bases in the country (located in the
three breakaway regions) have been a particular problem in bilateral relations.
Under intense Russian pressure, Georgian officials conceded to a 25 year lease
for Russian military bases in 1994. However, the Georgian parliament refused to
ratify the agreement because it was seen as a violation of the country’s sovereignty
and a confirmation of the de facto breakup of the country. As a result, the Georgian
government has demanded that the bases be closed, but Russian officials were
reluctant to depart from Georgia. Instead, the Kremlin argued that any closure
would take over a decade.
After the second war in Chechnya, Russia accused Georgia of giving Chechen
fighters and their al-Qaeda allies safe haven in the Pankisi Gorge; a charge the
Georgian government denies. Consequently, some Russian officials have called
for military operations against Georgia. In August 2002, relations between the
two states worsened when Russian planes reportedly bombed targets some twenty
miles inside of Georgia. However, both sides called for a relaxation of tensions in
October 2002. At a summit the following March in Sochi, Russia, Shevardnadze
and Putin reached a series of agreements, including a joint statement on settling
the Abkhazia conflict. The Georgian president called the accord ‘the beginning
of a new stage in the development of the Georgian-Russian relations’. While the
fundamental issues of the secessionist provinces, military bases, and Chechen
refugees remained unresolved, 2003 represented a slight improvement in relations
between Russia and Georgia. Unfortunately for Shevardnadze, he was toppled in
the November 2003 Rose Revolution.
Russia’s relationship with Ukraine has also been historically troubled, though
for different reasons. The conflicts between Moscow and Tbilisi have largely been

Tengiz Pachkoria,
‘Georgia President
���������� Promises
Special Rights to Abkhazia Province’,
TASS, 10 March 2003.
134 Authoritarian Backlash

over a clash of interests: Georgia’s interest in asserting its sovereignty and resisting
Russian domination versus Russia’s desire to restore its sphere of influence in the
Caucasus and keep the Georgian state weak and compliant. Many of the problems
in the Russian–Ukrainian relationship are deeply tied to national identity issues for
both peoples, as well as the larger geopolitical interests of both states. At its core is
the fundamental difficulty many Russians had during the early 1990s with Ukraine
emerging as an independent country. For centuries, Ukraine has been at the very
heart of Russian national identity. The cultural and historical continuity between
Kievan Rus’ and Russia itself led many Russians to believe that they, along with
the Ukrainians and the Belarusians, were part of a pan-Russian nation. A separate
Ukrainian state called into question Russia’s conception of itself which historically
blurred the lines between state, nation, and empire. Therefore, the independence
of Ukraine was seen by a wide range of the Russian foreign policy elite and by
the population as a whole as both ‘unnatural’ and ‘temporary’ (Tolz 2002: 237–9).
As a result, the Kremlin was unable to develop a coherent and coordinated foreign
policy toward Ukraine for several years after Ukrainian independence. It was only
after the May 1997 interstate treaty between Russia and Ukraine, which recognized
Ukraine’s sovereignty and established a system for demarcating state borders, that
there was a shift in Russian perceptions of Ukrainian independence. Nevertheless,
Russia rather openly interfered in Ukraine’s domestic politics through its support
of pro-Russian candidates and seemingly continued to see Ukraine as something
less than an independent country (Kuzio 2003: 444–5). For their part, Ukrainian
officials sought to assert their identity as independent, sovereign, and ‘European’—
this last characteristic was seen as representing a fundamental distinction between
Ukraine as a ‘Western’ country and Russia as part of the Asiatic ‘East’.
In addition to this more existential dilemma, Russian–Ukrainian relations
were hampered by three practical problems: the status of Russians in Ukraine, the
disposition of the Black Sea Fleet, and the energy/debt issue. Ukraine is divided
between the heavily russified eastern Ukraine and the Crimea, the solidly Ukrainian
west, and a mixed middle region around Kiev. While the largely civic conception
of the Ukrainian state was far more welcoming to the ethnic Russians than in
other cases with significant Russian populations (such as Latvia or Estonia), the
legitimacy of Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea, which was transferred by the
USSR from Russia to Ukraine in 1954, has been called into question within the
Russian Federation and by some ethnic Russians in Ukraine itself. This too was a
reflection of the identity conflicts between the two countries, with the Ukrainians
seeking to affirm the territorial integrity and sovereignty of their newly-
independent state in order to counter any potential Russian irredentism, and the
Russians hoping to maintain the connections between the Russian Federation and

This treaty, though signed in 1997, took two years to be ratified by the Russian
Duma (Tolz 2002: 241–3).
Extensive autonomy for the Crimea has been a minimum demand, with some calling
for the outright restoration of the peninsula to Russian control (Wydra 2003).
Subvert: Undermining Democracy in Georgia and Ukraine 135

its ‘compatriots abroad’. While there is little fear that the Crimea will be detached
from Ukraine, the nature and scope of minority rights and territorial autonomy in
the region remain a matter of dispute.
This same region is also the home of the Black Sea Fleet, another problem
in Russia–Ukraine relations. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the successor
states laid claim to the military assets found within their territory. One of the key
disputes was over the inheritance of the Black Sea Fleet, a cornerstone of the old
Soviet navy (Simonsen 2000, Kryukov 2006). Both the Russian and Ukrainian
government issued a series of decrees in the early years after independence
asserting that the fleet, along with its bases and infrastructure, belonged to them.
This was a particularly difficult problem to resolve because issues of national
pride and identity were conflated with security matters. If Russia were to lose its
fleet entirely, this would be a serious blow to its claims of great power status and
its ability to project power and influence within the strategic Black Sea region
and beyond. Ukrainian officials saw this as a matter of Ukraine’s status as an
independent and sovereign country: Ukraine should be able to assert its sovereignty
over military assets within its borders and be free to refuse a foreign military base
on its soil. Moreover, the fleet’s main base in Sevastopol might one day provide
Russia with both the symbolic legitimacy and the physical means to lay claim to
the disputed Crimea region. Although the two sides eventually signed a series of
agreements over the division of the fleet and Russian basing rights, there are some
issues that remain unresolved and disputes over specific assets (e.g. the control
over lighthouses used in part by the fleet) occasionally flare. At the very least, the
Black Sea Fleet remains an irritant.
Russia–Ukraine relations were also complicated by the related problems of
energy and credit. Ukraine is extremely dependent upon Russia for its energy
supplies, with some 90 per cent of its oil and 60 per cent of its natural gas coming
from Russia by the end of the 1990s (Smolansky 1999: 49). However, since Ukraine
lacks the money to pay for these resources, its debts to Russia increased dramatically
in the years after independence. This energy-debt nexus, and its use as leverage
over Kiev to achieve Moscow’s policy goals, has complicated the outstanding
issues between the two countries, further worsening bilateral relations. While
tensions over the Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet could be mitigated by political
and diplomatic compromises, the structural problem of Ukrainian dependency on
Russia remained a continuous problem which could intensify at any time.
During the first term of President Leonid Kuchma, the Ukrainian government
attempted to balance its westward and eastward leanings, often tilting one way
then radically shifting to the other (Kuzio 2005b). During the 1999 presidential
campaign, Kuchma ran on a platform advocating integration into European
international institutions. However, after his reelection, it became clear that
Ukraine was steadily moving away from liberal-democratic standards, most
dramatically with the release of tapes identifying Kuchma as a suspect involved in
the death of an opposition journalist (Way 2005). As a result, Western institutions
began harshly criticizing the Kuchma government and the option of a westward
136 Authoritarian Backlash

alignment was closed to Ukraine. By contrast, the Kremlin was openly welcoming
to its increasingly autocratic neighbor. As a result, Kuchma sought to strengthen
his ties with Russia. The formulation of Kuchma’s second term policy of a
‘return to Europe with Russia’ in meant that Ukraine’s westward leanings would
now be restrained by ties to Russia (Kuzio 2003: 446). As Kiev oriented itself
toward Moscow, Ukraine’s commitment to the ostensibly anti-Russian GUUAM
organization dissipated and its willingness to consider the Eurasian Economic
Community (a Russian-dominated alternative to the EU) increased. Consequently,
the Kremlin actively sought to facilitate the election of Kuchma’s heir apparent,
Viktor Yanukovych, who was seen as having a similar pro-Russian orientation
and a commitment to continuing Kuchma’s governing style. This help came in
various forms, some legal, many not. Western Europe and the US also sought to
influence the outcome in favor of the democratic process—this meant, in effect,
supporting Yanukovych’s pro-West opponent, Viktor Yushchenko. Yushchenko’s
eventual victory was hailed as a triumph for democracy in the West and a political
and strategic defeat in Russia.
In the period just prior to the color revolutions, Russia–Georgia and Russia–
Ukraine relations had improved to varying degrees. This was obviously more
stark in the case of Ukraine, in which the growing authoritarianism of the Kuchma
regime resulted in a decided shift toward the equally autocratic Kremlin. However,
relations between Moscow and Tbilisi, while hampered by serious and seemingly
intractable problems, had assumed a slightly more positive tone. As will be seen
in the following two extended sections, this improvement in relations was short-
lived. Once the Rose Revolution was followed by the Orange Revolution, and the
specter of democratic contagion was seen as a real possibility, Russia initiated a
series of policies aimed at undermining its newly democratic neighbors.

After the Rose Revolution

Moscow initially supported the Rose Revolution in order to prevent chaos in

the Caucasus. Upon being sworn in as the new Georgian president, Mikhail
Saakashvili declared that he sought a new beginning with the Kremlin and wanted

GUUAM stands for Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova and
was formed to counteract Russian influence in the former Soviet Union.
See a summary of comments from the Russian press in ‘BBC Monitoring Quotes
from Russian Press’, BBC Monitoring International Reports [BBCMIR], 1 December
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov supposedly played a positive role in easing the
transition—something which Ivanov later denied. NTV Mir, 24 November 2003, reproduced
as ‘Georgian Opposition Leader Praises Russia’s Ivanov Role in Recent Events’, in
BBCMIR, 24 November 2003.
Subvert: Undermining Democracy in Georgia and Ukraine 137

‘to extend a hand of friendship to Russia’. In attendance at the inauguration was

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who responded positively to Saakashvili’s
statement. Despite a series of crises over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia,
Abkhazia, and Adjara,10 as well as continued disagreement over the status of Russian
bases on Georgian territory, Georgian and Russian officials committed themselves
to a framework treaty which would establish the basis of peaceful relations
between the two countries. Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Eduard Shevardnadze had
signed such an agreement in 1994, but it was scuttled as disputes between the two
countries intensified.11 At the end of his March 2004 visit to Moscow to meet with
Putin, Saakashvili proclaimed that ‘Russian–Georgian relations are entering a new
era’.12 While a lack of progress on security issues prevented them from signing
a new framework agreement during 2004, both sides appeared optimistic about
the general state of Russian–Georgian relations.13 This changed abruptly in 2005,
In the absence of the Orange Revolution, the Rose Revolution could be seen as
a one-time event in which a highly unpopular president in an extremely weak state
was removed from office through a popular revolt. As a singular incident, the Rose
Revolution could be tolerated by Moscow, particularly if it stabilized the Caucasus
and led to improved relations between the two countries. However, after the Orange
Revolution in November 2004–January 2005, democratization in Georgia assumed
a fundamentally different character and Russian policymakers and commentators
came to believe that a pattern was forming. Consequently, the Kremlin hardened
its position toward Tbilisi in 2005. This change first manifested itself in a series of
rhetorical attacks against the color revolutions in general and the Rose Revolution
in particular. Tensions also reignited over the breakaway Georgian provinces of
Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Finally, beginning in early 2006, Russia sought to
damage Georgia economically and undermine its government. These measures
included the misuse of energy supplies; a boycott of Georgian wine, mineral water,
and other goods; and, a tightening of the visa regime between the two countries.

Yana Dlugy and Nikolai Topuria, ‘Saakashvili Vows to Steer Georgia Westward at
Inauguration’, Agence France Presse, 25 January 2004.
‘Georgian Top Eager to Improve Relations with Russia. Reciprocally, Says Ivanov’,
RIA Novosti, 26 January 2004.
10 �����������������������������������������������������������������
Tbilisi reasserted its control over Adjara in the spring of 2004.
11 �������������������������������������������������������������������������
Iya Barateli, ‘No Obstacles for Georgia-Russia Framework Treaty—Leader’,
TASS, 12 February 2004.
12 �������������������������������������������������������������������������
Vladimir Novikov and Gennady Sysoyev, ‘Mikhail Saakashvili Receives Visa
Permit’, Kommersant, 13 February 2004, 10, reproduced in Current Digest of the Post-
Soviet Press, 56:6 (10 March 2004).
13 ���������������������������������������������������������������������
Vitaly Kuchkin and Tamara Frolkina, ‘RF Hopes it Can Reach Agreement
with Georgia – Yakovenko’, TASS, 22 November 2004; ITAR–TASS, 7 December 2004,
reproduced as ‘Russian Foreign Minister Meets Georgian Counterpart to Review Relations’,
in BBCMIR, 7 December 2004.
138 Authoritarian Backlash

In the summer of 2006, in response to increasing tensions over Abkhazia, Russia

imposed an economic embargo of Georgia.
In Chapter 3, Vladislav Surkov, the deputy director of the Presidential
Administration and the Kremlin’s top ideologue, was quoted stating that the color
revolutions were undemocratic ‘coups’ that must be guarded against. The idea that
Russia was actually seeking to advance democracy and that the opposition forces
in both Georgia and Ukraine were actually the ones who sought to undermine it
became an important theme in Russian rhetorical attacks against Tbilisi and Kiev.
It is clear, however, that this was a policy of misdirection. In addition to Russian
support for blatant election rigging in Ukraine, Russia was moving steadily away
from democratic values while Ukraine and Georgia were moving in the opposite
direction. Nevertheless, by projecting the image of Russia as a democracy, even
while acting in the opposite way, the Kremlin sought to discredit both the color
revolutions themselves and those at home who might call for a popular uprising.
One of the first post-Orange Revolution attacks came from Igor Ivanov, now
the Russian Security Council secretary, who contrasted the need for ‘stability’
against the ‘revolutionary upheavals’ of the color revolutions.14 He specifically
rejected the legitimacy of what he called ‘extra-parliamentary methods’ leading
to the Rose Revolution: ‘Do you think that the change of power in Georgia that
took place in the streets is truly democratic? Do you think that such values and
principles are laid down in the documents of the Council of Europe and the OSCE?’
In February 2005, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also denounced the
state of Georgian democracy in an interview to the Russian magazine Itogi Weekly.
Lavrov cited a report by the Council of Europe which he claimed raised ‘serious
criticisms regarding the democratic freedoms situation, including freedom
of expression and human rights’.15 However, while the visit by the Council of
Europe’s Venice Commission raised some issues of concern, they were nothing to
the extent that Lavrov claimed.16
In May 2005, US President George W. Bush visited Georgia after attending
the sixtieth anniversary celebration of the Allies’ victory in World War II, hosted
by Russia. This was widely seen as an open expression of American support
for democratic reforms in Georgia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.17
According to reports, the Kremlin was upset about the symbolism of Bush’s visit
to Georgia, prompting Lavrov to send a letter of protest to Secretary of State

‘Igor Ivanov Against “Color Revolutions”’, RIA Novosti, 10 February 2005.

14 �������������������������������������������
‘Interview with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’, Official Kremlin International
15 �������������������������������������������������
News Broadcast, 15 February 2005.
16 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Visite d’une délégation de la Commission de Venise en Géorgie (27–28 Janvier
2005): Synopsis’ [Online: Council of Europe]. Available at <
CDL(2005)012syn-f.asp>, accessed 11 July 2008.
17  Georgian State Television Channel 1, 3 May 2005, reproduced as ‘Georgian
President Addresses Nation Ahead of Bush Visit’, in BBCMIR, 4 May 2005.
Subvert: Undermining Democracy in Georgia and Ukraine 139

Condoleezza Rice.18 Although the Russian Foreign Ministry disputed this account,
Bush’s praise for Georgian democracy, as well as his call for Russia to respect
Georgia’s territorial integrity and his support for Tbilisi’s application to NATO,
reinforced Georgia’s status as a symbolic victory for pro-democracy forces.
During the remainder of 2005, Russian–Georgian relations were undermined
by continuing disagreements over Russian military bases and the secessionist
provinces. However, relations hit a new low in January 2006 over Georgian imports
of Russian natural gas. In response to Moscow’s cutoff of natural gas supplies
to Ukraine earlier that month (discussed in the following section), Saakashvili
announced that his government would seek to diversify Georgia’s energy imports.19
Just days later, two natural gas pipelines from Russia exploded nearly simultaneously
and a high-power electricity transmission tower (which supplies approximately
6 per cent of Georgia’s electrical power) was felled by a subsequent blast later
that day. This occurred during a cold snap and left Georgia with only one day of
natural gas reserves to heat the country. Although the Kremlin blamed unidentified
anti-Russian saboteurs, Saakashvili blamed Russia.20 According to Saakashvili,
evidence of a political purpose behind these explosions was reinforced by the fact
that they were clearly coordinated, occurred in areas of Russian military control,
and did not damage supplies to Russian customers. The Russian Foreign Ministry
dismissed Shaakashvili’s accusations as ‘hysterical and bacchanalian’, and Putin
ordered a quick repair to the pipelines.21 It should be noted that the blasts also
disrupted supplies to Russia’s ally, Armenia. Nevertheless, the Georgian foreign
minister continued to blame Russia, calling the cutoff ‘energy diplomacy’22 and,
in a speech to members of the European Parliament, stated that there ‘are many,
many coincidences’.23 While ultimate blame for the energy disruptions is likely
to remain unknown, Russia has used energy as a diplomatic weapon in the past
and, coming just after the dispute with Ukraine and Shaakashvili’s statement, it
would not be surprising if there was more to the January 2006 disruptions than
just simple sabotage.
In the aftermath of the energy disruptions, tensions between Moscow and
Tbilisi escalated. In mid-February, the Georgian legislature passed a resolution
calling upon all Russian troops to leave South Ossetia, but did not set a date for

18 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
Elisabeth Bumiller and Stephen Lee Myers, ‘Russia Objects to Bush Itinerary;
Rice Replies’, New York Times, 6 May 2005, 8.
19  Rustavi-2 TV, 19 January 2006, reproduced as ‘Georgian Leader Outlines Energy
Policy’, in BBCMIR, 20 Janurary 2006.
20 ����������
‘Georgian President
Blames Russia for Gas Pipeline Explosions’, Xinhua General
News Service, 22 January 2006.
21 ���������������������������������������
‘Russia Re-routes Gas to Georgia after Pipeline Blasts’, Agence France Presse,
22 January 2006.
‘Russian “Energy Diplomacy a Wake up Call” Warns Georgian Minister’, Deutsche
22 ���������������������������������������������������������������������
Presse–Agentur, 23 January 2006.
23 ��������������������������������������
‘Georgian FM Voices Concern about Gas Problems with Russia’, Agence France
Presse, 25 January 2006.
140 Authoritarian Backlash

their departure. In addition, the Georgian Foreign Ministry announced that Russian
peacekeepers would be required to receive visas to enter Georgian territory. In
response, the Russian government cut off visas for Georgians, claiming that Tbilisi
was violating previous agreements.24 Also, Georgian wine exports to Russia,
which account for some 70 per cent of Georgian wine sales, were banned by
the Kremlin in early April, citing health concerns.25 Georgian citrus fruits were
also banned. Mikhail Svimonishvili, Georgia’s agricultural minister, argued that
politics, not public health, was behind the ban: he cited the fact that Georgian
wine is exported throughout Europe and North America and has not come under
scrutiny for any health violations.26 Nevertheless, this was followed the next
month by a ban on Georgian mineral water; again, health reasons were cited by
the Russian government and Tbilisi responded by arguing that the decision was
aimed as pressuring Georgia.27
The energy disruptions and the economic embargoes served only as a prequel
to the near total breakdown in relations between the two countries in the fall
of 2006. This was directly related to the continued problems over the Russian-
backed, breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Little progress on
either front was made in 2005–2006. Despite Saakashvili’s tough language on
reunifying Georgian territory, Russia’s protection of the secessionists through
their peacekeeping operations remained in effect, though with occasional flare-
ups. During this period, the Kremlin effectively integrated these territories into the
Russian Federation: Russian officials traveling to the provinces did not apply for
Georgian visas and generally treated them as part of Russian territory; individuals
living in these territories were issued Russian, not Georgian, passports for foreign
travel; and, many residents of these territories were granted Russian citizenship.
During the summer of 2006, tensions intensified as Russian and Georgian officials
traded accusations about Georgia’s desire to retake the provinces militarily and
Russia’s de facto annexation of both regions.28 In June, the Russian Foreign
Ministry identified Georgian territorial integrity as ‘more a possible state than
a political-legal reality’29 and declared that South Ossetia and Abkhazia had the

24 ����������������������
Mikhail Vignansky, ‘A Passport War’, Vremya Novostei, 22 February 2006, 1,
reproduced in Defense and Security, 27 February 2006.
Kevin Buckley, ‘Wine Ban on Georgia, Moldova Stepped Up’, Financial Times
25 ����������������������������������������������������������
(London), 12 April 2006, 9.
C.J. Chivers, ‘A Russian “Wine Blockade” Against Georgia and Moldova’, New
26 �����������������������������������������������������������������������
York Times, 6 April 2006, 12.
27  Imedi TV, 5 May 2006, reproduced as ‘Georgian Speaker Says Russian Mineral
Water Ban Argument for CIS Withdrawal’, in BBCMIR, 5 May 2006.
28 ���������
‘Georgia Planning Armed Conflict in Breakaway South Ossetia: Lavrov’, Agence
France Presse, 2 June 2006.
29 �������������������������
‘Georgian Integrity More Possible than Real: Russia’, Agence France Presse, 1
June 2006.
Subvert: Undermining Democracy in Georgia and Ukraine 141

right to ‘self-determination’.30 Soon afterward, the Georgian legislature once again

demanded that Russian peacekeepers leave both territories.31
The issue came to a head in late September, on the same day that Saakashvili
vowed to reclaim Abkhazia, when Georgian officials seized four Russian military
officers from the military intelligence service and twelve Georgian citizens on
charges of spying. Georgian police also surrounded the Tbilisi headquarters of
Russia’s military forces in the Caucasus. Russia reacted strongly, calling the
charges ‘baseless’ and a ‘brutal act showing that Georgia’s leaders are carrying out
an anti-Russian policy’.32 Furthermore, Russia recalled its ambassador, ordered
the near-total evacuation of its embassy staff and families from Georgia, and
brought the issue to the UN Security Council. The Kremlin also enacted a host of
punitive actions against Georgia on top of the continuing bans on Georgian wine
and mineral water and the severe restrictions on remaining fruit and vegetable
imports. These sanctions included: refusing to issue visas to Georgians; cutting
land, air, and sea transport links; closing a Georgian-linked casino in Moscow;
preventing postal deliveries and money transfers from Georgian expatriates in
Russia; and, expelling Georgians from Russia with little or no cause. What is
important about these punishments is that they continued even after the Russian
soldiers were released and returned to Russia, just days after being arrested.
Despite Saakashvili’s plea of ‘enough is enough’,33 Russian officials said that they
would not withdraw the sanctions. Instead, as Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov
asserted, the sanctions were intended to punish Georgia for a pattern of anti-Russian
policies.34 Lavrov echoed this sentiment by asserting that Russia did not ‘want to
do things as before’ by lifting sanctions.35 In fact, Russian officials pledged that
they would implement even more sanctions against Georgia, including banking
and immigration controls.36 A decision in early November to (again) double the
price that Georgia paid for natural gas was not officially linked to the arrest of the
Russian officers, but the fact that it is close to the same rate paid by the developed
counties of Western Europe, and far higher than the rate paid by other former

Vladimir Solovyov and Vladimir Novikov, ‘Land Seizures’, Kommersant, 2 June

30 ���������������������������������������������������������
2006, 1, 10, reproduced in Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, 58:22 (28 June 2006).
31 ����������
‘Georgian Parliament
Demands Russian Peacekeepers’ Expulsion’, Agence France
Presse, 18 July 2006.
‘Moscow Cries Foul as Georgia Arrests Four Russian “Spies”’, Agence France
32 �������������������������������������������������������������
Presse, 27 September 2006.
Tony Halpin, ‘Russia Spurns “Spies” Olive Branch’, The Times (London), 3
33 ���������������������������������������������������
October 2006, 37.
Steven Lee Myers, ‘Russia Severs Transport Links with Georgia’, New York Times,
34 ����������������������������������������������������������������
3 October 2006, A1.
Peter Finn, ‘Unswayed by West, Russia Continues Georgia Blockade’, Washington
35  �������������������������������������������������������������������
Post, 4 October 2006, A21.
36 �����������������������
Dario Thuburn, ‘Russia Plans
Tighter Banking, Immigration Controls on Georgia’,
Agence France Presse, 5 October 2006.
142 Authoritarian Backlash

Soviet republics, indicated that there was something more than just market pricing
involved in the decision.37
Russian officials also launched an aggressive rhetorical attack upon Georgia,
with Putin calling the government’s actions ‘state terrorism’38 and likening
Georgia’s leaders to Lavrent Beria, the ethnic Georgian head of the Soviet secret
police who implemented Joseph Stalin’s purges.39 Putin also implied that Tbilisi’s
close relationship with Washington may have been instrumental in the arrests:
‘The people [in Georgia] think that in being under the protection of their foreign
sponsors, they can feel comfortable and safe’.40 This insinuation was made more
directly in a phone conservation between Bush and Putin when the latter warned
Washington against encouraging Georgia to undertake ‘destructive policies’.41
Foreign Minister Lavrov seconded Putin’s statements by explicitly linking Georgian
actions with NATO expansion: ‘The recent episode with the seizure of our officers
took place just after NATO’s decision to extend an intensified partnership plan to
Georgia, and, incidentally, immediately after a visit by Mikhail (Saakashvili) to
Washington’.42 Since the US had showcased Georgia as a symbol for democracy,
by linking Georgian intransigence to American policies, the Kremlin was implying
that the change in political regime of its southern neighbor was also a cause of
these policies.
The Georgian government framed the sanctions and rhetorical attacks against
it in terms of Russia’s reaction to the Rose Revolution. Saakashvili claimed that
the sanctions were part of a larger pattern of Russian pressure which began once
the Georgians made a choice for democracy.43 Mart Laar, the former Estonian
prime minister and adviser to Saakashvili on issues associated with European
integration, compared his country’s situation in the early 1990s to Georgia in
2006: ‘Russia is painfully upset by the fact that a country, which was once in
Moscow’s sphere of influence, has clearly asserted its independence and is striving
towards the West’.44

37 ���������������������������
Stephen Boykewich, ‘Russia Proposes
Gas Price
Hike for Georgia as Crisis
Continues’, Agence France Presse, 2 November 2006.
‘Putin Calls Georgia’s Actions State Terrorism’, Agence France Presse, 1 October
38 �������������������������������������������������
39 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Stephen Boykewich, ‘Putin Compares Georgia’s Leadership to Stalin’s Enforcer’,
Agence France Presse, 1 October 2006.
40 �����
41  ‘���������������������������
Putin Warns Bush of “Third Party” Interference in Georgia’, Agence France
Presse, 2 October 2006.
‘Russian Foreign Minister Links US, NATO to Georgia Crisis’, Agence France
42 �������������������������������������������������������������
Presse, 3 October 2006.
43 �����������
‘Georgia’s President Warns of “Racist” Talk in Crisis with Russia’, Agence France
Presse, 6 October 2006.
‘Russia Aims to Discredit NATO-Hopeful Georgia: Saakashvili Aide’, Agence
44 �������������������������������������������������������������������
France Presse, 3 October 2006.
Subvert: Undermining Democracy in Georgia and Ukraine 143

During the crisis, Russia also expressed continuing support for South Ossetia
and Abkhazia. In addition to inviting the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to
Russia for an economic forum in early October, Russia later threatened Georgia
with violence if it attempted to seize Abkhazia or South Ossetia by force.45
Putin himself warned Georgia of a ‘bloodbath’ if Tbilisi were to use military
force against the provinces.46 Russian threats intensified in November with
Russian Defense Minister Ivanov stating that since most of the residents of the
provinces are Russian citizens, Russia has a responsibility to protect them.47 Of
course Ivanov failed to mention that the Kremlin gave Russian citizenship to the
residents of these provinces over Georgian objections and despite the fact that
they are internationally recognized as being citizens of Georgia. Russia also gave
its rhetorical support to a referendum on independence in South Ossetia, citing its
‘symbolic character’.48
Like the energy disruptions earlier in 2006, the Kremlin did not overtly link
this intensified coercion to Kremlin fears of democratization along its southern
border. This is not surprising: Kremlin officials continue to claim that Russia is a
democracy and it is unlikely they would ever publicly state that they are seeking to
undermine another country because of its political system. Certainly the Georgians
perceived it this way, but it is impossible to conclusively identify intentions from
foreign policy. Moreover, the specific impact of the Rose Revolution on Russia–
Georgia relations is difficult to measure because there are other factors at work in
this case, including geopolitics (the NATO–Georgia–Russia strategic triangle) and
the history of poor relations between the two states. This is not an ideal case. What
we have is a pattern in which Russia–Georgia relations go from bad to marginally
better to much worse. This was not a fundamental shift, but rather a continuing
breakdown of relations. It would be much clearer if there was a sudden change
from positive to negative relations with the Rose Revolution as the turning point.
Nevertheless, three factors point to the importance of Georgian democratization
for Russian foreign policy toward Tbilisi. First, the timing of these events is
conspicuous. Although Russia–Georgia relations were rocky since the collapse
of the Soviet Union, there was a partial upswing in 2003 (after the Sochi
summit between Putin and Shevardnadze) and 2004 (immediately after the
Rose Revolution, which presented the possibility of a new beginning in bilateral
relations). It was not until after the Orange Revolution that this negative trend
began anew. This downturn is consistent with the Kremlin’s tone toward the color

45 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Russia Would Defend Separatist Republics Against Georgian Attack: Defense
Minister’, Agence France Presse, 8 October 2006.
46 �����
Adam ������������������������������������������������������������������������
Plowright, ‘Putin Warns Georgia of “Bloodbath” in Separatist Conflict’,
Agence France Presse, 20 October 2006.
47 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
Simon Ostrovsky, ‘War of Words Intensified with Rebel Georgian Region’s
Upcoming Referendum’, Agence France Presse, 10 November 2006.
48 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Russia Calls Independence Vote in Separatist Georgian Region “Symbolic”,
Agence France Presse, 13 November 2006.
144 Authoritarian Backlash

revolutions. Statements from policymakers and commentators indicate that events

in Georgia took on a new meaning after the Orange Revolution: rather than being
perceived as a one-time event, there was a real fear that democratization in the
former Soviet Union could emerge as a threat to the Kremlin’s grip on power. As
a result, Russia acted accordingly by seeking to undermine the Georgian state as a
way to undermine Georgian democracy.
Second, the events outlined in this section indicate that Russia has steadily
increased its pressure on Georgia. In terms of military strength, economic
capacity, landmass, and population, Russia dwarfs Georgia. Although Tbilisi is
certainly not blameless in this situation—for example, Saakashvili’s language
is often inflammatory—Georgia has sought to reduce tensions with Russia on
several occasions. For example, Georgia released the four Russian officers almost
immediately after seizing them, but Russia refused to reciprocate and in fact
increased economic sanctions. Moreover, in mid-November, Saakashvili issued
a statement seeking a reconciliation with Moscow, to no avail.49 Instead, Sergei
Ivanov responded by saying (reportedly with a smile on his face) that the sanctions
were merely a ‘slight message’ and could easily be tightened in the future.50
There was little improvement in 2007, despite the return of Russia’s ambassador
to Georgia in January, the closure of a Russian military base in June, and the
resumption of issuing some visas to Georgian citizens in July. In early August,
for example, Georgian officials accused Russia of launching a missile attack near
South Ossetia—a charge Moscow denied. In addition, a political crisis in Georgia
in September—during which Georgian authorities violently dispersed opposition
demonstrators and Saakashvili declared a temporary state of emergency, claiming
that Russian officials were using the protesters to launch a coup against his
regime—afforded the Kremlin with an additional opportunity to attempt to discredit
Georgian democracy.51 Saakashvili’s willingness to stand for an early election, and
the outcome of the January 2008 vote which saw him reelected by a wide margin,
were also dismissed by Russia as being nondemocratic.52 Throughout the rest of

49 ����������
‘Georgian President
���������� Pledges
����������������������������������������� �������� Agence
to Offer Conciliatory Message to Putin’,
France Presse, 17 November 2006.
50 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Russia’s Anti-Georgian Measures “Slight Message”, Not Sanctions: Moscow’,
Agence France Presse, 19 November 2006.
‘Georgia on Brink of “Human Rights Crisis”: Russia’, Agence France Presse,
51 �����������������������������������������������������
8 November 2007. It should be noted that the West, too, grew very concerned about
Saakashvili’s moves and it could be argued that NATO’s decision not to invite Georgia
to join at its 2008 summit was due, in part, to questions about the Georgian president’s
commitment to democracy.
52 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Russia argued that Saakashvili’s move to hold an early election for president was
undemocratic for not allowing the opposition to effectively organize for the vote. This is
somewhat ironic since Putin’s 2000 election as president was done under circumstances
which, too, precluded the opposition from having sufficient time to compete. For the Russian
statement, see Michael Mainville, ‘Georgian Lawmakers Vote to Lift Emergency Rule’,
Agence France Presse, 15 November 2007. After the vote, Russia and the OSCE election
Subvert: Undermining Democracy in Georgia and Ukraine 145

the year, relations between the two countries worsened as Russia reacted angrily to
the prospects of NATO membership for Georgia and to the recognition of Kosovo’s
independence by the major Western powers by sending additional troops into
Georgia’s breakaway regions and further institutionalizing its de facto annexation
of these territories. This led the Georgian president to warn in early May that the
risk of war with Russia was very real. All of this indicates that Russian-Georgian
relations will remain tense for the foreseeable future.
Finally, if one considers the case of Russian foreign policy toward Ukraine
during the same period, the overall context of the Kremlin’s relations with newly
democratic states along its borders provides greater evidence that democratization
in Georgia was a significant factor in the diplomatic downturn during and after
2005. As the next section shows, democratization in Ukraine had a dramatic impact
on relations between Moscow and Kiev. As Kuchma became more authoritarian,
Russia-Ukrainian relations grew more positive. After the Orange Revolution, this
was fundamentally reversed. Thus, Russian relations with Georgia, although a
difficult case to parse specific factors, fits into a emerging pattern in which the
prospect of democratization causes a negative shift in Russian foreign policy.

After the Orange Revolution

Given Russia’s overt interference in and manipulation of the 2004 Ukrainian

presidential election, there were understandably ill feelings between the two
countries. Russia had suffered a massive foreign policy defeat and the new
Ukrainian government had to deal with the immediate aftermath of an election
which sharply divided the country, as well as to ‘renegotiate the parameters of
Russian–Ukrainian relations’ (Kuzio 2005c: 509). Although Yushchenko traveled
to Moscow the day after his inauguration in an attempt to repair ties, the new
Ukrainian president made it clear that he sought to consolidate the democratic
gains of the Orange Revolution and align Ukraine with the West. Consequently,
Russia adopted a series of confrontational policies toward Kiev. For example,
Russian officials began a series of rhetorical attacks against the new Ukrainian
government in May 2005 in order to delegitimize the Orange Revolution. In an
interview with Strategiya Rossii, Igor Ivanov called the Orange Revolution and
‘undemocratic’ and ‘unconstitutional’ regime change that Russia must learn from
and respond to.53 Later that month, the Russian Duma, dominated by members
aligned with Putin’s United Russia political party, overwhelmingly directed its

monitors got into what is by now a familiar pattern of criticism and counter criticism, with
Russia assailing the legitimacy of the vote and the OSCE defending it. ‘OSCE Rejects
Russian Criticism of Georgia Election Endorsement’, Agence France Presse, 7 January
53 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Igor Ivanov: Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine Revolutions Have Nothing in
Common with Democracy’, RIA Novosti, 4 May 2005.
146 Authoritarian Backlash

delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly to the Council of Europe (PACE) to

raise the issue of political oppression in Ukraine. This document identified several
areas of concern ‘which contradict the principles of the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe’, mostly stemming from personnel changes following
the Orange Revolution.54 This was an ironic turn for the Russian legislature, which
has seen press freedoms, political liberties, and its own institutional autonomy
significantly eroded by the Kremlin’s shift toward greater presidential rule.
Moreover, the Russian Duma and its delegation to the Council of Europe were
quiet about former president Kuchma’s moves toward authoritarianism. However,
the context of the personnel changes cited in the Duma’s resolution is important
to note: the new Ukrainian government had sought to remove Kuchma loyalists
suspected of involvement in electoral fraud and political corruption, some of whom
had fled to Russia to escape prosecution (Kuzio 2005a, Kuzio 2005c: 511–2).
Thus, rather than being truly concerned about the state of Ukrainian democracy,
the Russian Duma was seeking to undermine the post-Kuchma transition. The
Duma resolution could also have been an attempt to distract attention away from
illiberal trends in Russia ahead of debate on a PACE report covering the state of
Russian democracy.55 This too connects to the fallout from the Orange Revolution:
if Ukraine’s new democracy was discredited, then Russia’s authoritarian shift
would not look as bad.
The Duma’s proposal was strongly rejected by Ukrainian officials, who accused
Russia of interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs.56 The scope of the PACE
resolution—entitled ‘A Tendency to Infringe Political and Property Human Rights
in Some Post-Revolutionary Council of Europe Member States’57—was expanded
to call into question the human rights standards and democratic credentials of
Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. It did not reach the floor of the PACE for
The Kremlin also tried to advance its interests in Ukraine more directly through
a formal agreement on cooperation between Yanukovych’s Party of Regions

54 ������������������������������������
Ivan Novikov, ‘Duma Concerned about Political
���������� Persecutions in Ukraine’, TASS,
20 May 2005.
55 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by the Russian Federation’ [Online:
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe], 3 June 2005, Doc.10568. Available at
<>, accessed 11 July
56  Interfax–Ukraine News Agency, 21 May 2005, reproduced as ‘Ukrainian Speaker
Accuses Russian Duma of Meddling in Internal Affairs’, in BBCMIR, 21 May 2005;
Interfax–Ukraine News Agency, 21 May 2005, reproduced as, ‘Ukraine Slams Russian
Duma Statement as “Unfriendly Act”’, in BBCMIR, 21 May 2005.
57 ������������������������
‘A Tendency to Infringe Political
and Property
Human Rights in Some Post-�����
revolutionary Council of Europe Member States’ [Online: Council of Europe], 7 June 2005,
doc. 10574. Available at <
doc05/edoc10574.htm>, accessed 11 July 2008.
Subvert: Undermining Democracy in Georgia and Ukraine 147

and United Russia in July 2005.58 Yanukovych and Konstantin Kosachev (the
signing representative of United Russia and chairman of the Duma Committee
on International Affairs) made it clear that this was designed to help the Party of
Regions in the upcoming March 2006 parliamentary elections.59 Ukrainian Prime
Minister Yulia Tymoshenko criticized the agreement as an illegitimate attempt
by Russia to influence Ukraine’s political system.60 However, this did not stop
Yanukovych from openly aligning himself with his Kremlin-backed counterparts
in Russia. For example, after consulting with the leadership of United Russia at
their November 2005 party congress, Yanukovych proclaimed his support for the
creation of the Eurasian Economic Community—a proposed economic union of
Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan which stands as an alternative to the
EU.61 It is important to note that of these four countries, Ukraine was the only
non-autocracy. Later, in the run-up to the March 2006 parliamentary elections in
Ukraine, the Regional Youth Union, the youth wing of the Party of Regions, and
its United Russia counterpart, the Youth Guard, signed a cooperation agreement
in Kiev.62
Yanukovych’s political prospects were helped by an economic and diplomatic
crisis which erupted in December 2005 when the Kremlin announced that Ukraine
would no longer be allowed to pay below-market prices for natural gas. According
to this decision, Ukraine would be expected to pay a five-fold increase in its natural
gas imports in 2006. Given the scheduled March 2006 parliamentary elections,
the steep rise in natural gas prices came at a convenient time for Ukraine’s pro-
Russian politicians. An economic crisis in Ukraine could only help to undermine
the government and embolden the opposition Party of Regions. Already weakened
by internal divisions, the ‘orange coalition’ was further hurt by the dismissal of
Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s government in September 2005. The natural
gas crisis compounded these problems and presented the Party of Regions with
a significant political opportunity. According to Andrei Illarionov, a former top
economic advisor to Putin who broke with the Kremlin because of the regime’s
economic policies and autocratic tendencies, the lower price negotiated in August
2004 was designed to facilitate the election of Yanukovych and was supposed to
last until 2009.63 After the Orange Revolution, however, a decision was made to

58  UNIAN News Agency, 2 July 2005, reproduced as ‘Ukrainian Opposition, Russian
Pro-Presidential Parties Sign Cooperation Accord’, in BBCMIR, 2 July 2005.
Anfisa Voronina, ‘Russia to Help Yanukovich’, Vedomosti, 5 July 2005, A2,
59 ����������������������������������������������
reproduced in Russian Press Digest, 5 July 2005.
Yana Sergeeva, ‘Yanukovich’s Start’, Novye Izvestia, 5 July 2005, 4, reproduced in
60 �������������������������������������
What the Papers Say, 5 July 2005.
61 �������������������������������������������������������������������
This is also known as the Common Economic Space. Anatoly Gordeyev,
‘Yanukovich Says CES Can Solve Ukraine’s Problems’, TASS, 6 February 2006.
62 ����������������������������������������������
Mikhail Melnik, ‘Elections Split Ukraine into Pro-Russian
and Pro-Western
Camps’, TASS, 22 March 2006.
63 �����������������������������������������������������������������
Vladimir Isachenkov, ‘Former Kremlin Adviser Blasts Russia’s Gas Price
Hike for
Ukraine’, Associated Press, 31 December 2005.
148 Authoritarian Backlash

punish Ukraine for its choice through the dramatic price hike. In early January
2006, natural gas exports to Ukraine were cut off. However, diplomatic pressure
from Western Europe, which receives its own natural gas imports from Russia
through Ukrainian pipelines, forced the Kremlin to relent after only two days. A
new price, only twice the former subsidized rate, was eventually negotiated.
Although the crisis was short in duration, its political significance can be seen
in a number of ways. Continued subsidies for Belarus contrasted sharply with the
use of economic pressure against Ukraine. The initial demand of $220–$230/1,000
meters3, when compared to the $47/1,000 meters3 of natural gas paid by Belarus at
this time, appeared to be the penalty paid by Ukraine for its democratic transition
and subsequent move away from Russia’s orbit.64 The political use of energy
exports was reinforced by the prominent role that Putin himself played in this
process. In addition to announcing that Ukraine should pay market prices for its
natural gas, it was Putin who issued a temporary moratorium on the price increase,
and the Russian president was largely responsible for the final settlement of the
crisis. Gazprom, which dominates Russian energy exports, is also controlled by
the Kremlin, and its management team is made up of government officials and
Putin allies. As a result, the decisions made by Gazprom are a reflection of the
Kremlin’s priorities and interests.
In the wake of Yushchenko’s electoral victory, Moscow also renewed its
inflammatory rhetoric which raised questions about Ukraine’s territorial integrity,
a violation of the 1997 Treaty of Friendship in which Russia recognized Ukrainian
sovereignty in exchange for continuing rights over basing for its Black Sea Fleet
in the Russian-populated region of the Crimea. When Ukrainian officials raised
the possibility of revising the Black Sea Fleet’s leasing agreement in response
to Russia’s energy threat, Sergei Ivanov proclaimed that any amendments to the
treaty would be ‘tantamount to death’ and that it might call into question Russia’s
acceptance of Ukrainian sovereignty.65
Just before the March 2006 elections, Russia also inserted itself into a dispute
over the status of the Russian language in Ukraine. Ethnic tensions were already
heightened by the 2004 election, which pitted Yushchenko’s western Ukrainian
coalition against the eastern part of the country dominated by ethnic Russians
and represented by Yanukovych. These feelings were exacerbated by a Kremlin-
backed propaganda campaign which portrayed Yushchenko as anti-Russian and ‘an
inciter of interethnic conflict’ (Kuzio 2005c: 495). In February, Crimean legislators
organized a referendum on making Russian an official state language equal to

Andrew E. Kramer, ‘Russia Restores Most of Gas Cut to Ukraine Line’, New York
64 ���������������������������������������������������������������������
Times, 3 January 2006, A1. It should be noted that significantly higher natural gas prices for
Belarus were announced in March 2006 and January 2007. See Chapter 6 for more details.
‘Revising Black Sea Fleet Agreement is Unacceptable’, RIA Novosti, 27 December
65 ������������������������������������������������������
Subvert: Undermining Democracy in Georgia and Ukraine 149

Ukrainian.66 The measure was rejected by Ukrainian officials on constitutional

grounds.67 Around the same time, a number of Russian-dominated cities and
regions in Ukraine unilaterally declared Russian to be an official language. While
these moves were also rejected by Ukrainian officials, they received praise from
the Russian Foreign Ministry.68 This prompted Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry to
accuse Russia of ‘overt interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs on the eve of
parliamentary elections’.69 Kiev’s sharp response to statements by the Russian
Foreign Ministry was not isolated to this specific incident, but part of an overall
reaction to changes in Russian rhetoric concerning the status of ethnic Russians
in Ukraine. For example, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s renewed its focus on
the rights of Russia’s ‘compatriots’ abroad and claims of political oppression,
especially on the language issue, increased during 2006.70 Later, in December
2006, government-controlled Russian television aired a four-part series blasting
Ukraine for policies toward the Crimea and the Russian-speakers living there.71
Fears that Moscow could use its diaspora as an excuse to assert pressure against
neighboring states or to intervene in their affairs are long-standing.
Finally, Russian officials criticized the conduct of the March 2006 parliamentary
election in Ukraine in a further attempt to delegitimize Ukrainian democracy. Boris
Gryzlov, the speaker of the lower house of the Duma, cited numerous electoral
violations and, despite the victory for the Party of Regions, called into question
the legitimacy of the vote.72 Like the Duma’s resolution on the state of Ukrainian
democracy, this was more than ironic, since the fairness of Russian elections has
been called into question by outside observers. Moreover, Russian officials have
defended blatantly unfair elections by autocratic regimes such as Belarus—even
some Russian commentators were surprised by the level of fraud during the 2006
Belarusian presidential election, held just days before the Ukrainian parliamentary
vote.73 By contrast, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe declared the

‘Crimea Approves Controversial Referendum on Russian Language’, Agence

66 ����������������������������������������������������������������
France Presse, 22 February 2006.
Valery Rzhevski, ‘Ukrainian CEC Bans Language Referendum in Crimea’, TASS,
67 ���������������������������������������������������������������������
8 March 2006.
68 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
Natalia Simorova, ‘Moscow Welcomes Regional Status of Russian Language in
Kharkov’, TASS, 21 March 2006.
69 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Valery Rzhevsky, ‘Ukraine Accuses Russia of Interference in its Internal Affairs’,
TASS, 24 March 2006.
70  RIA News Agency, 8 March 2006, reproduced as ‘Russia Wants to See Compatriots
in Other Countries Enjoy Full Rights’, in BBCMIR, 8 March 2006.
‘Russian TV Hits Out at Ukraine over Crimea’, BBC Worldwide Monitoring
71 ����������������������������������������������
[BBCWM] 19 December 2006.
72 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
He argued that the margin of victory should have been much larger. Oleg Osipov,
‘Russia Lawmakers Record Substantial Violations at Ukraine Polls’, TASS, 28 March
73  Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 21 March 2006, reproduced as ‘Pundit on Belarus Election
Result Implications for Russia’, in BBCMIR, 22 March 2006.
150 Authoritarian Backlash

Ukrainian parliamentary election ‘free and fair’ and the Belarusian election as not
‘democratic in any meaning of the word’.74 Thus, Russian support for elections
seemed inversely related to their democratic content.
Soon after his appointment as prime minister in August 2006, Yanukovych
announced his intention to shift Ukrainian foreign policy away from ‘Euro-
romanticism’ and toward a balance between westward (pro-EU/-NATO) and
eastward (pro-Russian) leanings.75 What this meant in effect was that Yanukovych
sought to repair relations with Moscow damaged by the Orange Revolution and
its aftermath, while resisting calls for quick integration into Western military and
political institutions. Yanukovych hinted that the Black Sea Fleet might remain
based in Ukraine after its lease runs out76 and his government pressured the country’s
pro-Western foreign minister to resign.77 By contrast, Yushchenko remained
committed to his Euro-Atlantic orientation, saying that there was no alternative to
NATO membership for Ukraine.78 This set up a clash between the prime minister
and president for control over Ukraine’s strategic orientation and domestic policies
which came to a head in spring of 2007 when Yushchenko dissolved the legislature
over Yanukovych’s objections, precipitating a constitutional crisis that some
believed would erupt into violence once the president and the prime minister both
sought to control the country’s Interior Ministry troops. However, a compromise
was reached and a new parliamentary election was held on 30 September. The
outcome of this election and the extended coalition talks eventually returned
the pro-Western Tymoschenko to the prime minister’s office with a razor-thin
Since the September 2007 election, Russia and Ukraine has staggered from one
natural gas crisis to another (October–November 2007 and February–March 2008).
Despite the pledges of both sides to developing a positive bilateral relationship,
tensions remain between Russia and Ukraine with issues of NATO membership and

74 ���������������������������������������������������
‘Secretary General of the Council of Europe on the Parliamentary
Elections in
Ukraine’ [Online: Council of Europe], 27 March 2006. Available at <
jsp?id=982663>, accessed 11 July 2008. ‘Secretary General of the Council of Europe on
Presidential Elections in Belarus’ [Online: Council of Europe], 16 March 2006. Available
at <>, accessed 11 July 2008.
75  Den (Kiev), 6 September 2006, 5, reproduced as ‘Ukrainian Premier Outlines
Cabinet Programme’, in BBCWM, 8 September 2006; UT1 (Kiev), 13 September 2006,
reproduced as ‘Ukraine’s Pm Speaks Against ‘Euro-romanticism’ Ahead of Visit to
Brussels’, in BBCWM, 13 September 2006.
76  Interfax-Ukraine News Agency (Kiev), 2 November 2006, reproduced as
‘Ukrainian Premier Reiterates that Russian Fleet May Stay in Crimea After 2017’, in
BBCWM, 2 November 2006.
77 �����������
‘Ukraine’s Pro-Western FM Resigns’, Agence France Presse, 30 January 2007.
‘Ukrainian Leader Sees No Alternative to NATO’, Agence France Presse, 1 March
78 ������������������������������������������������
Subvert: Undermining Democracy in Georgia and Ukraine 151

the Black Sea Fleet continuing to cause problems.79 On the domestic front, Ukraine’s
political system also remains unsettled and, with the defection of two members of
parliament to the opposition in early June 2008, Tymoschenko’s coalition lost its
majority. Neither of these situations will likely prove to be beneficial to Ukrainian
democracy or political stability. While a return to ‘Kuchmaism’ is highly unlikely
in the foreseeable future, if Ukraine’s democratic transition continues to be seen
as chaotic, this will reinforce those in Russia who link the democratic experiment
of the Yeltsin government to the widespread, socioeconomic chaos of the 1990s.
By comparison, the ‘managed democracy’ established by Putin will appear more
legitimate and preferable to a color revolution, thus helping to further secure the
Kremlin’s power base.
Although none of the actions outlined in this section were themselves sufficient
to undermine the Orange Revolution, they indicate a pattern of Russian foreign
policy toward Ukraine. The success of a pro-Western, liberal democracy in Kiev
is seen as detrimental to both Russia’s security interests and the Kremlin’s political
interests. The links between regime type abroad, Russian national security, and
the potential for an anti-regime uprising in Russia are well-established amongst
Russian foreign policy analysts and government officials. If the contest over
the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections could be seen as a conflict by proxy
between democracy and authoritarianism, Russian foreign policy in the post-
Orange Revolution period is a continuation of this conflict, with the Kremlin on
the defensive but seeking to lessen the impact of its failure to prevent a democratic
transition in one of its most important neighbors.

NATO Expansion and Democratic Diffusion

A major consequence of the color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine has been
their foreign policy reorientation toward the West. This has included an unwavering
desire by presidents Saakashvili and Yushchenko to join NATO.80 Several NATO
members, especially the US, responded positively to these bids. Russia, not
surprisingly, has consistently opposed these plans, even though it has repeatedly
stated that these countries have a sovereign right to join if they so choose. In
February 2007, Putin blasted plans for NATO enlargement, calling it a provocation
and indicating that he believed that it was aimed directly at Russia.81 Five months
later, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov stated that Alliance membership
for Tbilisi and Kiev ‘cannot fail to influence our relations with those countries, and
with NATO as a whole’, and would ‘not help strengthen the atmosphere of trust

‘Medvedev Warns Ukraine Against “Unilateral” Decisions’, Agence France

79 ���������������������������������������������������������
Presse, 29 May 2008.
80 ����������
‘Georgian President Reiterates Bid to Join NATO’, Xinhua General News Service,
19 April 2007; ‘Ukraine President for Ukraine Joining NATO’, TASS, 17 January 2007.
Anna Arutunyan, ‘Putin Blasts US in Munich’, Moscow News, 16 February 2007.
81 ���������������������������������������������
152 Authoritarian Backlash

and mutual understanding in Europe, to put it mildly’.82 As NATO came closer

to holding its April 2008 summit in Bucharest, the Kremlin’s rhetoric intensified
with, for example, Russia’s envoy to the Alliance, Dimitri Rogozin, stating that
membership would lead to a ‘bloodbath’ in Georgia and divide Ukraine along
ethnic lines.83 Although it achieved a diplomatic victory with the Alliance’s refusal
to offer Tbilisi or Kiev a Membership Action Plan during the 2008 summit,84
the Kremlin has not taken anything for granted and Putin’s successor, Dimitri
Medvedev, has threatened that, should these two countries be admitted sometime
in the future, Russia’s relationship with the West would be ‘undermined, spoiled
in a radical way for a long time’.85
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer seemed quite surprised that
anyone, including Russia, could be against NATO expansion: ‘NATO enlargement
is not a threat to anybody. NATO enlargement means more democracy, more
stability, more security, more rule of law, more democratic control of the armed
forces. Who could be worried about NATO enlargement? I’m not’.86 Scheffer’s
comments, of course, ignored the perceived threats posed by NATO to Russia.
While the Alliance is certainly in no position to attack Russia militarily—given
Russia’s size, military capabilities, and nuclear weapons—NATO expansion will
undermine Russia’s geopolitical standing, add to the belief that America is seeking
to encircle or contain the country, and call into question Russian dominance in the
former Soviet Union. Just as important, however, are the political implications
of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. Scheffer himself admitted that
NATO is not just a military alliance but a ‘political’ one as well, and his comment
that ‘NATO expansion means more democracy’ could not have been comforting
to the Kremlin.87 Thus, one must go beyond merely the strategic impact of NATO
enlargement and take into account the fact that the Alliance is seen as key to the
defense, spread, and consolidation of liberal democracies in Europe. It therefore

‘Russia Warns Against Georgia, Ukraine Joining NATO’, Agence France Presse,
82 ������������������������������������������������������
6 July 2007.
‘Moscow Warns Anew Against NATO Membership for Georgia, Ukraine’, Agence
83 ������������������������������������������������������������������
France Presse, 8 March 2008. Also see Lavrov’s statement in ‘NATO “Shamelessly”
Recruiting Georgia, Ukraine: Russia’, Agence France Presse, 31 March 2008.
84 �������������������������������������������������������������������������
France and Germany were the two Alliance members most stridently against
extending formal membership invitations to Georgia and Ukraine because of their unsettled
political systems, questions about Georgia’s territorial integrity, and, most importantly, fears
of upsetting Russia. However, it was agreed that they would eventually become members
some time in the future members if they so choose.
‘Medvedev Says NATO Expansion Will “Spoil” Ties with West’, Agence France
85 ������������������������������������������������������������
Presse, 5 June 2008.
Daniel Silva, ‘NATO Reassures Russia Over Eastern Moves’, Agence France
86 ����������������������������������������������������������
Presse, 28 May 2007.
87  Ekho Moskvy Radio, 25 June 2007, reproduced as ‘NATO Secretary-General,
Russian Upper House Speaker Agree to Disagree’, in BBCMIR, 25 June 2007.
Subvert: Undermining Democracy in Georgia and Ukraine 153

also represents a domestic political danger to the Kremlin by reinforcing and

intensifying the political consequences of the color revolutions.
NATO has become increasingly associated with liberal democratic values in
the post-Cold War context. Although there is significant debate over whether it
promotes or sustains democratization for either its member states or prospective
members, it is clear that this normative component of the Alliance is central to its
conceptualization and identity.88 In its 1999 Strategic Concept, agreed to at the
Washington Summit celebrating its first post-Cold War expansion, the ‘common
values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law’ were identified as being
the fundamental bases of the Alliance. Moreover, supporting the spread of
democracy was listed as one of its primary tasks. Earlier, in the September 1995
‘Study on NATO Enlargement’, only those states which had shown a commitment
to liberal-democratic values were deemed eligible for membership. Barany (2006:
169–70) called NATO a ‘“political honor society” that granted membership to all
consolidated democracies regardless of their capacity to make military-security
contributions to the Alliance’. While this is likely an overstatement, the fact
remains that NATO is commonly seen as an alliance of liberal democratic states.
Its expansion further into the former Soviet Union would represent a corresponding
spread of these values into the region.
NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine would also symbolize the
consolidation of democratic gains in these countries and the region. Even if we
grant that it may not actively promote democracy (again, there is significant debate
over this), the Alliance has advanced in the wake of democratic waves in its first
and second post-Cold War enlargements. Although the first expansion occurred ten
years after 1989, this was the result of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe
and was widely seen as a reward for the successful democratic consolidations
in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. The second enlargement in 2004
included Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia—states that did not fully make the shift
from communism to democracy, but instead stayed semi-authoritarian or hybrid
regimes for some time. Once they fully made the transition to democracy, they
joined the Alliance. Also admitted in this round were Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia,
and Lithuania, all of which began their independence as democratic and stayed
that way.
Although the Alliance has already admitted three former Soviet republics, any
further expansion of NATO into the former USSR would be qualitatively different
than the 2004 enlargement round. The Baltic states remained liberal democracies
ever since their independence in 1991, and therefore their admittance to NATO
did not come about as the result of a revolutionary shift from authoritarianism

88 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
There is some disagreement on this, as Sjursen (2004) pointed out. However, her
article collapses the internal workings of the organization with what it represents in the
post-Cold War international system. Certainly NATO’s inner-workings are not structurally
democratic and some members have been non-democracies, but on the whole NATO is
identified with liberal democracy. Also see Reiter 2001, Waterman 2001.
154 Authoritarian Backlash

to democracy, but rather as the recognition of a well-established status quo.

Consequently, this was not seen as representative of a new ‘wave’ of democracy.
Moreover, the Baltics have long been seen as separate from the rest of the former
Soviet Union: not only did they refuse to join the Commonwealth of Independent
States or any other post-Soviet international institutions, but Russia’s own early
conception of the ‘near abroad’ placed the Baltics in a separate category given
their earlier independence, the nature of their incorporation into the USSR, and
their ingrained Western orientation (Lukic and Lynch 1996: 363–6). By contrast,
Georgia and Ukraine are more representative of the former Soviet states and
therefore membership for them would be far more likely to produce the perception
of democratic contagion which would reverberate throughout the region. If the
Alliance was to expand further in the aftermath of the color revolutions, this could
reinforce the sense that these uprisings represent yet another democratic wave or
trend which may push further outward.
In addition, NATO is, at its core, a Western institution. Alliance membership
has represented a ‘Return to Europe’ for countries in Eastern Europe and the
Balkans—that is, a redefinition of their political identities to the larger ‘European’
community of peoples. This ‘European’ identity is also increasingly associated
with liberal democracy. There is a long-standing debate over Russian national
identity and whether Russia is an ‘Eastern’ or ‘Western’ country (or perhaps, an
Eurasianist amalgam of both) (Schmidt 2005). NATO membership for Georgia
and Ukraine would in many ways resolve the identity dilemmas for these countries
and represent their fundamental orientation with the West. This might open the
possibility that others (namely, Belarus and Russia) could find themselves under
pressure to orient themselves similarly or be isolated as relics of a more autocratic,
regressive, Eastern past.89 However, should they reorient themselves toward
Europe, they would then become more susceptible to ‘European values’.
Finally, NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine would ultimately
shield them from external aggression by Russia or another power. The defensive
commitments granted by the North Atlantic Treaty are serious and both countries
would enjoy a heightened level of security. Research on the relationship between
alliances and democracy indicates that the removal of external threats through
alliance membership increases the ability of states to focus on internal development
and democratic consolidation (Gibler and Wolford 2006, Gibler and Swell 2006).
This has certainly been the case with the post-Cold War expansions: none of the
countries which have recently joined NATO have backslid on their commitment
to liberal democracy; in fact, each was eventually granted membership in the
European Union, which has significantly tougher and more extensive political

89 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
This is especially true for Belarus, whose president, as seen in Chapter 6, has
argued that Belarus is fundamentally an Eastern country in opposition to the Western values
of individualism and materialism. Political opponents, by contrast, argue that Belarus is a
Western and European country. In terms of Russia, Trenin (2006a) has argued that Russia
is ready to ‘leave’ the West.
Subvert: Undermining Democracy in Georgia and Ukraine 155

standards that NATO. Thus, further NATO expansion would mean that the
symbolic threat to the Kremlin posed by Georgian and Ukrainian democracy will
most likely be persistent and sustained.
Georgian and Ukrainian membership in NATO would likely undermine the
political security of the Kremlin by entrenching the democratic gains already
made by color revolutions and intensifying their effects. Alliance enlargement is
not just a strategic or national security issue for Russia. When combined with the
process of democratic diffusion, it is a domestic, political one as well.


The color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine were particularly threatening to the
increasingly authoritarian regime in Russia. Even though the predicted democratic
cascade was limited to only a few states, the successful consolidation of democracy
in Georgia and Ukraine represented powerful symbolic victories for the forces
of democracy in the former Soviet Union. According to the logic of democratic
diffusion, autocratic regimes have an interest in undermining politically dissimilar
governments in order to better ensure regime survivability. Not surprisingly,
then, Russian foreign policy toward Tbilisi and Kiev was marked by a significant
deterioration in bilateral ties as the Kremlin adopted a set of progressively hostile
policies toward Georgia and initiated a sharp reversal in its positive relationship
with Ukraine evidenced in the latter years of the Kuchma regime. In each case,
Russia sought to delegitimize the states’ democratic credentials and weaken their
political stability through a variety of economic and diplomatic pressures.
One of the difficulties inherent in this analysis is the interconnectedness
of political and security factors. For both Georgia and Ukraine, the changes in
political system were accompanied by a corresponding shift in geopolitical
orientation. Distinguishing how much democratization affected Russian foreign
policy, as opposed to their newfound Western leanings, is extremely difficult.
In addition, Russia’s relationship with Ukraine improved briefly following
Yanukovich’s return to the post of prime minister. Was this because Yanukovich
is pro-Russia and against Ukrainian membership in NATO or was it because his
election undermined the Orange Revolution? It is difficult to say. Nevertheless,
the timing of the downturn in Russia–Georgia ties (after the Orange Revolution,
when the specter of democratic contagion was raised), as well as the nature of the
rhetorical attacks against the color revolutions, indicate that the strategic security
of Russia and the political security of the Kremlin are increasingly linked in the
minds of Russian policymakers.
The possibility of NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine also complicates
the untangling of domestic/political considerations from international/strategic
ones. NATO expansion into the former Soviet Union represents a double threat
to the Russian Federation: enlargement would add yet more states to the Atlantic
Alliance, detach these countries from Russia’s sphere of influence, and firmly
156 Authoritarian Backlash

entrench a potential geopolitical rival in the critical Black Sea region; however,
it would also reinforce and intensify the political consequences of the color
revolutions by symbolizing the consolidation of democratic gains in the former
Soviet Union and providing a stark contrast to an autocratic Russia. This did not
occur in the second round of enlargement because the admittance of the Baltic
states had few implications for the domestic politics of the region. However, this
would likely not be the case if Tbilisi and/or Kiev joined.
Therefore, because of this additional domestic-level threat, we should expect
to see Russian opposition to further NATO expansion at a level higher than during
the first and second post-Cold War enlargements, when Moscow did little more
than voice its opposition to the Alliance’s eastward movement. Not only are the
strategic stakes higher, but, unlike the previous rounds, membership for Georgia
and Ukraine now poses a potential domestic threat to the Kremlin. It is in Moscow’s
interests to ensure that neither state joins NATO, either by promoting pro-Russian
politicians like Yanukovych or by undermining the countries’ political stability to
the point of a democratic reversal. This would be doubly beneficial to the Kremlin:
NATO expansion would be halted, due to the Alliance’s membership requirements,
and the regional democratic trends unleashed by the color revolutions would be
Working in Russia’s favor is that NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine
would face significant obstacles. Before Georgia can be admitted, it must resolve
its seemingly intractable ethnic problems and restore its territorial integrity. In
Ukraine, public support for joining NATO is extremely low. Nevertheless, if they
do begin to move closer to Alliance membership, we should expect to see Russia’s
relationship with these countries worsen.
This downturn may be only temporary, however. Russian relations with the
Baltic states improved somewhat after they were placed on the path toward NATO
membership.90 If Georgia and/or Ukraine were to persevere and join NATO, we
could see their relations with Russia similarly improve for two reasons. First,
Alliance membership would help resolve their identity and security issues, allowing
them to feel more confident in their relationship with Russia. Consequently, they
would not have to resort to antagonistic rhetoric to overcompensate for their
vulnerabilities. Second, the historical pattern of Russian and Soviet foreign policy
has been for the state to aggressively assert its interests until it meets resistance
from a more powerful state or coalition, then pull back and attempt to achieve
some form of compromise. NATO membership would therefore establish clear
limits to the level of pressure that Russia could impose upon an Alliance member.
Nevertheless, in the short term, the quality of Russian relations with Georgia and
Ukraine should decline.

Ira Straus, ‘Balts Bury Hatchet with Russia’, CDI Russia Weekly [Online], 8 August
90 ����������������������������������������������
2003. Available at <>, accessed 11 July 2008. However, it
should be noted that NATO membership is not a panacea for relations with Russia, as was
evident in the 2007 Bronze Monument row between Tallinn and Moscow. See Chapter 5.
Subvert: Undermining Democracy in Georgia and Ukraine 157

As long as there is political dissimilarity between Russia and its neighbors,

Russian foreign policy will be increasingly driven by the Kremlin’s desire to
preserve its rule. In the case of Russian relations with Georgia and Ukraine, this
has meant adopting policies aimed at subverting democratic gains and regime
stability. Therefore, considering the importance that the Kremlin places on
resisting democratic trends will allow us to better understand Russian foreign
policy choices in the region.
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Chapter 8
Coordinate: Working with Others
to Resist Democratization

Ukraine’s Orange Revolution clearly accentuated existing trends and prompted a

more aggressive and coordinated response on the part of the world’s authoritarians
and autocrats. Indeed, indications of collusion among such regimes have led to
speculation about an emerging ‘authoritarian internationale’.
Democracy Digest

For authoritarian regimes, democratic transitions in other countries are not

insignificant events. This is because a democratic success in one state has political
implications for all nearby autocrats through the symbolic nature of the regime’s
fall, a sense of momentum, or the other processes associated with democratic
diffusion. Consequently, authoritarian regimes have a common interest in resisting
democratization. At times this may manifest itself as a willingness to work together
to preserve their respective political structures through a policy of coordinate.
There is a growing awareness that autocrats have identified this common
interest and are pursuing such a strategy. The quote that introduces this chapter
refers to the possibility of an ‘authoritarian internationale’ to replace the ‘socialist
internationale’ of the Cold War. This phrase was coined by Andrew Kuchins (2008)
who, writing in the Moscow Times, titled his essay with a question similarly inspired
by the struggle of communism against democracy: ‘Will the Authoritarians of the
World Unite?’, just as the workers of the world were supposed to unite against
capitalism. He was quick to point out that this alignment is not the same as seen
during the Cold War. Few in the authoritarian world are discussing the violent
overthrow of the international system, the superiority of their political system over
others, or the formation of formal military alliances. Instead, this closer cooperation
among authoritarian regimes appears to be more defensive in nature, primarily
ensuring that the democratic world does not attempt to, in their view, ‘impose’
democracy by supporting regime change. In this way, it is fundamentally oriented
toward preserving the status quo. Rather than seeking a new political order, this
‘authoritarian internationale’ is a return to the Westphalian principles of state
sovereignty, non-interference in domestic affairs, and sovereign equality among
states with different political systems. The nineteenth century ‘Holy Alliance’—a

‘“Authoritarian Internationale” Leads Anti-Democratic Backlash’, Democracy

Digest [Online], 3:1, 31 March 2006. Available at <
06.html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
160 Authoritarian Backlash

coalition of Russia, Prussia, and the Austro–Hungarian Empire to resist democracy,

nationalism, and secularism—is a better parallel than the Eastern Bloc.
One example of such ‘an emerging club of authoritarian states’ is the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (SCO)—a regional international organization whose
members include Russia, China, and the four Central Asian states of Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Russia and China, the two most
powerful authoritarian countries in the international system, were instrumental
in establishing the organization and shaping its principles, officially known as the
‘Spirit of Shanghai’. An examination of the organization’s founding documents,
subsequent resolutions, and statements by its secretaries-general reveals that the
SCO is not meant to be just another intergovernmental talking shop, but rather the
embodiment of a new set of values and norms governing the future development
of Central Asia. As this chapter shows, the Spirit of Shanghai is strongly anti-
democratic and primarily interested in regime survivability, thus reflecting the
interests of its two most powerful members, as well as its other authoritarian
The chapter begins with an overview of the development of the SCO from
its origins in Russia–Chinese cooperation to its present form as a full-fledged
international organization. The second section outlines the so-called ‘Spirit
of Shanghai’, paying special attention to the general themes of ‘stability’ and
‘diversity’. Sections three and four delve into these themes in more depth and
illustrate how each is understood in the context of the organization and events
in the region. Section five examines how the SCO’s rhetoric corresponds to the
Kremlin’s understanding of these concepts and therefore reflects its interests.
Since the Russian government’s stance on issues of political diversity was already
covered in Chapter 5, this section largely focuses on its reactions to events on the
ground and the importance of preserving the regional status quo. The conclusion
of the chapter expands the notion of coordinate outside of Central Asia by showing
how similar patterns can be seen in Russia’s relations with the two states most
vocal against Western-inspired democracy promotion: Iran and Venezuela. This
section illustrates that coordination with other authoritarian regimes is not limited
to Russia’s immediate vicinity, but is rather part of a larger strategy against global
democratic trends.

  Even though Turkmenistan is most likely the least democratic of the Central
Asian states, it has not joined the SCO. This is not due to a rejection of the organization’s
principals, but rather Turkmenistan’s policy of neutrality and reluctance to join anything
which resembles an alliance. After the death of President Niyazov, Ašgabat appears to be
interested in a policy change, however.
Coordinate: Working with Others to Resist Democratization 161

Brief History of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization can trace its origins to the rapprochement
between Moscow and Beijing during the latter years of the Soviet Union and
continuing after Russian independence. During the first half of the 1990s, Russian
and Chinese leaders held a series of summits where the two countries pledged their
desire for ‘good-neighborly’ ties and ‘peaceful coexistence’. By the middle of
the decade, both parties observed that bilateral relations had been fundamentally
transformed from the often conflictual pattern during the Cold War to a new basis
of trust and cooperation.
One of the recurring problems in Soviet–/Russo–Chinese relations was the
demarcation of their contested border. Significant progress was made on his
issue in 1991 and 1994. In an effort to take a more regional approach to the
remaining border issues, the leaders of Russia, China, Khazkhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
and Tajikistan met in Shanghai in 1996 and 1997 and signed agreements on
improving military relations (1996) and reducing their military forces (1997)
along their mutual borders. Afterwards, the ‘Shanghai Five’, as they came to be
known, met annually to strengthen multilateral relations, with the scope of their
discussions expanding to political, security, diplomatic, and economic issues. The
heads of state meetings were likewise expanded to include ministerial sessions and
lower-level conferences of other government agencies and bodies. In 2000, Uzbek
president Islam Karimov attended the summit as a guest, and Uzbekistan joined the
organization the following year. In June 2001, the six presidents took the next step
and expressed their commitment to establish a formal international organization—
the SCO. This was followed the next year by a meeting in St. Petersburg where
they adopted an organizational charter. In May 2003, a SCO Executive Secretary
(later renamed Secretary-General) was approved, and an inauguration ceremony
was held in January 2004 for Zhang Deguang, a career Chinese diplomat, former
deputy minister of foreign affairs, and ambassador to Russia.
The members of the SCO have used the organization to build regional
cooperation in all areas of international relations, issue declarations on a variety of
subjects, and sign several multilateral agreements. The SCO is steadily developing
an organizational infrastructure, including a permanent staff and administration.
It has also expanded its geographic scope by granting observer status to Mongolia
in 2004 and to India, Iran, and Pakistan in 2005. Underlying its goal of helping
to regulate relations within Central Asia is the ‘Shanghai Spirit’, the values and
norms of the organization.

This section draws from several accounts of the SCO’s development. The SCO has
a website which provides a history of the organization. Available at <>,
accessed 11 July 2008. Several articles have traced its formation either directly or indirectly
(Logvinov 2002, Kireev 2003, Lukin 2004, Oresman 2004, Al-Qahtani 2006).
162 Authoritarian Backlash

The Shanghai Spirit

In the words of Secretary-General Zhang, the Shanghai Spirit represents ‘a

consolidating component, a source of unity and spiritual power … a common
concept of security, a civililisation [sic] formula, a concept of development
and a system of values’. As written in the Declaration establishing the SCO,
the Shanghai Spirit has several components: ‘mutual trust, mutual benefit,
equality, consultation, respect for multicivilisations, [and] striving for common
development’. It is important to note that this ‘spirit’ is not seen as simply a set of
regional norms, but is openly promoted as universally applicable and as a basis for
global politics constituted in opposition to what its members see as an American-
dominated, power-based international system.
A careful reading of the 2001 Declaration establishing the SCO and its 2002
Charter yields interesting insights into the norms and values of the organization.
In particular, there are a number of items of interest in the areas of democracy,
human rights, and political change. Unlike the charters for the European Union,
the Organization for American States, and the African Union, the SCO members
make no commitment to democratic values; its founding documents are almost
devoid of any mention of democracy. Instead, respect for state ‘sovereignty’ and
‘non-interference’ in the internal affairs of the members figures prominently. These
phrases, especially in the absence of any mention of democracy, seemingly reject
the idea of any state affecting, or even commenting on, the domestic governance
of the organization’s members. This is very similar to the norms advanced by
the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which also featured a
rejection of external political influence. While this is not unique to ASEAN, it has
historically undermined the likelihood of democratization by, in effect, shielding
member states from democracy promotion or even criticism of their political or
human rights policies. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the SCO has
explicitly seen ASEAN, with its ‘ASEAN way’, as a model upon which to build
its own norms and values. While ASEAN is currently struggling with this issue
in the aftermath of several democratic revolutions among its members (Hourn

‘Press conference by Secretary-General Zhang Deguang on the Eve of the Fifth
Anniversary Summit of the SCO’ [Online: SCO], 6 June 2006. Available at <www.sectsco.
org/html/01006.html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
‘Declaration on Establishment of Shanghai Cooperation Organization’ [Online:
SCO], 15 June 2001. Available at <>, accessed 11 July
‘Declaration on Establishment of Shanghai Cooperation Organization’ [Online:
SCO], 15 June 2001. Available at <>, accessed 11 July
2008. ‘Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Charter’ [Online: SCO], 17 June 2002. Available
at <>, accessed 11 July 2008.
See Zhang’s statements in ‘Interview by Secretary-General Zhang Deguang to
Chinese Magazine “Zhonghuayingcai”’ [Online: SCO], 25 May 2005. Available at <www.>, accessed 11 July 2008. ‘Interview by SCO Secretary-
Coordinate: Working with Others to Resist Democratization 163

2000, Acharya 2003, Yamakage 2005, Katanyuu 2006), it is unlikely that the SCO
will see a similar change in the near future given the widespread and entrenched
authoritarianism in the region.
The absence of democracy as a regional norm is compounded by the SCO’s
emphasis on ‘diversity’. Although this term does not appear in either the
Declaration or the Charter, it is found in several other SCO documents, usually
in relation to respect for other civilizations and the right of all countries to choose
their ‘own way of development’. The 2003 Moscow Declaration, for example,
devotes an entire section to this issue, stating: ‘Different cultures should progress
together, borrowing the best each of them has to offer, and strive for the common
while leaving their differences aside’. While respecting others is certainly a
laudable goal, references to diversity, respect for other civilizations, and divergent
(but equally legitimate) sociopolitical development, when taken together with
the prohibition against interference in internal affairs and an absence of any
commitment to democracy, further reinforce a sense of the absolute preeminence
of states to regulate their domestic politics and to defend their domestic political
The sole instance where a variation on the word ‘democracy’ is used in the
SCO founding documents is in reference to the need to establish ‘a democratic,
fair, and rational new international political economic order’.10 The term
‘democratic’ in this sense does not refer to any interest in spreading democracy on
the world stage, but has been consistently used in joint statements by Russia and
China to express their opposition to American-dominated unipolarity and their
desire to build a ‘multipolar’ international system which would balance or counter
American influence (Ambrosio 2005: 78–100). In fact, it is impossible to separate
the formation of the SCO from the alliance forged between Moscow and Beijing
during the latter half of the 1990s. Beginning with the April 1996 Sino–Russian
summit in Beijing, concerns over American dominance of the international system
have found expression in joint declarations and a commitment by both sides to
work together to create a ‘new world order’. This ‘strategic partnership’ was in part
a reaction to an increasingly unilateralist and (in the eyes of Russian and Chinese
leaders) hegemonic US foreign policy. If one reads the SCO documents in light of

General Zhang Deguang to ITAR–TASS News Agency’ [Online: SCO], 23 May 2006.
Available at <>, accessed 11 July 2008.
‘Declaration of Heads of Member States of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’
[Online: SCO], 5 July 2005. Available at <>, accessed
11 July 2008.
‘Moscow Declaration of Heads of Member States of Shanghai Cooperation
Organisation’ [Online: SCO], May 2003. Available at <
html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
10 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Declaration on Establishment of Shanghai Cooperation Organization’ [Online:
SCO], 15 June 2001. Available at <>, accessed 11 July
164 Authoritarian Backlash

the many Russian–Chinese joint statements issued since the mid-1990s, the link
between their shared world vision and the norms/values of the SCO become clearer:
the SCO can be seen as the institutionalization of the opposition by Moscow and
Beijing to the American-dominated, unipolar international order which promotes
democracy and universal human rights, and has used the advancement of these
values to intervene in the domestic affairs of states (Serbia in 1999 and Iraq in
2003) seen as violating these norms.
For example, compare the above quote on diversity from the SCO 2003
Moscow Declaration to the following statement from the 1997 ‘Joint Russian–
Chinese Declaration About a Multipolar World and the Formation of a New
World Order’: ‘Each and every state has the right—proceeding from its specific
conditions—to independently choose on its own a way of development without
intervention on the part of other states. The existing differences between their
social systems, ideologies, and systems of values must not become an impediment
of the development of normal inter-state relations’.11 Moreover, the ‘a democratic,
fair, and rational new international political economic order’ advanced by the
SCO in its 15 June 2001 declaration establishing the organization is almost
interchangeable with the language used a month later in the Russia–China Treaty
on Good-Neighborliness, Friendship, and Cooperation, in which Moscow and
Beijing pledged to press for ‘a stable, democratic, nonconfrontational, just, and
rational international new order’.12 The similarities between the SCO’s principles
and those promoted by Russia and China are no accident.
Another central principle of the SCO is its strong emphasis on regional
‘stability’, which appears five times in the founding Declaration and three times
in the Charter. The term is not explicitly defined and is commonly expressed in a
manner similar to that found in the UN Charter (i.e. the importance of preserving
‘peace, security, and stability’).13 Like the terms ‘sovereignty’, ‘non-interference’,
and ‘diversity’, ‘stability’ can be understood in a number of ways. In its most broad
definition, it is associated with constancy and the absence of change. While few
international organizations have been committed to radical change for themselves
or others, when placed in the context of the political systems of its members, the
SCO places a heavy premium on the political status quo and rejects, or at least
seeks to limit, regime change.
The emphasis placed on stability reveals yet another parallel with ASEAN: the
shift from brief democratic experiments to authoritarianism was accompanied by
the desire to work collectively to preserve their political systems. Like ASEAN,
the founding of the SCO correlates with a decisive regional shift away from

‘Russian–Chinese Join Declaration—Full Text’, TASS, 23 April 1997.

11 ����������������������������������������������
12  Xinhua News Agency, 16 July 2001, reproduced as ‘Chinese, Russian Leaders Joint
Statement – Xinhua Domestic Version’, in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, 16 July 2001.
13 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Declaration on Establishment of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’ [Online:
SCO], 15 June 2001, article 2. Available at <>, accessed
11 July 2008.
Coordinate: Working with Others to Resist Democratization 165

democracy. Two other events might have influenced the formation of the SCO
and shaped its values and norms: America’s increased activity in Central Asia
after the September 11th terrorist attacks, which brought an active democracy
promoter into the region, and the solidification of authoritarianism in the Kremlin,
with Russia emerging as a ‘critical state’ (along with China) in resisting regional
democratic trends. Moreover, the color revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and
Kyrgyzstan have raised the specter of further challenges to the autocratic regimes
of the former Soviet Union and therefore have given a strong impetus to regional,
autocratic cooperation. The authoritarianism evidenced within the SCO states and
the potential threats to regime stability are bound to influence the meaning and
application of the organization’s values and norms.
All international organizations identify the principles and values which the
organization seeks to preserve and promote. The norms identified in this section
are found in the founding documents of other international organizations, and
therefore the SCO is not fundamentally different than other entities before it.
However, the true definition of these concepts is left open to interpretation and these
terms and phrases have various connotations. It is only through an examination
of the actors’ core values, actions, and rhetoric can one hope to understand the
underlying meanings (and political applications) of these norms. In the following
two sections, the terms ‘stability’ and ‘diversity’ will be explored in depth through
statements made by SCO leaders, paying special attention to what these concepts
mean for the prospects for democracy promotion in the region.


The SCO places a high premium on promoting and sustaining ‘stability’ in the
region. As stated above, this term can have multiple meanings. However, this
section seeks to make sense of the term by placing its use in context and by
identifying how it has been connected to other events and concepts. In this way, a
fuller picture of the anti-democratic tendencies of the SCO can be seen.
Although the term stability is used in the SCO’s founding documents and
subsequent statements, other subjects, such as terrorism, combating transnational
166 Authoritarian Backlash

drug trafficking, and economic development, figured much more prominently prior
to 2005.14 This changed quite dramatically after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine
(November 2004–January 2005) and especially after the events during the spring
of 2005 in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The SCO’s reaction to these situations
acts as a sort of ‘rosetta stone’, allowing us to decipher the organization’s stance
toward political change. Therefore, it is necessary to briefly explain what occurred
during this time.
In March 2005, a popular uprising overthrew Kyrgyzstan’s long-serving
president, Askar Akayev (Otunbayeva 2005, Marat 2006, Fuhrmann 2006).
Despite emerging from the Soviet Union as an ‘island of democracy’ in Central
Asia, Akayev’s regime shifted toward autocracy, precipitating increased opposition
to his regime. After the fraudulent parliamentary elections of February and March
2005, protestors stormed several government buildings, eventually forcing
Akayev to flee the country. There were reports of scattered clashes between
police and protesters, as well as some looting in the capital, Bishkek, though the
violence was quite minimal. Soon afterward, opposition leaders formed a new,
nominally pro-democracy government. While there is some question whether the
Tulip Revolution should properly be called a ‘color revolution’—given several
differences between it and the events in Georgia and Ukraine15—it was case in
which an authoritarian president was removed by a popular uprising whose leaders
learned from the examples of prior color revolutions. Therefore, for all intents and
purposes, it can fit into this category (Fuhrmann 2006: 25). By contrast, the May
2005 events in Uzbekistan ended quite differently.
President Islam Karimov has ruled Uzbekistan dictatorially since independence,
dealing harshly with any opponents, especially those labeled as Islamic
fundamentalists. In June 2004, 23 businessmen from the eastern Uzbek city of
Andijan were arrested and charged with being Islamic radicals and belonging to an
outlawed terrorist organization (charges which they denied). On 12 May 2005, a
police station and military garrison were stormed by the accused’s supporters, who
later freed them and other inmates from the local prison. They then seized another
government building, and upwards of 20,000 people gathered in the central square

14 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
See, for example, the SCO declarations at Moscow (2003) and Tashkent (2004).
‘Moscow Declaration of Heads of Member States of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’
[Online: SCO]. Available at <>, accessed 11 July 2008.
‘Tashkent Declaration of Heads of Member States of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’
[Online: SCO]. Available at <>, accessed 11 July 2008.
In addition, see: ‘Interview by SCO Secretary-General Zhang Deguang to the Phoenix
Satellite Television Company Commentator Anthony Yuen’ [Online: SCO], 14 July 2004.
Available at <>, accessed 11 July 2008. In this interview
Zhang identifies ‘economic development’ as the second most important work of the SCO,
after combating international terrorism.
15 �������������������������������������������������������������������������
For example, nongovernmental organizations and youth groups played a far
smaller role in the Tulip Revolution. Moreover, the democratic credentials of the new,
Kyrgyz government are in more doubt than in Georgia and Ukraine.
Coordinate: Working with Others to Resist Democratization 167

to express their opposition to the Karimov regime. Karimov claimed that the events
in Andijan were linked to the Tulip Revolution: ‘The scenario was identical, they
wanted to repeat the coup in Kyrgyzstan’.16 In response, Uzbek troops moved in
and began shooting the unarmed demonstrators. Global reaction was harsh, with
Western governments and international organizations calling for an immediate,
independent investigation. Karimov initially responded by denouncing the West
for meddling in Uzbekistan’s ‘internal affairs’ and refusing to even discuss the
matter publicly. Later, he admitted that close to two hundred ‘terrorists’, who were
‘taking hostages and executing people’, were killed.17 Opposition forces put the
death toll at more than five hundred, with some two hundred additional civilians
killed as they tried to flee the city.18 While there is clearly significant dispute about
what actually occurred in Andijan, the Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe issued a scathing report against the Uzbek authorities.19
After the Tulip revolution, Secretary-General Zhang gave an interview to a
Chinese television outlet in which he tied the ‘disturbing events’ and ‘negative
excesses’ in Kyrgyzstan to the need by the SCO ‘to counteract against extremist
forces, maintain the stability of the region and the society’.20 This link, between
anti-regime activities and extremism, was reiterated by Zhang in interviews given
soon after the crackdown in Andijan, in which his description of the events there
corresponded closely to those of Karimov. The protesters were linked to ‘religious
extremist forces’ and the regime’s actions were seen as part of the larger ‘struggle
against terrorism’.21 Moreover, he warned that any further color revolutions would

16 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������
Vladimir Radyuhin, ‘Karimov Says Riots Orchestrated by Islamists to Topple
Regime’, The Hindu, 15 May 2005.
17  Uzbek Television First Channel (Tashkent), 18 May 2005, reproduced as ‘Uzbek
President Attacks Foreign Interference in Andijon Events’, in BBC Monitoring International
Reports [BBCMIR], 19 May 2005; ‘Karimov Gives Detailed Account of Andizhan Events’,
TASS, 28 June 2005.
‘The Blood-Red Revolution’, Economist, 21 May 2005.
18 ����������������������������
19 �������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Preliminary Findings on the Events in Andijan, Uzbekistan, 13 May 2005’
[Online: Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe], 20 June 2005. Available at
<>, accessed 11 July 2008.
20 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Interview by SCO Secretary-General Zhang Deguang to Chinese Television
Channel Phoenix’ [Online: SCO], 31 March 2005. Available at <
html/00461.html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
21 ������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Interview by Secretary-General Zhang Deguang to Chinese Magazine
“Zhonghuayingcai”’ [Online: SCO], 25 May 2005. Available at <
html/00468.html>, accessed 11 July 2008. Also see his statements linking anti-regime
activities to terrorism in ‘Interview by Secretary-General Zhang Deguang to Russian Journal
Diplomaticheskiy Vestnik’ [Online: SCO]. Available at <
html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
168 Authoritarian Backlash

‘result in extremely dangerous political consequences, seriously affecting the

whole region’.22
In July 2005, the SCO heads of state held a summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. This
meeting was the first after the Tulip Revolution and the crackdown in Andijan, and
showed that Zhang’s initial statements were in line with the feelings of the SCO’s
member states. The summit’s tone was expressed at its plenary session by Zhang,
who noted that the ‘recent events’ in Central Asia have:

… once again shown that terrorism, separatism and extremism still remain
to be the most serious threat to peace, security, stability and development in
the region. The summit made the right evaluation and properly reacted to the
situation in the region. It adopted a decision, which says that the member states
will continue to strengthen unity and interaction in their counteraction against
‘the three evil forces’. Maintaining peace, security and stability is a matter of top
priority to the Central Asia [sic].23

Although Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan were not explicitly mentioned in the official
declaration issued at the summit, this document made repeated references to
‘stability’ and openly supported its members’ ‘efforts … aimed at providing peace,
security and stability in their territory and in the whole region’.24 While this may
be seen as an innocuous statement, it came on the heels of the brutal crackdown in
Uzbekistan and could be seen as applauding Karimov’s actions.
In subsequent statements, Zhang provided additional insight into the SCO’s
thinking at the Astana summit. At an international symposium on the future of
the SCO and the region, Zhang argued that stability ‘is the common interest of
all parties’ and rejected external calls for additional color revolutions in Central
Asia by linking them to ‘extreme measures’ and ‘chaos’, and providing ‘extremist
and terrorist forces’ with the opportunity to achieve their goals.25 Although Zhang

22 ������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Interview by Secretary-General Zhang Deguang to Chinese Magazine
“Zhonghuayingcai”’ [Online: SCO], 25 May 2005. Available at <
html/00468.html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
23 ������������������������������������������������������
‘Speech by SCO Secretary-General Zhang Deguang at the Plenary
Session of the
Council of Heads of SCO Member States’ [Online: SCO], 5 July 2005. Available at <www.>, accessed 11 July 2008.
24 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Declaration of Heads of Member States of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’
[Online: SCO], 5 July 2005. Available at <>, accessed 11
July 2008.
25 �����������������������������������������������
‘Address by Secretary-General Zhang Deguang to Participants
of International
Symposium “The New Situation in Central Asia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation”’
[Online: SCO], 25 September 2005. Available at <>,
accessed 11 July 2008. Many of the same themes also arose in ‘Interview by Secretary
General Zhang Deguang to Journalists of Xian on Issues of the Eurasian Economic Forum’
[Online: SCO], 18 October 2005. Available at <>,
accessed 11 July 2008.
Coordinate: Working with Others to Resist Democratization 169

admitted that there are multiple perceptions of what occurred in Kyrgyzstan and
Uzbekistan, he clearly came down on the side of those who ‘considered them
as disorders, provoked by extremist elements’. These themes were repeated in a
lengthy press conference held just before the fifth anniversary summit of the SCO
in Beijing in July 2006.26 In response to a question about Andijan, Zhang stated
that ‘the SCO carefully studied the events’ and was assured that Uzbek authorities
could handle the situation on their own. Nevertheless, the events in Andijan
‘demonstrated that there is a factor of instability in the Central Asia region, which
mainly manifests itself in the existence of terrorist, extremist and separatist forces
… We must remain vigilant and keep a close eye on the activity of these forces’.
Several things are interesting in these post-Astana statements. First, the contrast
was repeatedly made between the events in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, on the one
hand, and stability, on the other. Neither of these events occurred with significant
violence by anti-regime forces, mass refugee flows, or loss of property.27 Granted,
there was some looting in Bishkek, but it is unclear whether these were the actions
of anti-regime protesters or pro-regime forces seeking to delegitimize the Tulip
Revolution. Moreover, although there was some violence committed by protestors
in Andijan, the OSCE report was unequivocal in its findings that unarmed civilians
were shot indiscriminately and extrajudicial executions occurred during and after
the protests. This indicates that virtually any anti-regime activities—in the form of
a popular uprising after a rigged election or mass protests against an authoritarian
leader—are deemed illegitimate by the SCO and contrary to the security of its
members. Given how often stability is mentioned as a key interest, the implication
is that it is in the interests of the SCO and its member states to prevent regime
change in Central Asia. This is similar to Russian statements which have made
it clear that the Kremlin will not countenance any further color revolutions in
the former Soviet Union.28 Steps have already been taken by the SCO and its
members to limit the ability of anti-regime activists to operate—for example,
nongovernmental organizations have been severely restricted from operating
in Russia under a January 2006 law, and the SCO issued a 2006 statement on
‘information communication technology’ which seeks to curb its use for ‘political
purposes that … trigger social instability in countries’.29
Second, Zhang’s comments have been largely consistent on the illegitimacy
of color revolutions, demonstrating that they represent values well-entrenched

26 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Press Conference by Secretary-General Zhang Deguang on the Eve of the Fifth
Anniversary Summit of the SCO’ [Online: SCO], 6 June 2006. Available at <www.sectsco.
org/html/01006.html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
27 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������
There were some who fled the violence in Andijan. However, this did not represent
a significant humanitarian crisis.
28 ��������������
See Chapter 3.
29 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Statement of Heads of SCO Member States on International Information Security’
[Online: SCO], 15 June 2006. Available at <>, accessed
11 July 2008.
170 Authoritarian Backlash

in the organization and among its members—if anything, these statements have
become more strident over time. Moreover, they have been confirmed by Zhang’s
successor, Bolat Nurgaliev, from Kazakhstan, indicating not only persistence across
secretaries–general, but also continuity in the shift from a ‘big power’ (China)
to a ‘lesser power’ (Kazakhstan).30 Thus, anti-regime activities are considered
inherently illegitimate and any changes to the political systems of the Central
Asian states must ‘be resolved by legal means and not by breaking stability or by
creating chaos in the Central Asia [sic]’.31 However, since none of these regimes
have legalized substantive opposition to their rule, it is unclear how any political
changes unacceptable to the rulers could occur legally since, by definition, any
anti-regime actions have been outlawed.
Third, Zhang repeatedly connected the events in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to
both ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’. Along with ‘separatism’, these terms constitute
two of the ‘three evil forces’ which are seen to plague the region. This phrase is
repeated often in speeches by the secretaries-general and invariably associated
with the notions of struggle and threat. Combating them has become ‘one of the
priority directions of cooperation within the framework of the Organization’.32
These terms were defined in the June 2001 Shanghai Convention on Combating
Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism.33 In this document, the formal definition
of extremism involves ‘the use of violence or changing violently the constitutional
regime of a State’. However, as seen by Zhang’s comments after the events of
spring 2005, the working definition is much broader and seemingly includes any
anti-regime activities, regardless of the level of violence. Since ‘extremism’,
according to the convention, ‘cannot be justified under any circumstances’, it is
unclear how the citizens of the SCO member states will be able to legally affect
political change contrary to the wishes of their authoritarian regimes. Thus, with

30 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Interview of SCO Secretary-General Bolat Nurgaliev with ITAR-TASS News
Agency and Khabar TV Channel’ [Online: SCO]. Available at <
html/01201.html>, accessed 11 July 2008. ‘Interview of SCO Secretary-General Bolat
Nurgaliev with Xinhua News Agency correspondent Zhao Jialin’. Available at <www.>, accessed 11 July 2008.
31 ���������������������������������
‘Secretary-General Answers Media Questions
about Central Asia Situation’
[Online: SCO], 15 June 2005. Available at <>, accessed
11 July 2008.
32 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Statement by SCO Secretary-General Zhang Deguang at the Final Session of
the Council of National Coordinators’ [Online: SCO]. Available at <
html/00259.html>, accessed 11 July 2008. Also see Zhang’s lengthy comments in ‘Press
Conference by Secretary-General Zhang Deguang on the Eve of the Fifth Anniversary
Summit of the SCO’, 6 June 2006 [Online: SCO]. Available at <
html/01006.html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
33 �����������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism’
[Online: SCO], 15 June 2001. Available at <
asp?id=93&LanguageID=2>, accessed 11 July 2008.
Coordinate: Working with Others to Resist Democratization 171

a loose understanding of what constitutes an extremist, virtually any actions to

ensure regime survival can be justified by the norms of the SCO.
Finally, the SCO is committed to vigilance against the sources of instability. In
response to a question about a possible ‘domino effect’ of anti-regime activities in
the region, Zhang hoped that the Central Asian leaders would ‘pay their attentions
to these problems’ and ‘[take] appropriate preventive measures and maintain
political and social stability in their states’.34 More ominously, the SCO members
must act ‘to prevent black plans of the terrorist, separatist and extremist forces,
aimed on [creating] chaos in the Central Asian region’.35 Maintaining the political
status quo has therefore become a central tenet of the SCO, legitimized by the
norms of the organization. In fact, Zhang noted that the development of the SCO
has actually been energized by the need to combat the ‘instabilities’ themselves.36
At the current time, members of the SCO are not permitted to actively quell
instability in their neighbors, since the organization still holds true to the principle
of non-interference. Nevertheless, any steps that a government takes to ensure
stability will not be criticized and in some circumstances will be overtly applauded
by its neighbors. Moreover, Zhang hinted that the SCO members are working
on ‘some kind of legal procedure’ for joint operations to combat the sources of
instability.37 According to a joint communiqué issued after the Shanghai summit
in June 2006, these steps are well underway.38 While this will probably never rise
to the level of the so-called ‘Brezhnev Doctrine’—in which the USSR claimed the
right to use military force to prevent any member of the Soviet bloc from rejecting
communism—it may foreshadow a more proactive stance by SCO member states
to counter anti-regime activities in the region.
Stability is seen as the most important value of the SCO, necessary for progress
on social or economic goals. As Chinese President Hu Jintao stated at the Astana
summit, ‘Without stability, there can be no talk of any development’.39 While

34 ���������������������������������������������������������
‘Interview by SCO Secretary-General Zhang Deguang to the Phoenix
Television Company Commentator Anthony Yuen’ [Online: SCO], 14 July 2004. Available
at <>, accessed 11 July 2008.
35 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Press Conference by Secretary General Zhang Deguang’ [Online: SCO], 1 July
2005. Available at <>, accessed 11 July 2008.
36 �����������������������������������������������
‘Address by Secretary-General Zhang Deguang to Participants
of International
Symposium “The New Situation in Central Asia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation”’
[Online: SCO], 25 September 2005. Available at <>,
accessed 11 July 2008.
37 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Press Conference by Secretary-General Zhang Deguang on the Eve of the Fifth
Anniversary Summit of the SCO’ [Online: SCO], 6 June 2006. Available at <www.sectsco.
org/html/01006.html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
38 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Joint Communiqué of 2006 SCO Summit’ [Online: SCO], 15 June 2006. Available
at <>, accessed 11 July
39 �������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Hu Jintao Delivers Speech at Astana Summit’ [Online: SCO], 5 July 2005.
Available at <>,
172 Authoritarian Backlash

this may appear both obvious and innocuous, this notion takes on a strongly anti-
democratic meaning in the context of the loose definitions of stability and instability
identified above. Moreover, seeking political change outside of the context of
stability is an ‘unrealizable Utopia’, according to Zhang, who points out that
‘this truth is accepted by the overwhelming majority of politicians, businessmen
and ordinary citizens of the Central Asian states, so why the people from outside
should be any wiser than all of them [sic]?’40 Beyond the lack of democracy in
the region, which ensures that the views of the Central Asians themselves have
no effective way of freely being expressed, this last statement is revealing: those
outside the region have no right to criticize the Central Asian regimes’ quest for
stability, regardless of the means by which they seek to achieve it. As seen in the
next section, the SCO’s support for the notion of ‘diversity’ seeks to further shield
its leaders from alternative conceptions of political change and development.


SCO founding documents, its member states, and secretaries-general have used
the term ‘diversity’ when outlining the organization’s values and norms. Diversity,
like stability, at first appears unobjectionable—just as the international community
seeks to counter chaos, it also values respect for other cultures. However, like the
anti-democratic meaning imbedded in the SCO’s understanding of stability, the
principle of diversity also has an anti-democratic foundation. While they have
been separated in this chapter for purposes of structure, they are really two sides
of the same issue: if the diversity of the region’s governing structures is respected
by outside states (namely, the democratic countries of the West), the authoritarian
regimes of the region will be shielded from criticism and democracy promotion
and, consequently, the stability of the regimes will be preserved.
In a 2006 interview to ITAR–TASS, Zhang outlined the central role that
diversity plays within the Shanghai Spirit: ‘We proceed from the respect for
diversity of cultures. We respect the right of each country to choose its own path
of socioeconomic development and do not think it is appropriate to interfere in
its internal affairs; we do not impose our own model of development or our own
model of democracy on anyone’.41 According to the SCO, diversity refers to
the fact that there are multiple ‘paths’ of socioeconomic development, each, by

accessed 11 July 2008.

40 �����������������������������������������������
‘Address by Secretary-General Zhang Deguang to Participants
of International
Symposium “The New Situation in Central Asia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation”’
[Online: SCO], 25 September 2005. Available at <>,
accessed 11 July 2008.
41 ��������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Interview by SCO Secretary-General Zhang Deguang to ITAR-TASS News
Agency’ [Online: SCO], 23 May 2006. Available at <>,
accessed 11 July 2008.
Coordinate: Working with Others to Resist Democratization 173

implication, with its own validity. Also, the member states claim that they have
their own ‘models’ of democracy and the very use of the word ‘democracy’ harkens
back to the communist period (from which China, of course, has not emerged) in
which these regimes used wordplay to counter the global norm of democracy. This
implies that regimes which claim that they are on equally valid, but divergent,
paths of democratic development should be exempt from any criticism about how
they govern their people.
At the July 2005 Astana summit, the SCO members used their discussion
of diversity to assert: ‘Every people must be properly guaranteed to have the
right to choose its own way of development’.42 In his address to the summit’s
plenary session and in press conferences held around the same time, Zhang
provided some context for this statement by linking it to the organization’s ‘deep
analysis of current international and regional conditions’, in particular the events
in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.43 Democracy is not seen as a universal concept,
but rather determined by a state’s ‘national features and historical traditions’,44
‘a product of the development of the internal politics, economics and culture
for every country’,45 and based upon a country’s ‘different stage and level of
development’.46 Therefore, according to Zhang, each state’s political system is
by necessity going to look different; to expect the states of Central Asia to have
the liberal democratic systems of the West is impossible. While this is certainly
a valid point (even within the democratic world, no two democracies are exactly
the same), it overlooks the fact that, with the seemingly brief exception of the
Tulip Revolution, the authoritarian tendencies of each of the SCO members has
either stayed the same or intensified: they are not democratic and do not appear
to be moving toward democracy. In fact, most regimes have adopted policies to
entrench themselves in power against their opponents.
Challenging Western democratic concepts with alternative perspectives has
become a central feature of the SCO. For example, the SCO nominally supports
the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,47 but has taken a

42 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Declaration of Heads of Member States of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’
[Online: SCO], 5 July 2005. Available at <>, accessed
11 July 2008.
43 ������������������������������������������������������
‘Speech by SCO Secretary-General Zhang Deguang at the Plenary
Session of the
Council of Heads of SCO Member States’ [Online: SCO], 5 July 2005. Available at <www.>, accessed 11 July 2008.
44 �����
45 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Press Conference by Secretary General Zhang Deguang’ [Online: SCO], 1 July
2005. Available at <>, accessed 11 July 2008.
46 ���������������������������������
‘Secretary-General Answers Media Questions
about Central Asia Situation’
[Online: SCO], 15 June 2005. Available at <>, accessed
11 July 2008.
47 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Statement of Heads of SCO Member States on International Information Security’
[Online: SCO], 15 June 2006. Available at <>, accessed
11 July 2008.
174 Authoritarian Backlash

firm stance against the notion of universal human rights; instead, they have
adopted a relativist notion which bases human rights on ‘historical traditions’ and
‘national features’, while at the same time defending the ‘sovereign equality’ of
states to determine the content and application of rights.48 Moreover, Zhang gave
a fascinating speech at the 100th anniversary of the Russian Duma in which he
praised the body for its century of ‘spreading ideas and experience of parliamentary
democracy across the whole of Russia’ and exemplifying ‘the best traditions and
the experience of parliamentary democracy’.49 Zhang expressed a continuity
between the tsarist Duma, the Soviet legislatures, and the Duma of the Russian
Federation. However, for nearly all of this history, the Russian Duma, in its various
incarnations, has failed to live up to even the most basic democratic standards.
Even in the post-Soviet period, the Duma has seen its power and autonomy eroded
in favor of a centralized, presidential autocracy. Zhang’s statements reveal more
than simply a series of diplomatic platitudes; rather, they provide some insight
into how the organization conceives of democracy. The definition of democracy
within the SCO is ultimately void of any specific political content or standards.
According to the SCO, they seek a new world order which downplays differences
in ‘ideology and social structure’ and instead reinforces the moral ‘equality’
between authoritarian and democratic regimes.50 This notion supports the SCO’s
push for a ‘democratic’ international system in which no one political standard or
perspective (i.e. American and Western democracy promotion) dominates.
This argument in defense of separate, but equally valid, paths of development
is reminiscent of the ‘Asian values’ arguments of the 1990s. China has long been
a proponent of a form of ‘Asian values’ through its use of a ‘developmentalist’
argument against universal democracy and human rights standards. Russia, too,
has adopted another version of this language through its defense of ‘sovereign
democracy’ (see Chapter 5). It is therefore not surprising that we should see a
similar refutation Western democratic concepts within the SCO.
A key component of the defense of diversity is the argument that it is illegitimate
for outsiders to ‘impose’ their version of democracy on anyone else. This is
enshrined in the organization’s many statements praising the principle of ‘non-
interference’ in internal affairs. Again, it is important to keep in mind that none of
the states of the SCO are liberal democracies, despite their claims to the contrary.
By rejecting the very legitimacy of outside criticism, these states are seeking to use

48 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Declaration of Heads of Member States of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’
[Online: SCO], 5 July 2005. Available at <>, accessed 11
July 2008.
49 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Speech by SCO Secretary-General Zhang Deguang at the Solemn Session of the
State Duma of the Russian Federation’ [Online: SCO], 27 April 2006. Available at <www.>, accessed 11 July 2008.
50 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Declaration of Heads of Member States of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’
[Online: SCO], 5 July 2005. Available at <>, accessed
11 July 2008.
Coordinate: Working with Others to Resist Democratization 175

the language of diversity and democracy to preserve the authoritarian status quo.
Evidence for this assertion comes not only from a prima facie application of the
definition of democracy to the countries in question, but from the fact that many
of these comments were made within the context of championing the principle of
stability. Therefore, diversity is utilized as a shield against democracy promotion
and ‘instability’, defined as anti-regime activities. In effect, this is a strategy of
Redefine on a regional scale.
On several occasions in the immediate aftermath of the events in Kyrgyzstan
and Uzbekistan, Zhang’s comments shifted effortlessly from the language of
stability to that of diversity. For example, in speaking to the Russian journal
Diplomaticheskiy Vestnik, Zhang argued that color revolutions would allow the
three evil forces to take advantage of the situation in Central Asia and promote
‘chaos’ in the region.51 Therefore, external democracy promotion is both illegitimate
and counterproductive:

It is unacceptable to apply absolutely the same approach everywhere and

inadmissible to transplant democracy by force, thus bestowing a doubtful benefit
upon someone. In such a complex and sensitive region as the Central Asia it is
necessary to act very cautiously, otherwise it may lead to disturbances and unrest,
bring chaos to the society, disrupt the normal process of social and economic
development and move in a direction opposite to democracy. The events, which
have recently taken place, show that the task of fighting terrorism, separatism
and extremism remains hugely difficult, and the international community must
take more action to go on with this fight.52

This statement is interesting for several reasons. First, democratic powers made
no moves to impose democracy by force within the region. Instead, they merely
supported the relatively peaceful overthrow of one increasingly authoritarian
regime and criticized the indiscriminate use of force by another. Prior to the
Andijan crackdown, the United States itself had been internationally criticized
for not dealing more harshly with Uzbekistan’s human rights abuses and therefore
had not demonstrated a strong inclination to advance its democracy agenda in
the region. While forcible regime change in Iraq may be seen at first to underlie
Zhang’s statement, this was not likely the case, since, on another occasion, he
explicitly stated that the situation in Iraq had no immediate impact on the region.53

51 �����������������������������������������������������������������
‘Interview by Secretary-General Zhang Deguang to Russian Journal
Diplomaticheskiy Vestnik’ [Online: SCO]. Available at <
html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
52 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Ibid. Also see a similarly detailed statement in ‘Press Conference by Secretary
General Zhang Deguang’ [Online: SCO], 1 July 2005. Available at <
html/00626.html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
53 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Press conference by Secretary-General Zhang Deguang on the Eve of the Fifth
Anniversary Summit of the SCO’ [Online: SCO], 6 June 2006. Available at <www.sectsco.
176 Authoritarian Backlash

Moreover, the SCO previously supported democracy-building efforts in Iraq.54

Nevertheless, Zhang implied that democracy promotion is an aggressive—and by
implication, an illegitimate and unlawful—act.
Second, the word ‘transplant’ further implies that Western notions of
democracy are somehow foreign to the historical and cultural development of the
region. Other variations on this term included ‘imposition’55 and ‘export’,56 all
of which have the connotation of inflicting an unnatural political system upon
these societies. Outside perspectives are considered ‘artificial’57 and ‘subjective’.58
This is similar to the arguments made in support of ‘Asian values’—that so-called
‘universal’ human rights and democracy standards are inherently ‘Western’ and
have no applicability amongst the ‘Asian’ peoples. Nearly every time Zhang made
this argument, he linked external criticisms of the Central Asian political systems,
on the one hand, and instability and chaos, on the other. It is perhaps revealing
that in its 2003 Moscow Declaration, the SCO was willing to support calls for
democratization outside of the region (Iraq), but failed to do so when addressing
postwar reconstruction in Central Asia (Afghanistan).59
Finally, the claim that the Central Asian states are moving toward democracy
on their own accord is simply not true. In fact, there has been a pattern over the
past decade of continuously tightening the central authorities’ political control.
Without outside pressure to liberalize, it is more likely that authoritarianism will
be maintained. However, the SCO has asserted that by promoting its version of
democracy (i.e. by undermining the diversity of the region), the West has unleashed
instability in the region. Instead of representing democratic openings, the SCO
has directly connected the events in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to the ‘three evil
forces’. Rather than criticizing governments for how they handle situations in their
own countries, Zhang argued that outside powers should actively support their

org/html/01006.html>, accessed 11 July 2008.

54 ����������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Moscow Declaration of Heads of Member States of Shanghai Cooperation
Organisation’ [Online: SCO], May 2003. Available at <
html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
55 �����������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Speech by SCO Secretary-General Zhang Deguang at the First Meeting of
Speakers of Parliaments of SCO Member States’ [Online: SCO], 30 May 2006. Available at
<>, accessed 11 July 2008.
56 ������������������������������������������������������
‘Speech by SCO Secretary-General Zhang Deguang at the Plenary
Session of the
Council of Heads of SCO Member States’ [Online: SCO], 5 July 2005. Available at <www.>, accessed 11 July 2008.
57 ���������������������������������
‘Secretary-General Answers Media Questions
about Central Asia Situation’
[Online: SCO], 15 June 2005. Available at <>, accessed
11 July 2008.
58 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Press Conference by Secretary General Zhang Deguang’ [Online: SCO], 1 July
2005. Available at <>, accessed 11 July 2008.
59 ����������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Moscow Declaration of Heads of Member States of Shanghai Cooperation
Organisation’ [Online: SCO], May 2003. Available at <
html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
Coordinate: Working with Others to Resist Democratization 177

efforts to ensure the status quo, just as the SCO members are doing themselves.
Thus, when linked to stability, the language of diversity serves as a ready response
against external criticism and uses the language of liberal democracies to undermine
democracy promotion.
The norm of diversity, along with its corollaries of non-interference and
separate (but equal) paths of development, has been used by the SCO to reinforce
the legitimacy of the autocratic regimes of Central Asia. This is nothing new,
as the legacy of authoritarianism in ASEAN have illustrated. When reinforced
with the perception that anti-regime activities are inherently tied to the ‘evils’ of
instability, the organization’s emphasis on maintaining order over political change
allows little room for democracy promotion.

Russia and the Values of the SCO

Russia, along with China, played an instrumental role in forming the SCO and
shaping its values. It should therefore not be surprising that the Kremlin’s views
of political developments in the region are similar to that of the SCO. As seen
in Chapter 5, Russia sought to defend its governing structure against external
criticisms by using something akin to the language of diversity. Similar language
was used in defending the need to preserve the authoritarian status quo against any
potential political changes. This section will recount Russia’s reaction to events
in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the first half of 2005 to illustrate how the SCO’s
stance was a reflection of the Kremlin’s interests.
Russian policy toward the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan was far more
neutral than that seen during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, in that it did
not explicitly take sides between the incumbent and the opposition. In fact, the
Kremlin was somewhat cool toward Akayev’s survival. Before the parliamentary
elections, Russian officials met with opposition figures in Moscow and refused a
meeting with Akayev during the height of the anti-regime protests.60 After Akayev
fled into exile in Russia, Moscow, like the SCO, was quick to recognize the new
regime. Several reasons may account for Russia’s less active policy in propping
up authoritarianism in Kyrgyzstan. First, the stakes were far lower in Kyrgyzstan
than Ukraine. Given the closeness between the two Slavic countries, democracy
in Ukraine had a direct impact on politics in Russia. While the fall of Akayev
certainly raised questions of whether democratic revolutions would spread further,
the connection between politics in Kiev and Moscow are far more important than
between Bishkek and Moscow. Second, the Kremlin apparently learned a lesson
from its involvement in the Orange Revolution. Taking a strong stance in the
domestic politics of its neighbors could precipitate a further backlash against it both
within the region and from those outside of it. Moreover, a dramatic reversal in the
Moldovan Communists’ pro-Russian orientation prior to that country’s March 2005

60 ��������
‘Moscow ������������� Policy on Kyrgyz Events’, RIA Novosti, 25 March 2005.
Pursued Wise ��������������������������
178 Authoritarian Backlash

parliamentary election, in which the incumbent Communists accused Russia of

interfering in Moldovan domestic politics, reportedly gave the Kremlin pause about
any overt interference in future elections.61 Third, the Kyrgyz opposition indicated
that it was intent in pursuing a pro-Russian foreign policy if they came into office
and would be committed to the strategic and political status quo in the region. This
certainly made the transition more palatable to the Kremlin in that it did not present
Russia with two distinct foreign policy orientations (pro-Russia versus pro-West),
as seen in the Ukrainian election. Kyrgyzstan was not in a position to apply for
NATO or EU membership and therefore the Tulip Revolution did not represent the
possible insertion of the democratic West into Central Asia. Moreover, the new
Kyrgyz government was not interested in spreading their revolution outside of
Kyrgyzstan. It did not call into question the other authoritarian governments in the
region and was quick to accept the principles of non-interference, sovereignty, and
stability.62 Finally, Russian officials were effective in their policy of downplaying
the broader, regional implications of Akayev’s ouster by arguing that tit was
caused by distinctly local conditions. For example, Putin blamed the political
crisis on ‘the result of the weakness of power and of accumulated social-economic
problems’, rather than region-wide conditions.63 This contrasted sharply with the
rhetoric of both sides during the Orange Revolution, which quickly became part
of a larger struggle between East and West—the subtext of which, of course, was
about autocracy versus democracy. In this way, the Kremlin sought to contain any
potential political damage by portraying the Tulip Revolution as a unique, one-
time event.
Nevertheless, the Russian government was not completely positive toward the
Tulip Revolution. The government-controlled Russian television media exaggerated
the nature of the level of violence involved in anti-regime protests and linked the
events to ‘extremists and drug barons’.64 Moreover, despite expressing a willingness
to work with and recognize the new regime, Putin declared Akayev’s overthrow
to be illegal, stating ‘it is regrettable that in a post-Soviet country the conflict was
resolved in an illegitimate way and was accompanied by pogroms and human
victims’.65 This seeming contradiction—between accepting the new status quo but
rejecting the legitimacy of the change that caused it—is also found in the SCO’s
response. Finally, in the immediate aftermath of the Tulip Revolution, the Kremlin
established a new government institution, the Department of Interregional and

‘Avoiding a Russia-vs-West Rift over Kyrgyzstan’, RIA Novosti, 24 March 2005.

61 ��������������������������������������������������
62 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������
See comments to that effect by Zhang in ‘Press Conference by Secretary General
Zhang Deguang’ [Online: SCO], 1 July 2005. Available at <
html/00626.html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
63 ����������������������������������������������������
‘Putin Accepts New Leaders in Kyrgyzstan, but Calls Power
Grab “Illegitimate”’,
Agence France Presse, 25 March 2005.
64 ��������
‘Moscow ������������� Policy on Kyrgyz Events’, RIA Novosti, 25 March 2005.
Pursued Wise ��������������������������
65 �������������
‘Putin Calls Power Change in Kyrgyzstan “Illegitimate”’, AFX International
Focus, 25 March 2005.
Coordinate: Working with Others to Resist Democratization 179

Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries and the Commonwealth of Independent

States, which was officially charged with strengthening ‘cultural ties with foreign
countries’.66 According to reports, this department was unofficially charged with
preventing further color revolutions in the former Soviet Union. Modest Kolerov,
who had recently written a series of scathing attacks on ‘revolutionary’ (pro-
democracy) forces in the region, was appointed to head the new department.
In addition to this more ‘soft power’ approach to democracy prevention, the
Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)—a Russian-dominated military
pact under the auspices of the CIS and formed as a counterweight to NATO—held
a set of military exercises in Tajikistan in April 2005 which effectively rehearsed
‘the possible suppression of a revolution in the CIS’.67 These steps indicated that
while the Kremlin considered the short-term threat of democratic contagion from
Kyrgyzstan to be sufficiently contained, it was interested in taking a more proactive
role in resisting anti-regime activities within the region.
Such a strategy was on display just two months after the Tulip Revolution.
Russia’s reaction to the crackdown in Andijan placed Moscow in opposition to
American and European perspectives. Russia openly took Karimov’s side in
the dispute, portraying the events in Uzbekistan as a clash between a legitimate
government and religious fundamentalists bent on creating an Islamic caliphate in
Central Asia. Part of the reason for the Kremlin’s strong stance here, as opposed
to Kyrgyzstan, may have been a desire to ensure that any anti-regime momentum
was stifled before a pattern could form.
Similar to the language used by the SCO, the need to ensure regional ‘stability’
figured prominently in the official Kremlin position: Foreign Ministry spokesman
Alexander Yakovenko stated that Russia supported the government’s attempts to
‘stabilize’ the situation in Uzbekistan.68 Also, according to the Foreign Ministry’s
official statement on a phone conversation between Putin and Karimov around
this time, the two leaders expressed fears of ‘destabilization’.69 Afterwards, Putin
declared his satisfaction that the actions of the Uzbek government had led to the
‘normalisation’ of the situation in its country, even if this process resulted in the
deaths of scores or possibly hundreds of civilians.70 Moreover, Russian officials

66 �����������������������
Oleg Kashin, ‘Vladimir Putin Appoints Velvet Counterrevolutionary’, Kommersant,
23 March 2005, reproduced in BBCMIR, 23 March 2005; ‘No More “Revolutions” in Our
Back Yard, Vows Russia’, Agence France Presse, 23 March 2005; ‘Putin Tries Kinder
Approach after Setbacks’, UPI, 24 March 2005.
67  Kommersant, 4 April 2005, 1, 9, reproduced as ‘Tajikistan: CIS Military Exercises
Rehearse “Suppression of Revolution”’, in BBCMIR, 6 April 2005.
‘Russia Says Closely Following Uzbekistan Unrest’, Xinhua General News
68 ���������������������������������������������������
Service, 13 May 2005.
‘Russia Says Closely Following Uzbekistan Unrest’, Xinhua General News
69 ���������������������������������������������������
Service, 13 May 2005; ‘Putin Concerned about “Destabilization” in Central Asia’, Agence
France Presse, 14 May 2005.
70 ����������
‘Russia’s Putin Hopes for Stabilisation in Uzbekistan’, Agence France Presse, 28
June 2005.
180 Authoritarian Backlash

also connected anti-regime forces to the ‘three evil forces’ identified by the SCO,
repeatedly calling them ‘extremists’ and ‘terrorists’. In order to vilify the protesters,
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov linked them to the Taliban in Afghanistan, terrorists
from Chechnya, and assorted international Islamic radicals.71 Rather than an
expression of anti-Karimov sentiment, Lavrov portrayed
the events as caused by
foreigners who effectively ‘invaded’Uzbekistan for the purpose of fomenting chaos.72
In addition to openly supporting the crackdown, the Kremlin echoed the SCO’s
defense of Uzbekistan against external criticisms. The United States, NATO, the
EU, and the UN Secretary-General all called for an independent investigation
of the events in Andijan.73 Kremlin officials, however, were quick to reject this
notion, with Lavrov calling the Andijan crackdown solely a matter of ‘Uzbekistan’s
internal affairs’74 and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov citing Uzbekistan’s
‘sovereignty’.75 Russia even went as far as to block the United Nations Security
Council from receiving a briefing from the UN’s top human rights official at
the request of the US.76 Russia’s UN representative, Konstantin Dolgov, argued
that since this was a matter of Uzbek domestic politics, it should not be on the
international body’s agenda. This emphasis on the inviolability of a state’s right to
govern its own internal affairs is similar to the SCO’s references to the principle
of ‘non-interference’ in its various documents. However, this position exhibited a
certain level of hypocrisy on the part of Russian and Uzbek officials: although they
claimed that external states and organizations had no right to examine the events
in Andijan because they were an internal matter and therefore did not concern
the outside world, Moscow and Tashkent repeatedly cited the international nature
of the ‘terrorist’ threat and both the SCO and the CSTO placed the matter on
their agenda. However, since Russia plays a major role in both organizations, the
Kremlin, along with its authoritarian allies, could shape how these organizations

71 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Aidar Buribayev, ‘Ivanov Opposes International Investigation into the Andijan
Events’, Gazeta, 10 June 2005, 3, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 10 June
‘Lavrov Wants to Know Who Attacked Andijan’, Vremya Novostei, 27 May 2005,
72 ���������������������������������������������
1, reproduced in Defense and Security (Russia), 30 May 2005. Also see statements by
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in Aidar Buribayev, ‘Ivanov Backs Karimov’,
Gazeta, 10 June 2005, No. 106, 1, reproduced Russian Press Digest, 10 June 2005.
73 ����������������������������������������������������������
Burt Herman, ‘Government Dismisses Call for International Probe
into Uzbekistan
Violence’, Associated Press, 20 May 2005.
‘Russia Says Closely Following Uzbekistan Unrest’, Xinhua General News
74 ���������������������������������������������������
Service, 13 May 2005
75 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Aidar Buribayev, ‘Ivanov Opposes International Investigation into the Andijan
Events’, Gazeta, 10 June 2005, 3, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 10 June
76 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Russia Blocks UN Security Council Briefing on Human Rights in Uzbekistan’,
AFX International Focus, 28 July 2005.
Coordinate: Working with Others to Resist Democratization 181

approached the Andijan crackdown in line with its interests in discrediting anti-
regime activities.77
Soon after Moscow expressed its strong support for the Karimov regime,
relations between Uzbekistan and Russia became quite close. According to
reports, Karimov had shuttled between the US and Russia after the crisis, looking
for support. Only Russia was willing to back his actions unconditionally.78 As a
result, Uzbekistan announced plans to apply for membership in both the Eurasian
Economic Community (another Russian-dominated organization meant to serve
as an alternative to the EU) and the CSTO.79 Completing its shift toward Russia,
Uzbekistan expelled US forces based in its country (Gleason 2006). Later, Russia
and Uzbekistan signed a formal alliance committing Moscow to aiding Uzbek
authorities in any situation which ‘may pose a threat to peace, disrupt peace,
or affects its interests of security’. One analysis cited the absence of traditional
references to ‘threats to state sovereignty’ and the inclusion of ‘threats to peace’ as an
implied reference to ‘internal security’, meaning that Russia is de facto committed
to defending authoritarianism in Uzbekistan against domestic opponents.80
In its reaction to the spring 2005 events in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the
positions taken by the SCO and the language used by the organization in rejecting
the legitimacy of regime change were a reflection of Russian interests and
therefore represented the close coordination of policy between the Kremlin and its
autocratic allies. This should not be surprising since five out of six SCO member
states are solidly authoritarian and therefore had a common interest in ensuring
that democratization did not spread throughout Central Asia. The position of the
Kremlin and the SCO toward the Tulip Revolution was notable in that they were
willing to accept the outcome of Akayev’s ouster. This was likely because the new
regime unequivocally accepted the SCO’s principles of non-interference and the
need for stability—that is, unlike Ukraine, the regime change was not portrayed as
part of a larger struggle between democracy and authoritarianism with implications
for the region as a whole. Nevertheless, Russia and its SCO partners were quick
to take proactive steps to ensure that the Tulip Revolution was contained and
that democratization did not threaten the regional, authoritarian status quo. The
willingness of the Kremlin and the SCO to so strongly back Karimov’s brutal

77 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Within the SCO, Russia’s goal was easier to achieve since China, too, strongly
supported the actions of the Uzbek government.
Rustem Falyakhov et al., ‘The State Must Suppress Such Attempts’, Gazeta, 16
78 ������������������������������������������������������������������
May 2005, 6, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 16 May 2005.
79 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������������
This came on the heels of Uzbekistan’s withdrawal from the ostensibly anti-Russian
regional organization GUUAM, which was established as a counterweight to the Russian-
dominated CIS. GUUAM’s initials come from Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan,
and Moldova. For Uzbekistan’s plans to join the EAEC and CSTO, see Lyudmila Pivovarova
and Nikolai Zhorov, ‘Why is Russia Rescuing Islam Karimov’, Argumenty i Fakty, 12
October 2005, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part A), 13 October 2005.
Arkady Dubnov, ‘Russia Finds Itself an Ally’, Vremya Novostei, 15 November
80 ����������������������������������������������
2005, 1, 3, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 15 November 2005.
182 Authoritarian Backlash

crackdown in Andijan, despite widespread international condemnation, was

evidence of how seriously they took the threat of anti-regime activities.


Authoritarian regimes have a common interest in ensuring that like-minded

governments do not fall to democracy. As a result, they have an incentive to work
together to this end. One way in which they can do this is through the establishment
of international organizations dedicated, if not to the spread of autocracy, then at
least to its preservation.
Russia and China have emerged as the most powerful authoritarian states
in the international system and, despite their historic rivalries, their ‘strategic
partnership’ has opposed an American-dominated international system which
stresses the desirability of furthering the spread of democracy. A key manifestation
of this de facto alliance has been the development of the SCO, which has been
increasingly concerned with discrediting the notion of regime change in Central
Asia and fostering regional norms and values which support regime survival
over democratization. Both Moscow and Beijing have an interest in ensuring
that democracy does not spread through the region and that the political status
quo is maintained. The SCO’s positions continue to closely correspond to these
interests, as reflected in the documents which emerged from the August 2007
Bishkek summit, which identified political stability as the most important aspect
of the Spirit of Shanghai.81 Moreover, the SCO is expanding its presence through
election monitoring,82 a more formal level of cooperation with the CSTO,83 and

81 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������
The Bishkek Declaration reiterated many of the same points found in previous
declarations and communiques, but added a sentence which, in essence, told the rest of
the world to stay out of Central Asian affairs: ‘The heads of state believe that stability and
security in Central Asia can be provided first and foremost by the forces of the region’s
states on the basis of international organisations already established in the region’. ‘Bishkek
Declaration’ [Online: SCO], 16 August 2007. Available at <
html>, accessed 11 July 2008. ‘Joint Press Release of Meeting of Foreign Ministers Council
of SCO Member States’ [Online: SCO], 16 August 2007. Available at <
html/01721.html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
82 �������������������������������������������������������������������������
While observing the Russian parliamentary election in December 2007, the
head of the SCO observer mission, SCO Deputy Secretary General Gao Yusheng, stated:
‘There is not just one category of democracy in the world, you cannot import, copy or
buy democracy’. ‘SCO Opposes Forced Democratic Standards’, Central Asia General
Newswire (Interfax), 3 December 2007. See Chapter 9.
83 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������
The two organizations made a formal commitment to cooperate in the area of
‘ensuring regional and international security and stability’. ‘Memorandum of Understanding
between SCO Secretariat and CSTO Secretariat’ [Online: SCO], 5 October 2007. Available
at <>, accessed 11 July 2008.
Coordinate: Working with Others to Resist Democratization 183

continuing to hold joint military exercises to combat the ‘three evil forces’ in the
region.84 This indicates that the autocratic foundation of the SCO remains strong.
It is important to note, however, that few international organizations exist for
a sole purpose. This chapter’s focus on the anti-democratic tendencies of the SCO
should not be taken as a dismissal of the other purposes of the organization, which
include the promotion of regional cooperation, economic development, fighting
international terrorism, the geopolitical aim of providing a counterbalance to
American-dominated unipolarity, and ensuring a Russia–China condominium
over the region. This chapter argued that sustaining authoritarianism is important
for understanding the core values of the SCO, but fully accepts that this goal does
not solely define the organization’s existence. Nevertheless, the Kremlin’s strategy
of coordination with its fellow authoritarian regimes through the SCO is important
and fits into a larger pattern which can be seen outside of the region.
In addition to Russia and China, Venezuela and Iran have emerged as the most
active autocratic voices opposed to the notion of global (i.e. American) standards
of democracy. Although all four countries cloak themselves in the language of
democracy, none exhibit a substantive commitment to liberal democratic values.
Just as Russia and China have become closer, Russia’s relationships with Venezuela
and Iran have been strengthened over their shared interest in resistance to
democratization. For example, in the midst of the Orange Revolution, Venezuelan
President Hugo Chávez’s trip to Moscow marked a ‘qualitative improvement’ in
relations between the two countries, where Chávez’s ‘anti-American rhetoric was
very much in accord with the viewpoint of the Putin administration’ (Katz 2006a:
5). Moreover, the language used by both sides is similar to that found in Russian
statements with China and through the SCO. For example, in a March 2005 message
to Chávez, Putin noted that both counties support ‘forming a democratic world
order, supremacy of international law in resolving global and regional problems,
collective search for answers to the twenty-first century challenges’.85 All three
of these notions are implicit challenges to what the anti-democratic countries

‘SCO Joint Drill to Crack Down on “Three Evil Forces”’, Xinhua General News
84 ��������������������������������������������������������
Service, 11 August 2007. During ‘Peace Mission 2007’, the Chief of the Russian General
Staff, Yuri Balyuevsky, identified the purpose of the exercise was to prepare the militaries
of the SCO countries to defend themselves and the region against threats to security. Most
of these were the standard SCO threats, but it is interesting to note that he also added
the problem of ensuring ‘information security’ ‘in conditions of the growing pressure on
[the] part of media outlets in some Western countries’. He added: ‘These countries keep
taking attempts at persuading our peoples that so called ‘truly democratic’ institutes of
state and public management on the Western patterns should be formed that contribute
to the destabilization of the situation in the countries of the region’. This is indicative of
continuing fears of externally-inspired democratic pressures. ‘SCO States Denounce Any
Foreign Policy Based on Military Force’, TASS, 9 August 2007.
‘Putin Notes Dynamic Development of Russia-Venezuela Relations’, RIA Novosti,
85 �����������������������������������������������������������������
15 March 2005. See a similar statement made by a Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman in
June 2007 in ‘Russia-Venezuela Relations Develop Dynamically’, TASS, 28 June 2007.
184 Authoritarian Backlash

perceive to be the key threat of the American-dominated international system: a

desire by Washington to unilaterally impose democracy on other states. Similarly,
both states have voiced their strong support for the development of a ‘multipolar’
international system—another implicit reference to their joint opposition to the
US. Russian support for Caracas’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security
Council, as well as Moscow’s copious arms sales since 2005, have solidified their
Russian-Iranian cooperation stems from the dramatic rapprochement following
the collapse of the ‘Little Satan’, the Soviet Union. Since then, Moscow has helped
Teheran with its nuclear program, sold it billions of dollars of advanced weapons
systems, and acted in their shared strategic interest of blocking American influence
in Central Asia. In recent years, Russia has played a critical role in undermining US
and EU pressure against Iran regarding Teheran’s nuclear program (Aras and Ozbay
2006, Karz 2006b). Although Russia and Iran have had several disagreements over
the latter’s refusal to verifiably suspend nuclear enrichment, the Kremlin (along
with China) has resisted any attempt by Washington or European countries to
impose substantive UN Security Council sanctions against Iran. Russian officials
have also emphatically ruled out the possibility that they would consider UN
authorization to use force against Iran.
While Russia has provided substantive support to Iran and Venezuela, its
relationship with these countries is less a strategy of direct aid (i.e. Bolster) than
an increasingly open alignment of authoritarian regimes against perceived threats
from democratic states. While this does not represent a formal, military alliance, it
does represent a significant challenge to the post-Cold War notion that ideological
conflicts were in the past. We already see this pattern emerging as Russia’s
relationship with the US and the EU has worsened in recent years, at the same time
that its ties to authoritarian states have been strengthened. Moreover, given these
global trends, it is not surprising that other autocratic regimes have followed a
similar path: for example, Belarus, Iran, and Venezuela have established strategic
partnerships with each other.87 As the autocratic world increasingly confronts the
democratic world, it is likely that the strategy of coordination exhibited by Russia
within the former Soviet Union through the SCO and outside of it through its
strategic partnerships will become an increasingly common pattern in Russian
foreign policy and world politics.

86 �����������������������������������������
Ivan Gordeyev, ‘Hugo Chávez and Vladimir Putin���������������������������������������
as successors to Simon Bolivar’,
Vremya Novostei, 28 July 2006, 2, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 28 July
‘Venezuelan Leader Chávez Declares Belarus Strategic Alliance’, RIA Novosti, 25
87 ����������������������������������������������������������������
July 2006; ‘Iran’s President Visits Belarus’, AFX International Focus, 21 May 2007; Farhad
Pouladi, ‘Iran-Venezuela Seal Anti-US Alliance’, Agence France Presse, 2 July 2007.
Chapter 9
The Russian 2007–2008 Election Cycle

Why did anyone bother holding an election at all? … The answer, I think, can
lie only in the ruling clique’s fundamental insecurity, odd as that sounds. Though
the denizens of the Kremlin do not, cannot, seriously fear Western military attack,
they do still seem to fear Western-inspired popular discontent. … To stave off
these things, they maintain the democratic rituals that give them a semblance of
Anne Applebaum

In December 2007 and March 2008, the Russian Federation held parliamentary
and presidential elections, respectively. The outcome of these votes were not in any
doubt, only the margin of victory for the ruling party, United Russia, and President
Vladimir Putin’s chosen successor, Dmitri Medvedev. Nevertheless, the recent
history of the region raised some concerns about whether the Kremlin may have
faced an ‘orange scenario’ in response to its manipulation of the election process.
As identified in previous chapters, after the Rose Revolution was followed by
both the Orange and Tulip Revolutions, there was some fear that a similar pattern
may be replicated in Russia itself. Although Russia held both a parliamentary and
presidential election after the ouster of Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia, it had not
done so since the popular revolution in Ukraine. In order to prevent such an event
from occurring in Russia, the regime took steps to further entrench itself in office
and to undermine regional democratic trends both at home and abroad. It was very
clear that, despite the government’s claims about its democratic credentials, it was
unwilling to allow for a truly competitive election and would not even consider
relinquishing power to the opposition. Thus, the 2007–2008 election cycle was the
first true test of the regime’s ability to guarantee a peaceful and controlled series
of votes to ensure that it retained its preeminent standing in Russia’s political
By all accounts, the regime passed with flying colors, much to the detriment
of Russia’s democratic development. The campaign and the voting itself were
carefully managed by the government, the opposition was divided and largely
irrelevant, and the prospects for a democratic opening quickly faded as those
factors associated with the previous color revolutions were effectively countered
or undermined. Thus, Russia’s Potemkin democracy proved to be stable.

Anne Applebaum, ‘Why Russia Holds “Elections”’, Washington Post, 3 March

2008, A17.
186 Authoritarian Backlash

This chapter serves as a capstone for this case study of Russian authoritarian
resistance to democracy. It begins with an overview of the most recent parliamentary
and presidential elections, identifying the major events and international reaction.
Since the election was inherently a domestic-level event, the remainder of this
chapter will focus on the strategy which was the most relevant to blocking a
possible color revolution at home: Insulate. As explored in Chapter 4, a strategy
of Insulate aims to prevent regime change at home by undermining those factors
commonly associated with prior color revolutions. Prior to the 2007–2008 election
cycle, the Kremlin adopted a proactive policy by criticizing the European election
monitoring regime as biased, restricting the ability of liberal non-govermental
organizations to operate (particularly those with ties to groups outside of Russia),
and establishing rival groups to dilute youth activism and to channel young
Russians toward support for the government. This pattern continued throughout
the most recent parliamentary and presidential elections. Each of these forces—
election monitoring, nongovernmental organizations, and youth movements—is
examined in separate sections. This chapter concludes with some observations
about what the outcome of this election cycle likely means for the prospects for
democratic development in Russia and the region.

2007–2008 Election Cycle: An Overview

Given the government’s centralization of power, the institutional advantages given

to established political parties, and the Kremlin’s control over the broadcast media,
the outcome of the 2007–2008 election cycle was not in any doubt. The only
substantive questions surrounded the margin of victory for Putin’s United Russia
and who Putin would choose to be his successor. Neither vote contained much
in the way of drama or suspense, nor, in fact, was there much of a meaningful
campaign. Thus, the most recent Russian election cycle was, in many ways, a story
about the absence of an election campaign as those in the democratic world would
understand it.
The unofficial start of the election cycle occurred in a predictable fashion:
a shake-up of the government. Beginning with the 1996 presidential election,
when Yeltsin fired three top individuals in his government less than two weeks
before the July run-off election, important votes in Russia have been preceded
with a removal of key government members by the president. This move is
intended to signal to the voters that he is an agent for change and to preempt
any potential criticisms about the government’s policies and personalities.
Thus, in mid-September 2007, Putin replaced Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov
with Viktor Zubkov, who had been the head of Russia’s Federal Financial
Monitoring Service, which focuses on countering money-laundering operations.
Although his appointment was a surprise to many observers, it had a strong
logic to it: Zubkov did not represent any of the key Kremlin factions and,
The Russian 2007–2008 Election Cycle 187

since it was unlikely that he would be a viable presidential candidate, he could

serve as a technocratic transition to the next government.
Given United Russia’s dominance of the Russian political scene, its party
congress in early October 2007 was the real opening of the campaign for the Duma.
During this meeting, Putin announced that he would head United Russia’s party
list. This, in effect, made the election a referendum on his presidency. While this
was not technically an undemocratic action (since Putin was not constitutionally
barred from do so), it was reminiscent of Yeltsin’s decision in December 1999 to
resign the presidency early, in that it allowed Putin’s incumbency to dominate the
political process and thus to avoid the possibility of a truly open and competitive
As a result, the parliamentary election unfolded in a rather predictable manner.
United Russia ran a campaign which largely ignored the other parties—for example,
they did not take part in the moderated television debate—and received extensive,
positive coverage from Kremlin-controlled television stations. By contrast, the
opposition could not garner any political traction against United Russia and was
either absent from the state-dominated media or vilified. Not only were some
opposition parties banned from competing, but demonstrators from the opposition
‘Other Russia’ coalition were arrested and, in some cases, were made targets of
violence by the authorities and their allies. Garry Kasparov, the leader of Other
Russia and former world chess champion, was temporarily jailed; Boris Nemtsov,
a former deputy prime minister and the leader of the liberal Union of Right Forces,
was also detained. There were also restrictions on election monitoring and reports
of voter intimidation. The New York Times summed up the campaign as follows:
‘Opposition parties have been all but suffocated by strict new election laws, scant
television coverage, curbs on their ability to organize and criminal inquiries.
Workers at government agencies and companies that receive state financing said
they were being extorted by their bosses to pull the lever for Mr. Putin’s party,
United Russia’. Not surprisingly, there were many critics of the proceedings both
within and outside of Russia.
After United Russia emerged with nearly 64.3 per cent of the vote (translating
into some 70 per cent of the seats in the Duma), foreign governments and European
international organizations were highly critical. For example, the United States
expressed ‘concern’ about the handling of the election. However, the strongest
statement came from Germany, whose Foreign Ministry proclaimed that ‘Russia
was not a democracy and Russia is not a democracy. The elections were not free,

 ��������������������������� ������� Financial Times [Online], 28 November 2007.

Neil Buckley, ‘Clan with a Plan’,
Available at <>,
accessed 18 July 2008.
Clifford J. Levy, ‘Putin Gathers His Forces for Election on Sunday’, New York
Times, 29 November 2007, A3.
 ������������������������� ������������ White House Documents and Publications, 4
‘Press Conference by the President’,
December 2007.
188 Authoritarian Backlash

not fair and not democratic’. The European Union’s Commissioner for External
Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, also called into question the legitimacy of
Russia’s parliamentary election, observing that the EU ‘saw some violations of
basic rights, notably free speech and assembly rights’. The Council of Europe
(CoE) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
released a joint statement which blasted the Kremlin:

[The elections] were not fair and failed to meet many OSCE and Council of
Europe commitments and standards for democratic elections … They took
place in an atmosphere which seriously limited political competition and with
frequent abuse of administrative resources, media coverage strongly in favour of
the ruling party, and an election code whose cumulative effect hindered political
pluralism. There was not a level political playing field in Russia in 2007.

Not surprisingly the Russian government and state-controlled media praised

the vote. In fact, Russia’s Central Election Commission and the Foreign Ministry
questioned the neutrality of the election monitors and other critics.
Soon after the parliamentary election, Putin announced that his first deputy
prime minister, Dimitri Medvedev, was his choice to succeed him. Medvedev
was a Putin loyalist since their days in St. Petersburg and he served as head of
Putin’s 2000 election campaign, chairman of the powerful energy conglomerate
Gazprom, and chief of staff for the president. Although he appeared to be far more
moderate and liberal than his chief rival, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, it is
important to note that Putin, too, had consistently used pro-democracy language
even while undertaking an undemocratic course for the country. Some speculated
that Medvedev’s lack of a firm powerbase and the fact that he was not a member
of the siloviki (power ministries) were, in fact, the very reasons why he was chosen
as Putin’s successor: in essence, it was thought that since a President Medvedev
would be so weak, it would be easier for Putin and the security services to control
him behind the scenes. This theory was given some credence immediately
after Putin’s announcement when Medvedev declared that if he were to win the
presidency (which, of course, was in no doubt), he would then appoint Putin to be

Shaun Walker and Anne Penketh,
‘Putin Election Victory Was “Neither Free Nor
Fair”’, The Independent (London), 4 December 2007, 18.
David Nowak, ‘Observers Criticize “Managed Elections”’, Moscow Times, 4
December 2007.
‘Russian Duma Elections “Not Held on a Level Playing
Field”, Say Parliamentary
Observers’ [Online: Council of Europe], 3 December 2007. Available at <assembly.coe.
int/ASP/Press/StopPressView.asp?ID=1979>, accessed 11 July 2008.
Dario Thuburn, ‘Putin Hails Victory as West Cries Foul’, Agence France Presse, 3
December 2007.
Clifford J. Levy, ‘Putin Backs a Young Loyalist as His Choice to Follow Him’, New
York Times, 11 December 2007, 1. Similar sentiments were echoed in Fred Weir, ‘Putin Taps
Medvedev as Presidential Successor’, Christian Science Monitor, 11 December 2007, 4.
The Russian 2007–2008 Election Cycle 189

his prime minister.10 Putin agreed, not surprisingly. In comparison to the Russian
president, the prime minister is an extremely weak position and is dominated by,
and serves at the pleasure of, the president. Since the Russian political system is
rightfully regarded as president-dominant, the decision by Putin to be ‘demoted’
to the position of prime minister was certainly odd, unless the above theory had
some credence.
Like the parliamentary election just a few months earlier, the March 2008
presidential election was very short on any drama and its outcome was certain.
Medvedev refused both to formally campaign or to debate his opponents. Instead,
he, along with Putin, embarked on a well-scripted tour of Russia and received
glowing and extensive news coverage in the state-controlled media.11 As during the
parliamentary vote, there were similar restrictions on external election monitoring
and reports of voter intimidation.12 Three potential opponents—Garry Kasparov,
Boris Nemtsov, and Putin’s former Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov—were
pressured to withdraw or were simply forced out of the race. Given that there was no
reasonable scenario under which any of these candidates could have won, or even
significantly cut into Medvedev’s margin of victory, blocking them from running
may have seemed gratuitous. However, because the political system created by
Putin does not allow for any real competition, this decision was logical. As Viktor
Kremeniuk of the Moscow-based Institute of USA–Canada Studies summarized
the vote: ‘These elections are really just an afterthought in a political system where
the main issue of who will succeed Putin has already been decided’.13
Not surprisingly, Medvedev won an overwhelming per centage of the vote
(70.3 per cent), over 50 points above his closest rival, the Communist, Gennady
Zyuganov. The only major Western monitoring team which observed the election
criticized the vote for the overwhelming bias of the Kremlin-controlled media,
the misuse of administrative resources, and for effectively blocking opposition
candidates from running. As Andreas Gross, who headed the delegation from the
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, stated, ‘We think there is not
freedom in this election’.14 There were even reports of ballot stuffing, which also
seemed gratuitous. Nevertheless, even if the actual administration of the election

‘Speech by Dmitri A. Medvedev’, New York Times [Online], 11 December 2007.

10 ��������������������������������
Available at <>,
accessed 11 July 2008.
11  Peter
Finn, ‘Prime Time for Putin’s Anoited’, Washington Post, 30 January 2008,
Peter Fin, ‘Monitor Declines Role in Russian Vote’, Washington Post, 8 February
12  ����������������������������������������������������
2008, A16; Clifford J. Levy, ‘Putin’s Iron Grip on Russia Suffocates His Opponents’, New
York Times, 24 February 2008, A1.
Fred Weir, ‘It’s Russian Election Season. So Where’s the Campaign?’, Christian
13 ���������������������������������������������������������������������
Science Monitor [Online], 1 February 2008. Available at <
p25s07-woeu.html>, accessed 11 July 2008.
Peter Finn, ‘Russian Election Lacked “Freedom”, Monitor Says’, Washington
14  ���������������������������������������������������������������
Post, 4 March 2008, A14.
190 Authoritarian Backlash

itself was run completely in accordance with international standards, a truly

democratic election is not simply the physical act of voting: it is the system and
structure within which the vote takes place which makes an election free, fair,
and competitive. Under the current regime, this system is not fair. While Western
governments were also critical of the process, they were restrained by the fact that
they would have to work with the new Russian president.15
The ability of the Kremlin to carefully manage the 2007–2008 election cycle
was aided by the fact that the major forces associated with the color revolutions—
election monitoring, NGOs, and youth groups—were all undermined by the regime
prior to the elections through steps outlined in Chapter 4. These actions intensified
as the country approached the fall of 2007. Since the Putin administration was
already well entrenched and popular, it is impossible to determine how much
these policies actually aided regime survival. Nevertheless, as the following three
sections indicate, the Russian government was not taking any chances.

Election Monitoring

The dispute over the monitoring of the parliamentary and presidential elections
lasted from mid-October 2007 through March 2008 and centered around several
themes: the size of the contingents from external monitoring organizations, the
amount of time they would be allowed in Russia, the scope of their evaluation,
and the political biases of the observers. This was a particularly important issue
for both sides. For Russia, European election monitors were sure to expose the
illegitimacy of the Russian election, as they had done in other cases where regimes
sought to create an unfair electoral environment or partake in outright fraud. The
Kremlin’s insistence that Russia remains a democracy indicated that, at some
level, it cared about international opinion, if only because of its potential impact at
home. While it could not control the evaluation reached by the external observers,
it could discredit them by arguing that their conclusions were political biased,
that they were directed by Russia’s geopolitical rivals, and that other observation
teams (i.e. those friendly to the Kremlin) challenged the West’s claims. For
the West’s part, few considered the Russian elections to be an opportunity for
regime change, given the strength of the Kremlin and its preventive policies.
Nevertheless, the election monitoring system served a central means by which it
could apply pressure upon Russia for not living up to its political commitments.
Moreover, this quarrel had potential repercussions for the rest of the continent: if
Russia’s ‘sovereign democracy’ were to be legitimized, then the regional norms of
democratic governance would be weakened. Thus, both Russia and the West had a
strong interest in ensuring an outcome in their favor.

15 ��������������������������������������������
Neil Buckley, et al., ‘West Offers Medvedev Qualified Support’, Financial Times,
4 March 2008; ‘White House Highlights “Mutual Interest” after Russia Vote’, Agence
France Presse, 3 March 2008.
The Russian 2007–2008 Election Cycle 191

The Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) announced in mid-October

2007 that it intended to invite election monitors to observe the parliamentary
elections but was waiting for all candidates to be registered. According to the
OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) the CEC
was running well over a month behind when compared to its actions during the
2003 parliamentary elections.16 In addition, the CEC announced that the number
of foreign observers would be less than half of those invited in 2003. A high-
profile member of the CEC, Igor Borisov, justified this as ‘a sign that Russia is a
democracy which no longer needs help in organization of elections’.17 By contrast,
Bruce George, a British Member of Parliament who had headed several OSCE
monitoring teams, accused the Kremlin of ‘an overall strategy to emasculate’
the monitoring process because ‘with the methodology and professionalism of
ODHIR there is no way that it will find that Russia’s elections meet international
standards’.18 Vladimir Churov, the head of the CEC who had openly pledged
his personal loyalty to Putin in 2007,19 also sought to restrict criticism by the
observers by asserting that it would be a violation of Russian law for monitors to
make any comments on polling day since that would be construed as a political
action.20 Moreover, the observers would only be allowed to enter to the country
for a limited time (just days before the election) and were urged to limit their
comments to the technical aspects of the election itself, not the relative fairness of
the overall Russian political system.21 Finally, the visas for the ODIHR monitors
were delayed. The OSCE blamed the Russian government for trying to further
restrict the team’s scope of observation, while the Kremlin blamed the OSCE for
not filling out the proper paperwork.22
The result of this controversy was that the ODIHR cancelled its mission to
observe the 2007 parliamentary election, only the second time that it had done

16 �����������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Mikhail Zygar, et al., ‘Central Election Commission Doesn’t Shares its Observation
Powers’, Kommersant, 23 October 2007, 1, 3, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B),
23 October 2007.
Madina Shavlokhova, ‘Observing by the Rules’, Gazeta, 30 October 2007, 5,
17 ����������������������������������������������
reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 30 October 2007.
18 ����������������������
C.J. Chivers, ‘Russia Proposes Steps to Weaken Election Watchdogs’, New York
Times, 25 October 2007, A14.
19 ���������������������������������������������
Kyrill Dissanayake, ‘Russia’s Election Chief Pledges
������������������� �������� BBC
Loyalty to Putin’,
Worldwide Monitoring [BBCWM], 11 July 2007.
20 ��������������������������������������������������������
‘Russian Election Chief Urges Foreign Observers to Keep Quiet
on Polling
BBCWM, 29 October 2007.
21 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
Irina Nagornykh and Mikhail Zygar, ‘Boundaries for Election Observers’,
Kommersant, 1 November 2007, 3, reproduced in What the Papers Say (Part B), 1
November 2007.
22 ����������������
‘OSCE Trying to Politicize
���������������������������������������������� �������� TASS, 13
Invitation of Observers to Russian Polls’,
November 2007.
192 Authoritarian Backlash

so.23 Although other groups intended to go to Russia—including the Parliamentary

Assemblies of the OSCE (PA OSCE) and the Council of Europe (PACE), as well
as the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the
Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)—the absence of the ODIHR, the
premiere election monitoring agency on the continent, was a serious blow to the
ability of regional organizations to ensure a free and fair election. The Russian
government reacted very negatively to the ODIHR’s decision and claimed that
it was completely innocent in the row. Instead, blame was placed squarely on
the United States. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko asserted
that any discussions of restrictions on the monitors ‘has been mainly heard from
across the ocean’.24 Putin claimed that the ‘US State Department’ pressured the
ODIHR to boycott and he directly accused Washington of interfering in Russian
domestic politics by trying ‘to make elections look illegitimate’.25 Both the US and
ODIHR unequivocally denied this charge. Nevertheless, this line of argumentation
was central in shifting the focus of the election toward external threats to Russian
As cited in the previous section, the post-election analyses by the Western
international organizations and governments were uniformly negative. They argued
that although the technical aspects of the vote were credible, it was conducted
in an unfair environment which severely restricted political competition. As the
head of the PA OSCE, Luc van der Brande, put it: ‘If the Russian Federation is
a managed democracy, then this election was managed’.27 By contrast, both the
SCO and the CIS analyses were quite positive, indicating that these organizations
were willing to legitimize undemocratic elections; the Kremlin cited their
conclusions in an attempt to discredit those of the West, an indication that the
strategy of Coordinate was also paying some dividends for the Kremlin.28 Russian
officials also sought to characterize the Western conclusions as ‘a political order

23 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������
The first time was because of the ‘political meltdown’ in Albania in 1996. ‘OSCE
Parliamentary Assembly to Send Observers to Russia’, Agence France Presse, 19 November
24  RIA Novosti, 7 November 2007, reproduced as ‘Russia Rejects Claims of
Restricting Numbers of Foreign Election Observers’, in BBCWM, 7 November 2007.
25 �������
Sergei Ponomarev,
‘Putin Accuses Washington of Pushing
International Observers
to Boycott Russian Election’, Associated Press, 26 November 2007.
26  Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 20 November 2007, reproduced as ‘“External Threat”
Identified as “Main Theme” of Russian Election Campaign’, in BBCWM, 28 November
‘PACE, OSCE Describe Russian Election as “Biased” and “Managed”’, BBCWM,
27 ������������������������������������������������������������������
3 December 2007.
‘SCO Observers Not Expose Violations at Duma Elections’, TASS, 3 December
28 ���������������������������������������������������������
2007; ‘CIS Observers Say Duma Elections Transparent and Free’, TASS, 3 December 2007;
‘PACE, PA OSCE Assessment of Duma Elections is Doubtful—Foreign Ministry’, Ukraine
General Newswire, 4 December 2007.
The Russian 2007–2008 Election Cycle 193

… dictated from overseas’, once again framing external criticism as a threat to

Russian sovereignty.29
Just as the non-campaign of the 2008 presidential election was in many ways
a replay of the non-campaign of the 2007 parliamentary election, the dispute
between Russia and the West over election monitoring felt like déjà vu all over
again. In fact, the rhetoric from each side was remarkably the same with some of
the same actors reiterating almost the exact same phrases both prior to and after
the vote. The only substantive difference was that there was a brief and futile
attempt to negotiate a compromise between the CEC and the ODIHR. Thus,
the ODIHR (this time joined by the PA OSCE) again boycotted. The remaining
Western organization (PACE) found the presidential election to be unfair and the
pro-Russian organizations (CIS and SCO) found to be completely acceptable.
The ultimate result of this dispute was to once again expose the fundamental
divide over democratic norms between the West, which asserted that its election
monitoring regime was legitimate and that elections are far more than what occurs
on a technical level on election day, and Russia, which asserted that the European
election monitoring regime was fundamentally flawed and politically biased, and
had no business commenting on the overall political system of or media coverage
in a country holding an election. Given the importance of election monitoring to
democracy promotion, it is unlikely that this dispute will end anytime soon.30


The second part of the color revolution triad consists of the pro-democracy,
human rights nongovernmental organizations. These NGOs, especially those with
significant ties to groups outside of Russia, were singled out by the Kremlin as
representing a potential threat to the sovereignty and stability of the state and

29 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
Igor Borisov qtd. in Clifford J. Levy, ‘Vote Result is “Sign of Trust”, Putin
International Herald Tribune, 4 December 2007, 3.
30  ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Parallel to the dispute between Russia and the West over these specific elections was
the larger quarrel between the two sides over the European election monitoring regime as a
whole. Similar to the July 2004 letter to the OSCE signed by nine states of the former Soviet
Union (see Chapter 4), a new plan for reforming the OSCE’s election monitoring system
was presented in October 2007 by Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. This ‘reform’ proposal included limiting the size of the missions,
restricting what they could say (i.e. not discussing the political environment in the country,
but rather only reporting on the technical aspects of the voting itself), and delaying the
reporting of any conclusions for some time after the election. ODIHR spokeswoman, Urdur
Gunnarsdottir, said in response to this proposal: ‘When we work, we’re basically just holding
up a mirror. I see this as an attempt to break the mirror’. Veronika Oleksyn, ‘US Criticizes
Russian Attempts to Curtail Election Monitors’, Associated Press, 25 October 2007. Also
see Gary Peach, ‘Russian Official Defends Proposals on Reforming International Election
Monitoring’, Associated Press, 26 October 2007.
194 Authoritarian Backlash

government by serving the interests of foreign donors and governments. Chapter

4 outlined the possible effects of the 2006 NGO Law. In particular, it was feared
that this law would mire NGOs in bureaucratic red tape and arbitrary treatment.
These fears were realized soon after the law went into effect. While there was
not the sweeping closure of these organizations that some predicted, Kenneth
Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch summarized the situation
for NGOs as follows: ‘The Kremlin isn’t shutting down civil society … The
tactics the Kremlin is using are more subtle and effective’.31 Some of the methods
involved in restricting the ability of Russian NGOs to function were outlined in a
lengthy report by Human Rights Watch (2008) entitled ‘Choking on Bureaucracy’
and included: requiring an ever-increasing amount of paperwork to be completed,
which had the effect of forcing these nonprofits to devote massive amounts of
time and money to this task and distracting them from their missions; refusing
registration, issuing warnings and punishments, or even effectively closing groups
for extremely minor offenses, such as typos or formatting errors in their paperwork;
intrusive inspections of NGO activities, facilities, and equipment; a cumbersome
registration process in which the fees are approximately 40 per cent greater than
the fees to register a commercial organization, and which takes twice as long;
arbitrary treatment and legal interpretations which have resulted in pro-democracy
and human rights groups being disproportionately targeted by authorities for often
technical or minor violations of the law; and, filing questionable criminal charges
against NGO directors for what would appear to be either fallacious or extremely
petty offenses, such as making accusations that activists were using pirated software
on NGO computers. In the run-up to the 2007–2008 election cycle, these activities
intensified.32 After the elections, these experiences led the leaders of Russia’s top
liberal NGOs to write an open letter calling for an end to ‘administrative barriers
and stifling bureaucratic controls’.33
In addition to these administrative actions, the Kremlin also launched a new
public relations offensive against NGOs in an effort to discredit these groups.
For example, during the first half of October 2007, Nikolai Patrushev, the head
of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), gave a lengthy interview in which
he accused foreign intelligence services of increasing their activities in Russia

31 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Roth issued this statement in the context of the Russian government’s decision
to deny him a visa to enter the country, where he had intended to release a report on how
the Kremlin pressures NGOs. This report was released by Human Rights Watch and is
cited elsewhere in this chapter. The Foreign Ministry accused Roth of lying on his visa
application, a charge he and his organization denied. ‘Russian: Human Rights Watch
Executives Provided False Info in Visa Applications’, Associated Press, 21 February
32  Interfax, 13 November 2007, reproduced as ‘Rights Activists Worried by Pressure
on NGOs During Election Campaign’, in BBCWM, 13 November 2007; Peter Wilson,
‘Putin Fights Public Enemy No. 1: Volunteers’, The Australian, 25 February 2008, 11.
33  Interfax, 31 March 2008, reproduced as ‘Russian NGOs Appeal to Authorities
About “Stifling” Red Tape’, in BBCWM, 31 March 2008.
The Russian 2007–2008 Election Cycle 195

as the country moved closer to the elections and NGOs of being a vehicle for
these foreign spies to ‘obtain intelligence information and also as an instrument
for exerting covert pressure on political processes’.34 He specifically cited color
revolutions in Yugoslavia, Georgia, and Ukraine as examples of how these
organizations operate in the interests of foreign powers. Around the same time,
Kremlin-controlled Channel One Television ran a special historical report which
linked the geopolitical struggle between Russia and the United Kingdom during
the nineteenth century with what the program saw as new attempts to undermine
Russian strategic interests: utilizing NGOs to criticize Russian human rights
policies in hopes of sparking a revolution.35 In mid-November, Putin gave a speech
in which he attacked foreign-fed ‘jackals’ who want a weak and divided state in
order to split up Russia’s riches: ‘Now, they’re going to take to the streets. They
have learned from Western experts and have received some training in neighboring
(ex-Soviet) republics. And now they are going to stage provocations here’.36 While
not specifically mentioning that these ‘jackals’ were NGOs, this is strongly implied
and Putin has used similar language in the past to refer to NGOs; the connections
between these organizations, Western interests, and the anti-Kremlin opposition
are well-established in the government’s rhetoric. Comments such as these were
seemingly effective, as a survey completed after the election illustrated: over half
of the 1,600 respondents believed that criticism about Russia’s human rights and
democracy standards was an effort by the West to keep Russia weak.37

Youth Groups

Like the pro-democracy NGOs, youth groups played an instrumental role in

precipitating the popular revolts in Georgia and Ukraine. It was therefore not
surprising that a central part of the Russian government’s strategy to insulate
itself from a color revolution was to undermine the power of the opposition by
establishing and nurturing its own, pro-Kremlin youth movements, several of
which were well-funded, had semi-official status, and garnered extensive and
positive media coverage. As a result, it was difficult if not impossible for their
opposition counterparts to gain much traction amongst the young in Russia.
Nevertheless, the ever vigilant Kremlin intended to actively use its groups as a
critical line of defense during the 2007–2008 election cycle.

34  Argumenty i Fakty, 10 October 2007, reproduced as ‘FSB Director Patrushev

Interviewed on Work on Russian Counterintelligence’, in BBCWM, 10 October 2007.
35 ������������������������������������������������������������������������
‘Russian TV Examines History of British “Russophobia” in 19th Century’,
BBCWM, 14 October 2007.
‘Putin Urges Not to Trust Advocates of Oligarchic Regime’, TASS, 21 November
36 �����������������������������������������������������������
37 �����
Olga Pavlikova, ‘Russian Citizens Tell the West: Look in the Mirror’, Gazeta, 2
April 2008, 3, reproduced in What the Papers Say, 2 April 2008.
196 Authoritarian Backlash

In the run-up to the December 2007 elections, the youth groups began actively
organizing to ensure that United Russia’s parliamentary victory was smooth and
that the opposition would be powerless to disrupt it. To this effect, Nashi, the
Young Guard, and Young Russia formed a joint campaign headquarters in Moscow
to coordinate their activities.38 In line with their intention to directly confront the
opposition in the streets, these pro-Kremlin youth movements were well prepared.
Vasily Yakemenko, the leader of Nashi who would later be appointed to the Russian
cabinet as head of the Youth Affairs Committee, announced in September that his
organization was creating ‘brigades’, like those created by its sister groups, to
help police oppose anti-government demonstrations.39 During a visit to Nashi’s
Moscow headquarters by a reporter from Canada’s Globe and Mail, the official
tour guide was very open about the group’s willingness to use violence against
‘traitors’.40 The image of those who opposed the Kremlin as ‘traitors’ who must
be stopped by any means was in line with the consistent message that there are
internal enemies threatening Russia with help from outside the country (and from
America, in particular). This was reinforced by Putin, who addressed a youth rally
on People’s Unity Day in early November and asserted that Russia’s enemies
want to plunder its natural resources.41 In fact, this became a common theme for
the youth groups during their pre-election rallies. For example, at a counter-rally
against the opposition Other Russia movement, members of Young Russia shouted
‘pro-democracy wackos, go West!’, and distributed fake US dollars and pictures
of American President George W. Bush.42 Moreover, in what can be described
as a series of disturbing moves, Nashi set up ‘political shooting ranges’ where
young people could shoot portraits of the ‘enemies of Russia’ (including the
leader of the opposition, Kasparov) with darts or paintballs. The Young Guard
also held a ‘symbolic execution’ of Russia’s ‘enemies’ in Vladivostok.43 Both of
these programs could be seen as desensitizing young people to using violence
against political opponents. On the eve of the vote, last minute preparations by
Nashi included the blessing given by an organizing leader in Moscow to use force
if necessary: ‘Our weapons are the physical dominance and moral suppression.
Never get into a dialogue with an instigator. As a final method, you can beat him.
But try to do it carefully’.44

‘United Russia to Hold Rally in Downtown Moscow’, TASS, 3 October 2007.

38 ��������������������������������������������������
‘Russian Youth Group Chief to Lead “Patriotic Education”’, Agence France
39 �����������������������������������������������������������
Presse, 17 October 2007.
40 �����������������������������������������������������������������������
Jane Armstrong, ‘Putin’s Vanguard of Youth Ready to Defend Russia, the
Motherland and the Kremlin’, Globe and Mail, 13 October 2007, A1.
Anna Smolchennko, ‘Putin Warns Russia Has Enemies’, Moscow Times, 6
41 ����������������������������������������������������
November 2007.
42  RIA Novosti, 17 November 2007, reproduced as ‘Nine Detailed in Youth Clash at
Anti-Putin Rally in Moscow’, in BBCWM, 17 November 2007.
‘Youths Take Aim at Russian Foes’, Calgary Herald, 25 October 2007, A2.
43 �����������������������������������
44 ������
Nadia Popova
and Jane Armstrong, ‘As a Final Method, You Can Beat Him. But
Try to Do it Carefully’, Globe and Mail, 3 December 2007, A15.
The Russian 2007–2008 Election Cycle 197

The plan was for the pro-Kremlin youth groups to take to the streets in force
immediately after the election and secure key monuments, squares, and buildings
to prevent the opposition from using them as rally points, as pro-democracy
activists did during the Orange Revolution by seizing Independence Square in
Kiev.45 This plan went off without any problems as thousands of Nashi members
occupied locations throughout Moscow and prevented anyone else from protesting
there—this included a move to ‘protect’ the CEC headquarters from opposition
forces.46 Small and ineffectual opposition rallies were reported, but these did
nothing to take away from the massive victory of both United Russia and its young
supporters. As part of the regime’s strategy to further entrench itself in power, the
youth movements were clearly successful.
What might be seen as their greatest triumph also seemingly held the seeds of
their downfall. Immediately after the parliamentary election, a cascade of reports
emerged which indicated that the government had cooled to the pro-Kremlin youth
groups.47 There were several reasons for this. At the most basic level, the youth
movements were nurtured with a specific purpose in mind: to defend against a
color revolution. Once this threat passed—given the impotency of the opposition,
it is now clear that the possibility of regime change is extremely remote and that
the regime is well entrenched for the foreseeable future—the youth groups were
no longer needed. As Sergei Markov, a United Russia Duma member and one of
Nashi’s ideological fathers, put it: ‘Nashi was formed to block the possibility of an
Orange revolution in Russia during elections. The parliamentary elections passed
quietly, partly because Nashi existed, and the presidential elections are developing
quite well. There is no possibility of an Orange revolution and in these conditions
the Nashi movement is losing its main mission’.48
However, the absence of a viable opposition was only one (even if the main)
reason behind the growing reluctance to continue to support an active youth
movement. The groups also possessed certain negatives which the Kremlin hoped

‘Youth Groups Train to Fight Revolution’, Moscow Times, 14 November 2007;

45 ������������������������������������������
Victoria Loginova, ‘Youth Gruops Prepare Kremlin Defence in Elections’, Agence France
Presse, 27 November 2007.
46  Ekho Moskvy, 3 December 2007, reproduced as ‘Pro-Kremlin Youth Movement
Holds Rally to Celebrate Putin’s Victory’, in BBCWM, 3 December 2007; Ren TV, 3
December 2007, reproduced as ‘Pro-Kremlin Nashi Youth Movement “Protects” Central
Election Commission’, in BBCWM, 4 December 2007.
See Tatyana Stanovaya, ‘Putin Youth vs. United Russia’,, 26 December
47 ��������������������������������������������������������
2007, reproduced in BBCWM, 2 January 2008; Yekaterina Savina, ‘If They Relax, We Will
Form Our Own Party’, Kommersant, 26 December 2007, reproduced in BBCWM, 2 January
2008; Ren TV, 15 January 2008, reproduced as ‘Russian TV Examines Role of Youth
Movements’, in BBCWM, 16 January 2008; Yekaterina Savina, et al., ‘Ours Movement
Doesn’t Belong’, Kommersant, 29 January 2008, 1, reproduced in What the Papers Say
(Part A), 29 January 2008.
48 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������
Tony Halpin, ‘Putin’s Hardline Young Guards Face Retirement After Triumph’,
The Times (London), 30 January 2008.
198 Authoritarian Backlash

to now discard. There was some fear that the youth activists, organized at the
expense of the government and its allies, could emerge as potential challengers
to the regime. Some of the rhetoric emerging from the groups indicated that they
were ready to oppose United Russia if it did not fully implement ‘Putin’s Plan’ as
they saw it. Moreover, young supporters of United Russia believed that they were
on the fast track toward becoming the political elites of the country (including
a substantial number of Duma seats), but this did not occur, with some openly
accusing the Kremlin of reneging on its promises.49 Thus, the politically active
youths who are disenchanted with the regime might eventually become the very
source of a popular revolt that they were originally trained to prevent. In addition,
these groups began acting independently of the Kremlin’s control and damaging
Russia’s image in the West. For example, dozens of Nashi activists were arrested
outside the European Commission’s office in Moscow for protesting the arrest of
a Nashi member who entered Lithuania without a visa.50 Also, as the European
Union began refusing travel visas to Nashi members, the Kremlin either had
to react in kind and confront the West, or reign in Nashi—it chose the latter.51
Moreover, the image of thousands of Russian youths taking to the streets and
committing provocative acts—wearing identical shirts emblazoned with images of
Putin, protesting outside of foreign embassies, or physically harassing those seen as
enemies of the state and regime—raised the specter of a reconstructed Komsomol,
at best, or Hitler Youth, at worst. With Medvedev set to become Russia’s next
president, and eager to present a less threatening face to the West, such activities
were no longer acceptable. As a result, the youth movements were reorganized and
depoliticized; rather than politics, they will focus their attention on socioeconomic
issues.52 Although they participated in the 2008 presidential election, this was at a
much reduced scale and it was clear that their apex had already passed, along with
the regime’s concerns about a color revolution.

49 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������
This was seen most dramatically when a top Young Guard activist, Alexei Radov,
quit the organization, claiming that the young people loyal to the Kremlin did not get what
they were promised and that the regime was trying to impose ‘authoritarian ideals’ through
an imitation of ‘real political activities’. He called the 2007 parliamentary elections a ‘farce’
and a ‘parody of the citizens’ expression of their free will’. Needless to say, the Young Guard
disowned Radov and claimed that his statements were based upon his financial interests.
‘Youth Guard Activist Quits in Protest’, Moscow Times, 16 January 2008.
50 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������
This was one of the rare times that a Nashi protest was broken up by government
authorities. ‘Dozens of Nashi Protesters Detained’, Moscow Times, 10 January 2008.
51 �����������������������
‘When Medvedev Becomes President’, a report compiled by What the Papers Say,
1 February 2008.
52  Interfax, 30 January 2008, reproduced as ‘Pro-Kremlin Youth Group to Continue
Work Despite “Ill-Wishers’ Hopes”’, in BCCWM, 30 January 2008; Lilia Mukhamedyarova,
‘The Kremlin Disbands Young Guards’, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 15 February 2008, 4,
reproduced in Russian Press Digest, 15 February 2008; Interfax, 19 March 2008, reproduced
as ‘Russian Youth Movement to Fight Illegal Sale of Alcohol, Scientology’, in BBCWM,
19 March 2008.
The Russian 2007–2008 Election Cycle 199

Prospects for Democracy in Russia and the Region

Medvedev’s victory demonstrated that the authoritarian structure put into place
by Putin’s Kremlin was able to ensure a smooth transition from one president to
another through an election that was neither truly free nor completely fair. Vladislav
Surkov, the Kremlin’s chief ideologue and main force behind the creation of United
Russia, reportedly said that he wanted United Russia to become a dominant ruling
party like Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party from the mid-1950s to the early 1990s
and Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party from the late 1920s to the 1990s.53
If the 2007–2008 election cycle is any indication, then the Kremlin is well on its
way to achieving this goal. This was due in part to the strategies of authoritarian
resistance identified in previous chapters. The application of these strategies prior
to the election cycle created an international and domestic environment which
made the Kremlin’s job easier.
The Russian political system has seemingly reached a tipping point: the
autocratic political system established by Putin’s Kremlin has been consolidated,
democratic forces have been effectively preempted and neutralized, and the
seamless replacement of Putin with Medvedev as president indicates that, for
the foreseeable future, political change is going to have to come from within
the regime, not outside of it.54 While certainly not as oppressive as the former
Soviet Union, this system does not measure up to even the most basic standards of
democracy in which power could change hands through free, fair, and competitive
elections, despite its veneer of representative government.
This is not to say that the current system is without its challenges. The most
important issue for the foreseeable future is what role Putin will play in the new
government now that he is Medvedev’s prime minister and has accepted the
position of head of United Russia. There are those who argue that Putin remains
in charge, while others make the case that Prime Minister Putin will serve as a
transitional figure until Medvedev can fully take charge.55 How the new and old
presidents interact, especially if there is an economic or foreign policy crisis, will
go a long way toward determining whether this system is stable and if any hopes
for democratic reform can be realized in the short-to-medium term. Nevertheless,

53 ����������������������
Buckley, ‘Clan with a Plan’,
For a scholarly approach to this issue, see Vladimir
Gel’man (2006).
54 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������
However, this conclusion comes with an important caveat: as seen with the
relatively unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, when it comes to
this region, just about anything is possible.
55 ������������������������������������������������
See Jonas Bernstein, ‘How Long Can Medvedev and Putin������������ ��������� Eurasia
Share Power?’,
Daily Monitor [Online]. Available at <
id=2373049>, accessed 11 July 2008. Anders Åslund, ‘Unlike Putin, Medvedev Took
Charge Quickly’, Moscow Times, 21 May 2008; Ariel Cohen, ‘Russia’s Presidential
Transition: Vladimir Putin Remains in Charge’ [Online: The Heritage Foundation], 6 May
2008. Available at <>, accessed
11 July 2008.
200 Authoritarian Backlash

the Russian government has many things going for it, including rocketing oil
prices, which not only bring much-needed revenue to the state but also increase
the dependence of the West on Russia. This means that Russia is less susceptible
to both internal and external pressures. Moreover, the policies implemented under
Putin have paid significant dividends: by adopting preventative policies intended
to undermine regional democratic trends at home and abroad, the regime is well
positioned to ensure that it is not challenged by the type of popular uprisings seen
elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.
Helping to reinforce the stability of the Russian government is the receding
potential of regional, democratic contagion. Democratic consolidation in
Kyrgyzstan and Georgia remains unsettled, and Ukraine has yet to emerge
from the political instability which saw the ‘orange coalition’ initially collapse.
Moreover, Lukashenko remains in power in Belarus and other authoritarian
regimes in the region have strengthened their hold on power. Furthermore, the
Shanghai Cooperation Organization has emerged as perhaps the most substantive
international organization in the region, and its authoritarian foundations legitimize
the political status quo. A regional environment conducive to autocracy will
reinforce Russian authoritarian tendencies which, in turn, will allow the Kremlin
further to undermine democratization in the region. A vicious cycle appears to
have emerged and the reverse wave of authoritarianism appears well established
in the former Soviet Union.
Chapter 10
The Future of Democracy and the
Challenge of Authoritarianism

Autocrats learn and adjust.

Robert Kagan (2008)

The purpose of this book was to explore the recent authoritarian backlash evidenced
in the wake of the fourth wave of democracy. This reverse wave against the color
revolutions was well reflected in Russian domestic and foreign policies and was
analyzed under the framework of five strategies of authoritarian resistance. These
strategies were developed to complement the literature on international-level
democratization; in particular, to identify the varied ways that authoritarian states
can react to international democratic pressures. In the previous chapter, some
conclusions about the future of democracy in the former Soviet Union were offered.
As this chapter illustrates, the case studies also yielded important insights into the
theoretical, research, and practical implications of how states seek to undermine
or counter democratic trends and democracy promotion both at home and abroad.
This chapter serves as a conclusion of this study and consists of four further
parts. Section one explores the general implications of this study for our
understanding of democratization theory. Section two evaluates the strategies of
authoritarian resistance. Section three outlines some avenues for future research.
The final section proposes how the democratic world should respond to the recent
authoritarian resurgence.

Implications for Democratization Theory

Prior research on democracy promotion has too often treated autocratic regimes
as largely passive targets of regional democratic trends. By contrast, this book
has shown that the Kremlin has taken an active role in authoritarian resistance by
adopting a variety of strategies aimed at countering these trends. While concern
over the color revolutions was not the only cause of these policies, they illustrate
the varied means by which authoritarian states can counter or contain the spread
of democracy. From this case study, we can identify several general theoretical
implications for our understanding of the overall relationship between the
international level, democratization, and authoritarianism.
First, this book reinforces the notion that democracy is not inevitable and
the steady progress of democratization should not be assumed. To continue the
202 Authoritarian Backlash

use of the explanatory metaphor of democratic ‘waves’, we know that waves

break, recede, and sometimes have little effect on certain parts of the shoreline.
More theoretical analysis needs to be directed at understanding the persistence
of authoritarianism, rather than focusing primarily on what causes democracy.
Although this is oftentimes difficult—since identifying those factors which
preclude change is never easy—explaining the absence of a democratic opening is
just as valuable as identifying those forces which caused one.
Second, we must understand that external democracy promotion is not a one-
way process. Traditional accounts have largely viewed this as unidirectional:
how external variables affect the possibilities for democratization. Instead, we
must conceive of the politics of democratization as inherently interactive, as a
contest between opposing forces and actors. While this is already done in regard
to politics within states, it needs to occur in regard to the international level as
well. This would entail examining the content and effects of policies aimed at
undermining democratization abroad and neutralizing cross-border, democratic
forces at home.
Third, if states actively seek to undermine democratic trends abroad, then
our understanding of the causes of foreign policy behavior in authoritarian states
needs to be expanded to include the regime type of their neighbors. A number
of scholars, often coming from the debate over democratic peace theory, have
already analyzed the international consequences of ‘political dissimilarity’ and
have found that conflict is more likely in such cases (Hermann and Kegley 1995,
Werner and Limke 1997, Werner 2000). These tensions will likely increase when
regional democratic trends are evident. By expanding this research, we may be
better able to explain the foreign policy choices of non-democracies and the
pattern of conflict in regions where democratization is occurring.
Fourth, we must accept that our theoretical understanding of how autocrats react
to regional democratic trends will be inherently limited by the interconnectedness
of political and security factors. This was best seen in the chapters on Bolster
and Subvert: preserving Lukashenko’s regime in power is seen as being closely
tied to preserving Belarus’s pro-Russian alignment; Russia’s response to post-
color revolution Georgia and Ukraine was intimately connected with the strategic
reorientation of Tbilisi and Kiev. As conflicts between democratic and autocratic
countries grow on a global scale, regimes will increasingly link the strategic
interests of their country to the political security of their regime. Untangling this
theoretical knot will be a challenge.
Finally, examinations of democratization theory and specific cases are often
hampered by a problem of classification: How should we categorize regimes
which hold elections with multiple parties, but whose political systems are neither
free, fair, nor competitive? How do we even judge the degree to which a political
system is free, fair, or competitive? This is indicative of the problem of democracies
with ‘adjectives’ or any variety of ‘hybrid’, ‘semi-authoritarian’, or ‘competitive
authoritarian’ regimes (Diamond 2002, Levitsky and Way 2002, Wigell 2008).
Research into the Putin regime was underdeveloped in part because of disputes
The Future of Democracy and the Challenge of Authoritarianism 203

among scholars over how to refer Russia: Was it still a democracy, and therefore
the transitional democracy literature would best apply, or had it shifted qualitatively
away from democracy, in which case the literature on democratic openings and
authoritarianism should guide our research? Even if we discount the arguments
of partisans either for or against the Kremlin, the situation was unclear enough
to give credence to both the optimistic and pessimistic assessments. Even today,
Medvedev’s liberal rhetoric and non-siloviki background have raised questions of
whether Russia has begun a shift away from autocracy and whether the Putin period
was less an example of authoritarianism than political stabilization and delayed
state-building. In order to better understand the political dynamics of democracy
and autocracy, future research must begin with clear political taxonomies and
standards for classifying a particular regime into one category or another.
As the backlash against democracy promotion becomes more evident and
authoritarian countries assume a larger role in the international system, it is
increasingly important that our theoretical understanding of democratization
becomes broader and more nuanced. Future research will be necessary if we are
to account for those factors which advance democracy and those which maintain

Evaluating the Strategies of Authoritarian Resistance

As the quote which begins this chapter observed: ‘Autocrats learn and adjust’. The
Kremlin clearly absorbed the lessons of the color revolutions and took preventive
steps to weaken internal democratic forces and undermine external democracy
promotion. Chapters 4–9 examined some of these policies in action under the
framework of the strategies of authoritarian resistance outlined in Chapter 2. This
section will evaluate how these strategies operated in the Russian context and
identify both lessons for other cases and the limits of this framework.
A comprehensive strategy of Insulate seemingly required a multifaceted policy
against a variety of forces which were seen as playing a critical role in the prior
color revolutions: election monitors, nongovernmental organizations, and youth
movements. However, as seen in other cases of democratic revolutions, this is
not the only mix of factors which could precipitate a democratic opening (Kuzio
2008). This means that autocrats must constantly push back on a number of vectors
and be nimble enough to adjust their policies in a proactive manner to deal with
existing and new international-level threats to regime survival. For authoritarian
governments which present themselves as being democratic or whose economic
circumstances require global engagement, this will not be easy. One could take
the North Korea route and almost entirely seal off the society, but this is not an
option in most cases. If one wishes to maintain the facade of being a democracy, it
will be difficult to maintain the balance between remaining connected to the larger
international system and (to use the language of the color revolutions) preventing
the ‘virus’ of external democracy promotion from ‘infecting’ the society.
204 Authoritarian Backlash

The Russian experience indicates that the application of this strategy benefitted
greatly from a number of factors. First, the opposition was already weak and
divided, the young people appeared adrift, and the general population was either
supportive of the regime or indifferent to its actions. In another context, these
policies could easily have backfired and precipitated the very anti-regime activities
that they sought to prevent. Second, the Kremlin’s hold over the media helped a
great deal. For example, the government’s claims about the evils of NGOs were
strengthened by the lack of a free press to counter the government’s message. The
popularity of Nashi and the Young Guard, as well as the legitimacy of the Public
Chamber, were clearly helped by the extensive, positive coverage they received on
state-controlled television; alternatives to these pro-Kremlin organizations were
far easier to discredit. Finally, the government was able to provide a legalistic
cover for its actions. This was especially evident in dealing with nongovernmental
organizations: the labyrinthine legal system which exists in the Russian Federation
provided the government with a great deal of arbitrary power to manipulate
administrative regulations in order to undermine liberal NGOs. This veneer of
legality helped the government to continue its democratic pretensions to the
outside world. However, this was not fully successful. The democratic West took
a strong stance against this law and one could argue that it represented a tipping-
point in international perceptions of the Russian political system: the position that
Russia is even a partial democracy was now more difficult to maintain. Thus,
while a strategy of Insulate could be counterproductive at home if not conducted
under beneficial conditions, it can also undermine positive relations abroad.
The Russian strategy of Redefine was also multifaceted and revealed interesting
lessons for future cases. First, the formulation of ‘sovereign democracy’ was
masterful in that the phrase itself contained a ready response against criticisms:
external critics were accused of trying to violate Russian sovereignty, impose
foreign standards on the Russian people, and being neoimperialists; domestic
critics were painted as traitors who sought to undermine Russian the state and
precipitate chaos, often in league with outsiders. Although this was, in essence, an
ad hominem attack, it was a very effective rhetorical tool. Second, if one wishes to
present one’s country as democratic, when it decidedly is not, it does not hurt to be
either shameless in one’s assertions or willing to wildly manipulate the historical
record to one’s benefit. Some of the claims made by government officials were so
extreme and said with such certainty—such as the Russian political system being
more liberal than many established democracies or asserting that the American
media was just as state-controlled as Russia’s—that it had the effect of putting
the West on the defensive, seemingly unable or unwilling to engage in a war of
words with the Kremlin. Third, the exaggerated attacks against Estonia, in which
the West was accused of violating its own principles through its support of Tallinn,
represented another aspect of Russia’s application of the strategy of Redefine.
This policy sought to shift attention away from the Russian political system and
to claim not only that the chief threat to liberal democracy existed elsewhere,
but that Russia itself is the primary champion of these values. This reveals that
The Future of Democracy and the Challenge of Authoritarianism 205

authoritarian regimes can not simply stay on the defensive. Even the concept of
sovereign democracy, although proactive, was ultimately utilized as a means to
defend Russia’s political system against external criticisms, as indicated by its
increased use just before the 2006 G-8 summit. Instead, autocrats must go on the
offensive if they wish to shield themselves from external criticism. Finally, message
discipline—a notion from domestic politics in which a politician repeats the same
concept over and over in a clear and consistent manner—is seemingly important if
this strategy is to be effective. Although sovereign democracy eventually became
enshrined as the de facto state ideology of Russia, the vacillations of Putin and
Medvedev on this topic undermined the government’s ability to counter critics who
were able to point to Kremlin officials to justify their disapproval of the concept.
This was not the case with Estonia, however: the Kremlin was very consistent in
its attacks against its neighbor and, as one opinion poll indicated, most Russians
saw Estonia, with its 1.4 million people, as the ‘worst enemy’ of their country.
This strategy, too, comes with some risk. The willingness of the Kremlin to play
fast and loose with democratic terminology, to confront the West rhetorically, and
to manipulate the historical record was similar to the Soviet Union’s rhetoric during
the Cold War. This had the effect of actually undermining Russia’s democratic
pretensions. Also, as seen in the case of the European Union’s reaction to the row
over the Bronze Soldier Monument, an offensive strategy might actually backfire
and cause the democratic world to close ranks with a fellow democracy.
Russian policies aimed at reinforcing Belarus were extensive and represented
support along a wide range of policy areas. A central element of the strategy of
Bolster in the Russia–Belarus case appears to be the strong connection between
political and strategic interests. The Kremlin’s stake in Belarus is not just a matter
of backing a like-minded regime, but also preserving a critical buffer between
itself and the West, one with significant military and geographic implications.
This makes it difficult to determine exactly why Russia’s support for Belarus
has been so sizeable. However, it does suggest that the likelihood of this level
of support increases dramatically when there is an overlap between these sets of
interests. Moreover, the importance of supporting authoritarianism abroad also
appears proportional to the possible impact that the fall of the regime would
have for the country providing its aid. The implications for Russia of political
change in Belarus are extensive: this country is extremely close to Russia in terms
of language, culture, and identity, and a democratic regime in Belarus would
ensure that Russia’s entire western frontier consisted of democratic states. While
Lukashenko’s statement quoted at the beginning of Chapter 6 that ‘a revolution in
Belarus is a revolution in Russia’ is likely an exaggeration, such an event could
not but have a serious impact in maintaining the Kremlin’s hold on power. Where
these conditions—the overlap of interests and the possible impact of regime
change—do not apply to such a degree, it is likely that the strategy of Bolster

Lyudmila Alexandrova, ‘Russians See Best Friends, Arch Foes Among Former
Soviet Republics’, TASS, 1 June 2007.
206 Authoritarian Backlash

will play less of a role in the foreign policy of authoritarian states. The contrast
between Russia’s extensive support for Belarus and doing nothing to save Akayev
in Kyrgyzstan is illustrative of this point. Although the Tulip Revolution might
have had implications for political stability in Central Asia, this was a far more
distant concern that the possibility of regime change in Belarus. Even Russia’s
support for Uzbekistan after the May 2005 crackdown in Andijan and China’s
support of Myanmar do not even come close to that provided by Russia to Belarus,
in part because the interests of the supporting states are less.
The example of Russia–Belarus relations also indicates that a number of
dependencies arise in cases when one authoritarian state provides substantial
support to another. The maintenance of autocracy in Belarus means that its isolation
from the West is reinforced and the Lukashenko regime has therefore become
increasingly dependent upon the Kremlin for its survival. This provides Russia
with a great deal of leverage over Belarus. There also exists a relationship of co-
dependency between the two countries: although Minsk is clearly dependent upon
Moscow, Russia can not put too much pressure upon the Lukashenko regime for
fear of precipitating either regime collapse (more likely) or a strategic realignment
(less likely, as long as Belarus remains authoritarian). This provides Belarus with
some latitude to resist Russian domination, as evidenced by the December 2007
rapprochement between the two regimes after the Kremlin felt that it had pushed
Minsk too far. The Kremlin’s strategy of Bolster also provides Russia with some
advantage in its relationship with the West: if the West wishes to affect change
in Belarus, it must go through Moscow. Consequently, the West is also, in a way,
dependent upon Russia to achieve its goal of advancing democracy. Therefore it
has less of an incentive to push back against authoritarianism in Russia. Thus,
this strategy has the effect of complicating not only the bilateral ties between the
supporting and target states, but also the relationships between these countries
and the democratic world. However, the same point made above applies here: the
lesser the support, the less these dependencies will manifest themselves.
This strategy also contains an element of risk for the bolstering state: if they are
seen as actively supporting authoritarianism abroad, this could spark a backlash
in the target state and/or seriously damage relations with the democratic powers.
Russia’s interference in Ukraine’s 2004 presidential elections did both: not only
did it galvanize the democratic opposition in Ukraine, it also produced an open
clash with the West. Neither of these events were in Russia’s long-term strategic
or political interests.
As the case of Russian policy toward Georgia and Ukraine illustrated, the
strategy of Subvert appears to have a key similarity to Bolster: the willingness
to embark on this strategy is likely to be closely related to the overlap between
strategic and political interests and to the potential impact that the target state has
for the authoritarian state in question. In the aftermath of the Rose and Orange
Revolutions, the strategic realignment which accompanied these events provided
Russia with a strong incentive to ensure that their new democracies floundered. Not
only would this undermine regional democratic trends, but it would likely preclude
The Future of Democracy and the Challenge of Authoritarianism 207

the ability of these countries to join certain military and economic institutions.
Moreover, democracy along its southern and western borders had potential
implications for politics in Russia. This was especially true in the latter case: like
Belarus, Ukraine and Russia share strong language, cultural, identity, and historic
ties and Ukraine’s physical location is critical for Russia in a geographic sense. As
the comparison between these cases and Kyrgyzstan illustrates, there appeared to
be less of an incentive to undermine democracy abroad absent these factors. Not
only was Kyrgyzstan removed from Russia both physically and culturally, but its
geographic isolation meant that it had few strategic choices other than to remain
within Russia’s sphere of influence.
These examples also indicate that achieving one’s political goals through this
strategy might prove to be quite difficult. Even with the considerable economic
leverage that Russia has over Georgia and Ukraine, the political development of
these states may have stumbled, but both remain on a democratic path. Even the
open support for secessionist regions in Georgia has done little to fundamentally
damage Georgian democracy. Russia has seemingly reaped meager political gains,
despite its increased pressure against these countries. Where this leverage does not
exist, the effectiveness of this strategy will be even more questionable.
Again, like Bolster, a strategy of Subvert contains both potential benefits
and some serious risks. By pushing too hard, an authoritarian state can not
only strengthen the resolve of the new democracy to look for allies among the
democratic powers, but it can also precipitate a backlash as the established
democracies move to aid the target of the pressure. We already saw elements of
this in Yushchenko’s and Shaakashvili’s steadfast desire for NATO membership
and in American support for another round of NATO enlargement to include
Tbilisi and Kiev. Authoritarian regimes must be subtle and avoid the appearance of
thuggishness. A democratic reaction against policies perceived to be aggressive is
not in the interests of authoritarian powers. Moreover, if the fledgling democracy
is undermined enough, it could create a truly chaotic situation. Although this
might be attractive in terms of halting democratic consolidation, it could lead to
system collapse and spark cross-border instability. This, in turn, could undermine
the authoritarian regime’s other regional or strategic interests. Thus, a full-fledged
policy of subversion might have unintended consequences. As seen in Russia’s
willingness to countenance the Rose Revolution in order to bring some level of
stability to the Caucasus, sometimes accepting a democracy might be better than
chaos. Political interests are not the only ones worth considering.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization has emerged as perhaps the most
substantive international organization in the post-Soviet space. Its relative success
indicates three things about the last strategy, Coordinate. First, the ability to
develop a coherent set of norms to discredit the notions of democracy promotion
and regime change appeared to be significantly aided by the ‘authoritarian density’
of the group. In the one case of regime change, the new government in Kyrgyzstan
has not lived up to the hopes of the Tulip Revolution and it appears unlikely that
democratic consolidation will be successful in this country within the near future.
208 Authoritarian Backlash

These states appear strongly committed to advancing conservative political norms

and to ensuring regime survival for themselves and their like-minded partners.
Again, political events in Kyrgyzstan did little to undermine these norms as
the new government made it clear that their uprising was fundamentally based
upon localized conditions and that it was not interested in exporting revolution
in the region. Second, the SCO’s success has been aided by the development
of a formal organization devoted to promoting a cohesive political concept (the
‘Spirit of Shanghai’) which clearly identified the values of the organization and
was explicitly designed to set the tone for political developments and interstate
relations in the region. If we flip on its head the role of international organizations
in the socialization of liberal values, the SCO appears poised to create a regional
order by following a similar model, though with a clearly different end goal.
Third, the prior resolution of conflicts between these states, especially between
the two dominant powers, Russia and China, has significantly helped to build a
sense of trust and shared interests—two things necessary for the development
of a normative order. Whether this can be maintained into the future is an open
question, given the sharp rise of Chinese power and prestige. Nevertheless, for the
time being, these regimes appear to have more that unites them than divides them.
These factors signal that the SCO is developing into something more than just an
autocratic support group.
In cases where these factors are absent, we should expect authoritarian
coordination to less coherent and more piecemeal. The conclusion of Chapter 8
touched on more general cooperation between countries which share similar
beliefs about democratization. A central element of the overall phenomenon of
the authoritarian backlash has been the global alignment by regime type and the
willingness of these states to challenge the norms of democracy promotion and
universal human rights. The authoritarian states, led by Russia and China, are
involved in a push to delegitimize these concepts and return to a more absolute
notion of state sovereignty. The SCO’s emphasis on stability (the lack of political
change) and diversity (the moral equivalence of different governing systems) is a
regional reflection of this larger ideological struggle. Consequently, the outcome
of this global push will likely be dependent on the factors which made the SCO
successful: authoritarian density, a cohesive message, and a sense of shared
interests. While the numerical balance of democracies and autocracies may be
an important indicator of authoritarian density, a strong commitment by the latter
countries to promoting their norms could make up for any shortfall in numbers.
Authoritarian regimes can also cooperate in other ways in the face of democratic
pressures, such as by providing economic, military, and diplomatic aid. Much of
this would resemble the strategy of Bolster, but in a looser fashion—it would
be less about specifically propping up like-minded regimes than providing them
with general sources of support. However, this growing alignment by regime type
also holds some risks: as seen above, as the divisions between democracies and
autocracies becomes stronger, and democratic countries may feel threatened by
a resurgence of authoritarianism; this could lead to a pro-democratic backlash.
The Future of Democracy and the Challenge of Authoritarianism 209

It should be noted that when sufficiently motivated, the democratic powers have
been able to put together three grand coalitions—the Allies in WWI and WWII,
and the Western bloc during the Cold War—to oppose their ideological rivals.
In the current global setting, Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay starkly outline the
significant strength of the world’s democracies: ‘They deploy the greatest and most
potent militaries; the largest twenty democracies are responsible for three-quarters
of the resources spent on defense in the world today. Democracies also account
for most of the world’s wealth, innovation, and productivity. Twenty-eight of the
world’s thirty largest economies are democracies’ (Daalder and Lindsay 2007).
While the struggle between democracy and autocracy in the twenty-first century
may not be like the great conflicts of the twentieth century, the authoritarian states
do not necessarily have an interest in direct conflict with the democratic countries
or forcing other states to take sides. Instead, authoritarian powers seemingly
have an interest in taking a more defensive, nuanced, and measured approach to
undermining democratic norms.
These case studies also revealed four limits to this framework, some of
which have been addressed above. First, each of these strategies may actually be
counterproductive and might undermine the interests of the authoritarian regime
which adopts them. Either they may produce the opposite effects of what was
intended or may provoke a backlash at home or abroad. Again, the case of Russian
interference in Ukraine in 2004 is perhaps the best example. This may indicate
that authoritarian regimes may forcefully adopt these strategies only at the point
of greatest risk—when the threat of democratic pressure is at its highest. There are
already indications that, with the successful transition to President Medvedev, the
Kremlin’s anti-democratic policies may be receding somewhat. At the very least,
the potential for unintended consequences may give some regimes pause before
acting too aggressively against democratization.
Second, the overlap between strategic and political interests, though providing
the Kremlin with a greater incentive to adopt these strategies, has also undermined
our ability to fully understand the intentions behind and the causes of Russian
policies. While we can expect that regime type will play a larger role in the
international system, this will often be a reflection of and reinforce the strategic
differences between states. Parsing these out in a effort to achieve conceptual and
theoretical clarity will be difficult.
Third, it may be that, given the immediacy of the color revolutions and the recent
shift toward autocracy, the Russian government was more intensely concerned
about the prospects for democratic contagion than we might find in other cases. It
therefore may have been more active in undermining democratization than a more
stable regime (like China) would have. These strategies might therefore be less
applicable, or at least less evident, in the domestic and foreign policies of other
authoritarian countries. Some of these cases may also be specific to the Russian
context: no other autocratic country has a relationship with another state like that
between Russia and Belarus; China and North Korea might come close, but the
national identity issues are lacking between Beijing and Pyongyang. Similarly, the
210 Authoritarian Backlash

SCO might also be unique: the closest comparison, ASEAN, developed at a slower
and less coherent pace. Therefore, future research will be necessary to determine
whether these strategies are found to such a degree outside of the former Soviet
Finally, determining the effectiveness of these strategies will also be difficult,
given the evidence available. Determining the causes behind the absence of
political change is far harder than in cases where one or more factors can be traced
to a specific set of political developments. It can not be said with any significant
confidence that the policies examined in this study prevented democratization in
any of the former Soviet states, Russia included. They may simply have been
unnecessary or merely reinforced other factors which would have precluded
regime change anyway, such as internal dynamics. Certainly, absent the extensive
support of Russia, Lukashenko would have been far harder pressed to stay in
power, but any determinative conclusions about regime survival in this case
are impossible. Similarly, even if it did not seek to discredit election monitors,
sabotage NGOs, or create its own youth movement, the Russian government may
have been well-entrenched enough to weather any domestic storm brought about
by the uncompetitive elections of 2007–2008. These policies might well have
made the Kremlin’s job easier, but we cannot say with certainty that they were
decisive. That being said, determining their effectiveness was not the purpose of
this study, as outlined in Chapter 1. Rather, it was to identify the strategies and
explore them through one or two in-depth cases which exemplify their application.
It was to set the stage for future research, especially of a comparative nature. As
the next section illustrates, this book has indeed raised a number of avenues for
further study.

Avenues for Future Research

There are many areas where this book could be expanded for more extensive
analysis. For example, examinations of democracy promotion would benefit
from more systematic study. Are certain types of external democracy promotion
more effective than others and, if so, under what circumstances? To what degree
do these processes provoke a ‘backlash’ which actually hampers the progress of
democratization? Do we see autocratic states exhibiting ‘learning behavior’ in
response to democratic successes elsewhere? Are specific strategies of authoritarian
resistance more or less effective against certain types of democracy promotion? Are
there additional strategies of authoritarian resistance other than those identified in
the present study? These questions will help to flesh out the variables and process
associated with the external promotion of democracy.
One can also expand this study’s geographical scope and take into account the
experiences of other authoritarian countries (such as China, Iran, and Zimbabwe)
as they confront regional or global democratic pressures. How effective have
these states been in resisting democratization? Has their policy repertoire differed
The Future of Democracy and the Challenge of Authoritarianism 211

significantly from the Kremlin’s? Have certain strategies proved to be more or

less effective than in Russia? By expanding this study to include other cases, our
understanding of authoritarian resistance as a global phenomenon will greatly
Moreover, each strategy raises its own set of questions and further studies
could condiser them in more depth. For example, future examinations of Insulate
could attempt to answer the following: Are certain specific policies—limiting
NGOs, discrediting election monitoring, establishing pro-regime organizations—
more effective than others? What institutional reforms and interventions into
civil society (e.g. control over the media) are likely to accompany these moves?
What other types of policies would fit under this strategy? As the case of the pro-
Kremlin youth movements illustrates, what are the unintended consequences of
these policies in terms of a potential backlash against the regime? Questions such
as these would shed greater light on how states shield themselves from democratic
challenges on the domestic level.
Given the renewed willingness of autocratic regimes to challenge the legitimacy
of the West’s policy of democracy promotion on ideological grounds, the strategy
of Redefine will become more important over time. Some questions raised by this
strategy might include: How well have autocratic leaders constructed a coherent,
alternative ideology to liberal democracy? Why do (some of) these states feel
compelled to hold elections? This may indicate that the notion of democracy
remains important on the world stage since countries which diverge from these
norms still seek to find legitimacy based upon the assertion that they are indeed
democracies. How effective are these regimes at convincing their own people that
they live in a democracy despite shifts toward autocracy? Alternatively, do we see
a drop in citizens’ commitment to democracy as these regimes seek to discredit
the policies of the established democracies? There are some indications that the
Russian people have a declining belief in liberal-democratic values and instead
see the stability and (relative) prosperity brought about by ‘Putin’s Plan’ as more
important than open political competition. Since this ideological challenge is
inherently interactive, it would also be useful to examine the role that established
democracies play. What is their reaction to these rhetorical and ideological
challenges? How effective are autocratic regimes at placing democracies on the
defensive? Are the established democracies able and/or willing to defend their
values? Finally, as a new model of economic development comes to be seen as
successful (if it remains so), then other states may look to autocratic capitalism as
a role model. Is there an echo effect in which additional regimes begin to justify
their rule by adopting similar language? If we have truly reached ‘the end of the
end of history’, understanding the ideological challenge posed by autocracy is
necessary if the established democracies wish to continue to advance democracy.
The relationship between Russia and Belarus identified in the chapter on Bolster
is not unique. A close parallel would be between China and Myanmar, in which
212 Authoritarian Backlash

Beijing has consistently supported the military junta in Naypyidaw. Venezuela

under Hugo Chávez has also aided like-minded regimes in Bolivia and Ecuador.
However, these cases are dissimilar as well, with the most obvious difference being
that an actual political merger between Russia and Belarus is a real possibility,
while is clearly not in the cases of China-Myanmar or Venezuela-Bolivia/Ecuador.
Nevertheless, a deeper understanding of how autocrats support one another
would indicate the degree to which the democratic West will be challenged in the
future by coalitions opposed to it on ideological grounds. This can be expanded
to include an examination more generally of how the growing conflict between
liberalism and autocracy has affected the foreign policies of both democratic
and authoritarian states. Is the anecdotal information about increased alignments
by regime type borne out by more systematic examinations? How have foreign
policies and strategic alignments been affected? What types of cooperation do we
see between these states (e.g. rhetorical, military, strategic, economic, political,
etc.)? Are there changes in the intensity and form of cooperation over time? If
the world is increasingly being divided into two camps, then understanding this
dynamic from an strategic level will become more important over time.
While autocrats have an interest in helping countries with similar regime-
types, they have an equally compelling interest in undermining or discrediting
democratic ones. As the chapter on Subvert illustrated, Russian relations with
Georgia and Ukraine deteriorated sharply after the Orange Revolution raised
the specter of democratic contagion. The connection between regime change
and strategic realignment, represented by the possibility that Tbilisi and Kiev
may seek NATO membership, also had a negative effect on these relationships.
Future research could look for similar situations in other cases. Is there variance
between cases where a new democracy has a real possibility of joining liberal
international organizations and those where this does not exist? Contrast Russia’s
relations with Georgia and Ukraine, which could potentially join NATO and the
EU, with Kyrgyzstan, which remains geographically isolated and therefore has
far fewer options to exit Russia’s orbit. It is also possible that states located next
to or near each other have a greater chance of a downturn in relations, while this
would be less likely the greater physical distance between the states. Another
aggravating factor may be the degree to which established democracies were seen
as influencing or provoking regime change. Cases with more direct involvement
may have a greater chance of spoiling relations between the new democracy and
its authoritarian neighbors. Moreover, the demonstration effect of a popular revolt
against an autocratic regime may last only a limited time. Do relations between
democratic and authoritarian countries improve once the immediate danger
of democratic contagion has passed? Finally, it would be interesting to include
established democracies in the mix. What role, if any, do democratic states play in
defending new democracies against autocratic pressure and ensuring democratic

There is some evidence, however, that China is beginning to move away from its
unwavering support of certain authoritarian regimes (Kleine-Ahlbrandt and Small 2008).
The Future of Democracy and the Challenge of Authoritarianism 213

consolidation? How does this affect relations between nearby authoritarian regimes
and the established democracies? As conflict between liberalism and autocracy
becomes a more prominent feature of the international system, it is more likely
that the new democracies will become the fracture zones between the ideological
The chapter on Coordinate examined the SCO exclusively, but could easily
be expanded to include additional questions related to international organizations
and democracy promotion. One option would be to look at other international
organizations in which the key authoritarian great powers (Russia or China) are
central members. Do we see, for example, a similar autocratic foundation to the
Commonwealth of Independent States or the Eurasian Economic Community?
One could also examine more closely the interplay between the SCO’s norms
and values, and those of its member states. This book has already identified how
positions taken by Russia found expression in SCO documents and statements. It
would likely prove fruitful to explore more systematically whether the rhetoric
of the individual member states is similar to that of the organization itself. For
example, do we see certain themes at the domestic level being emphasized within
the SCO and vice versa? Can we detect who is influencing whom—that is, is
rhetoric of the members driving that of the organization or is the SCO influencing
the rhetoric of the states? Are these sentiments uniform among the SCO’s members?
Moreover, a close comparison between the SCO and ASEAN may prove fruitful
to indicate the possible future progression of the Central Asian organization. Are
there differences and/or similarities between the two in terms of institutional or
normative development? How will the SCO react to democratization amongst
some of its members, given ASEAN’s response to the spread of democracy in
Southeast Asia? Obviously, the power differences between Russia and China,
on the one hand, and the other Central Asian states, on the other, make a direct
comparison between the SCO and ASEAN somewhat tricky, but still worthwhile.
Lastly, we could take the observations made in this study about the SCO’s rhetoric
and apply it outside of the region. For example, how has the Arab League reinforced
authoritarianism in the Middle East and North Africa? How successful has the
African Union been in its attempts to shed its authoritarian past and contribute to
democracy promotion in Africa? The recent situation in Zimbabwe with President
Robert Mugabe’s refusal to step down after the clearly illegitimate election of June
2008 does not inspire much hope. Answers to these questions will likely show that
we must not only take into account how international organizations play a role in
the spread of democracy, but also how they preserve or sustain authoritarianism.
One goal of this study was to raise as many questions as it hoped to answer. By
looking more carefully at the variables and process associated with democratization,
expanding its geographic scope, and examining the strategies of authoritarian
resistance in more depth, we will better understand the relationship between
democracy and authoritarianism and how autocratic regimes seek to undermine
democracy promotion on the international level.
214 Authoritarian Backlash

The Future Challenge of Authoritarianism

The future of democracy around the world remains uncertain. The international
system appears to be in the throws of a reverse wave in which democracy’s strength
is waning and authoritarianism is resurgent. However, this does not necessarily
presage a renewed ideological conflict like those of the past. As Kagan (2008)
stated: ‘… this competition is not the Cold War redux. It is more like the nineteenth
century redux’. By this he meant that the competition between democracy and
autocracy will against become a defining feature of the international system, as
it was during the 1800s. Unlike World War I, World War II, or the Cold War, the
established democracies do not face an offensive threat to their existence in the
form of imperialism, fascism, or communism. Authoritarian countries, such as
China and Russia, are not seeking to transform the world in their image. Instead,
these states represent a more defensive challenge to the established democracies:
not only are they willing to push back against attempts to promote political values
at odds with their domestic interests, they also serve as potential models and allies
for countries which find themselves under pressure from democratic powers. This
presents a new set of challenges for those interested in promoting liberal norms,
democratic values, and human rights. What should the democratic world do in this
new world order?
Democracies must be willing to rise to the challenge of ideas. Primarily, this
means not being forced on the defensive when authoritarian leaders promote
themselves as democrats by manipulating the language of democracy or when
they seek to deflect international criticism by criticizing others for offenses which
pale by comparison with those committed by the authoritarian regime itself. The
clash between democracy and autocracy is as much, if not more so, a conflict over
values, perceptions, and international opinion, as it is over geopolitical or strategic
advantage. The fact that nearly all non-democratic countries feel the need to pretend
that they are democracies is evidence of the power of liberalism as a world value.
Exposing regimes which are not living up to their international commitments,
championing the benefits of a liberal political system, and not backing down in
the face of the misrepresentations by autocrats will all be essential policies for
the established democracies. Only through consistency and steadfastness can
democracy promotion have any hope of being successful.
Democracies must also do a better job at working together in the face of this
renewed authoritarian backlash and assertiveness. Some have argued that the
democratic world should band together in a ‘concert’ or ‘league’ of democracies
(Ikenberry and Slaughter 2006, Daalder and Lindsay 2007). This has become a
controversial notion, but one which as sparked significant debate in Washington
(Carothers 2008). This grouping is not meant to be an alliance in a traditional

Also see the debate between Carothers, Daalder, and Lindsay in ‘Is a League
of Democracies a Good Idea?’ [Online: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,
The Future of Democracy and the Challenge of Authoritarianism 215

sense, nor is it intended to replace any existing international organizations (such as

the United Nations). Rather it would develop a common agenda for those countries
with a shared belief in liberal-democratic values, facilitate policy coordination,
defend and advance the principles of democracy, and seek to overcome the
intransigence of authoritarian states against international action to protect human
rights. In addition to the debate over whether such a concept is a good idea, there
are additional questions about the willingness of many democratic states to join an
organization which appears to be closely tied to the US and looks like it is creating
new global divisions. Nevertheless, this is an intriguing notion which deserves
greater thought. At the very least, the democratic world must recognize that its
values are worth defending and advancing, and that the only way to achieve these
goals is through common action.
The established democracies must also actively seek to consolidate
democracy where it has been successful. Within the European context, there
are some indications that the European Union and NATO are suffering from
‘expansion fatigue’. This is a mistake. Although it is readily admitted that further
enlargement of either of these organizations creates certain institutional and
logistic problems, it has been shown that an open door has been beneficial to
ensuring a fundamental, democratic choice for countries in Eastern Europe. Even
if admission to international institutions is not possible (since in many cases this is
not an option geographically), preserving democratic gains will require extensive
moral support within the new democracy and against pressures from authoritarian
regimes, economic and political assistance, and a concrete policy of conditionality
which ties substantive benefits to progress toward democratic consolidation. If the
established democracies truly wish to promote democracy, they must be vigorous,
diligent, and willing to pay a price to support democracy abroad.
It must also be understood that foreign policy decisions have consequences,
both known and unintended. For every action, there is a reaction. The backlash
against democracy promotion is a clear example of this. As the established
democracies sought to further democratization, they precipitated a negative
reaction by autocracies around the world which clamped down even harder on
their populations. While there were democratic gains in some cases, this was
countered by a deepening of autocracy in others. This is not to say that fears over a
backlash should prevent the democratic world from promoting its values. Instead,
the established democracies must be prepared to make hard choices and accept
unpleasant outcomes in some cases. If history has taught us anything, it is that the
advancement of human freedom comes at a price. The reaction by the authoritarian
states to the policies of the democratic powers is more often a reflection of their
internal politics as it is to the correctness of those policies—in some cases, their
very opposition may indicate that the particular course of action is the right thing to

29 May 2008. Available at <

of%20democracies.pdf>, accessed 11 July 2008.
Instead, this would be a ‘global NATO’ (Daalder and Goldgeier 2006).
216 Authoritarian Backlash

do. These states are not afraid to defend their interests and therefore the free world
should not hesitate to do the same out of a fear of offending dictators. Of course,
confrontation should be avoided if possible, but engagement and consensus may
do little more than ensure the political status quo and ensure that the desires of
the most uncooperative are fulfilled. The democratic powers must be willing to
advance their values in the face of authoritarian resistance.
Whatever the future holds, the political, ideological, and strategic challenges
posed by autocracy are very real. It would be unwise to simply assume that the
victory of liberalism is inevitable. As we have seen, this most recent democratic
wave was followed by a reverse wave and an authoritarian backlash. In order
to further the cause of liberty in the international system, it will be increasingly
important to understand how regimes seek to counter democracy promotion and
sustain authoritarianism.
Freedom House Ratings of the Former
Soviet Union (1991–2007)

The following tables include the Freedom House ratings for the countries of the
Former Soviet Union since 1991. A full listing of all Freedom House Ratings can
be found at <>.
Table A.1  Freedom House ratings – averages

1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Armenia 5 3.5 3.5 3.5 4 4.5 4.5 4 4 4 4 4 4 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5
Azerbaijan 5 5 6 6 6 5.5 5 5 5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5
Belarus 4 3.5 4.5 4 5 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6.5 6.5 6.5 6.5
Estonia 2.5 3 2.5 2.5 2 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1 1 1 1
Georgia 5.5 4.5 5 5 4.5 4 3.5 3.5 3.5 4 4 4 4 3.5 3 3 3
Kazakhstan 4.5 5 5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5
Kyrgyzstan 4.5 3 4 3.5 4 4 4 5 5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 4.5 4.5 4.5
Latvia 2.5 3 3 2.5 2 2 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1 1 1
Lithuania 2.5 2.5 2 2 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 2 1 1 1
Moldova 4.5 5 5 4 4 3.5 3.5 3 3 3 3 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5
Russia 3 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 4 4.5 5 5 5 5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5
Tajikistan 3 6 7 7 7 7 6 6 6 6 6 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5
Turkmenistan 5.5 6.5 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Ukraine 3 3 4 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 4 4 4 4 3.5 2.5 2.5 2.5
Uzbekistan 5.5 6 7 7 7 6.5 6.5 6.5 6.5 6.5 6.5 6.5 6.5 6.5 7 7 7
Table A.2  Freedom House ratings – political rights

1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Armenia 5 4 3 3 4 5 5 4 4 4 4 4 4 5 5 5 5
Azerbaijan 5 5 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6
Belarus 4 4 5 4 5 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 7 7 7 7
Estonia 2 3 3 3 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Georgia 6 4 5 5 4 4 3 3 3 4 4 4 4 3 3 3 3
Kazakhstan 5 5 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6
Kyrgyzstan 5 4 5 4 4 4 4 5 5 6 6 6 6 6 5 5 5
Latvia 2 3 3 3 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Lithuania 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1
Moldova 5 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 3 3
Russia 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 5 5 5 5 6 6 6 6
Tajikistan 3 6 7 7 7 7 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6
Turkmenistan 6 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Ukraine 3 3 4 3 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 4 4 4 3 3 3
Uzbekistan 6 6 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Table A.3  Freedom House ratings – civil liberties

1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Armenia 5 3 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Azerbaijan 5 5 6 6 6 5 4 4 4 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Belarus 4 3 4 4 5 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6
Estonia 3 3 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 1
Georgia 5 5 5 5 5 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 3 3 3
Kazakhstan 4 5 4 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Kyrgyzstan 4 2 3 3 4 4 4 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 4 4 4
Latvia 3 3 3 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 1 1 1
Lithuania 3 3 3 3 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 1 1 1
Moldova 4 5 5 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Russia 3 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Tajikistan 3 6 7 7 7 7 6 6 6 6 6 5 5 5 5 5 5
Turkmenistan 5 6 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Ukraine 3 3 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 3 2 2 2
Uzbekistan 5 6 7 7 7 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 7 7 7

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Abkhazia 88, 133, 137-8, 140-41, 143 Black Sea Fleet 134-5, 148, 150-51
Adjara 133, 137 bolster
Afghanistan 119, 176, 180 definition of 22-3
African Union 162, 213 theoretical implications of 105-6, 202,
Akayev, Askar 21, 40, 42, 166, 177-7, 181, 205-8, 211-3
206 Borodavkin, Aleksey 59-60, 96
America, see United States of America Bush, George W. 75, 86, 196
Andijan 166-9, 175, 179-182, 206 and Belarus 109, 113
Armenia 16, 27, 29, 58, 139, 193 and Estonia 101
ASEAN, see Association of Southeast and Georgia 72, 138-9, 142
Asian Nations and Russia 70, 74, 78, 102, 131, 142
Association of Southeast Asian Nations see also United States of America
(ASEAN) 24, 162, 164, 177, 210,
213 Caucasus, see Armenia; Azerbaijan;
Atlantic Alliance, see North Atlantic Treaty Chechnya; Georgia
Organization CEC, see Central Election Commission
Azerbaijan 27, 29, 136, 181 Central Asia 2, 16, 27, 160-1, 165-6,
168-73, 175-9, 181-2, 184, 206;
Baltic states, see Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania see also Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan;
Belarus 2-4, 16, 18, 21, 27, 29, 56, 60, 68, Shanghai Cooperation Organization;
149-150, 154, 184, 193, 200 Tajikistan; Turkmenistan;
media in113, 124 Uzbekistan
relations with NATO 16, 118-9 Central Election Commission (CEC) 55,
relations with Russia 3, 7-8, 72, 105, 188, 191, 193, 197
106, 126-30, 148, 202, 205-7, 209, Chávez, Hugo 3, 183-4, 212; see also
211-2 Venezuela
Belarusian national identity 106, Chechnya 31-3, 51, 71, 80, 96-7, 133, 180
120-3 Cheney, Richard (Dick) 73-5
economic support from 116-8, 148 China 3, 6, 20, 86, 95, 173-4, 184, 209-10,
diplomatic support from 111-3 213, 215
military support from 118-20 relations with Myanmar 23, 206, 211-2
political support from 113-6 relations with Russia 17, 160-1, 163-4,
Russia–Belarus Union 107-9, 121-6 177, 182-3, 208
relations with United States of America and Shanghai Cooperation Organization
72, 109, 111-4 160-1, 163-5, 170-1, 177, 182-3,
see also Denim Revolution; 213
Lukashenko, Alexander CIS, see Commonwealth of Independent
Belarus Democracy Act, see United States States
of America, relations with Belarus Clinton, William (Bill) 31, 70
109, 111, 113, 115 CoE, see Council of Europe
Beslan Hostage Crisis, see Russia, Beslan Collective Security Treaty Organization
Hostage Crisis (CSTO) 179-182
234 Authoritarian Backlash

colonialism, see imperialism diversity 69-70, 78-9, 81, 102, 160, 163-4,
color revolutions 1-2, 29-30, 40, 72, 151, 172-7, 208
153-4, 166, 201
causes of 4, 12, 20, 21, 40, 61, 63, 68 Eastern Europe
Russian reaction to 5, 27, 42-4, 45-6, 1989 revolutions in1-2, 4, 12, 120
61, 63, 68, 78, 80, 105, 112, 115, and integration with West 12, 14-6,
130-2, 136-8, 155-6, 179, 185-6, 120, 123, 153-4, 215
190, 195, 197-8, 202-3, 209 election monitoring 203, 211
and Shanghai Cooperation Organization role incolor revolutions 2, 20-1, 40-1,
165-9, 175 57-8, 60-1, 68
see also Orange Revolution; Rose Russian policy towards 54-61, 73, 186,
Revolution; Tulip Revolution 188-93, 210
Common Economic Space, see Eurasian see also, Commonwealth of Independent
Economic Community States, election monitoring by;
Commonwealth of Independent States Office for Democratic Institutions
(CIS) 42, 58, 132, 154, 179, 213 and Human Rights; Organiza-
and election monitoring by 56, 60, 113, tion for Security and Cooperation
192-3 inEurope, election monitoring by;
conditionality 8, 12-8, 106, 109, 215 Shanghai Cooperation Organization,
contagion 2, 4, 12, 40, 42, 131-2, 136, 154-5, election monitoring by
179, 200, 209, 212 election observers, see election monitoring
see also diffusion; orange virus Estonia
coordinate democratic development in29
definition of 24-5 demographics in86-7, 134
theoretical implications of 207-9, 213 and the European Union 88-9, 93-4,
Council of Europe (COE) 15, 50, 118, 138, 101
146 and the North Atlantic Treaty
and Belarus 109-10, 112-3 Organization 88, 101, 153
and election monitoring 54, 149-50, relations with Russia
188 accusations of human rights abuses
see also Parliamentary Assembly of the in87-89, 98-102, 204-5
Council of Europe attacked inEuropean institutions
Crimea 134-5, 148-9; see also Black Sea 92-7, 101
Fleet Bronze Soldier Monument row 67,
Croatia 2, 15 97-101, 205
CSTO, see Collective Security Treaty characterized as fascist by 65,
Organization 89-92
Czech Republic 15, 153 and Russian youth groups 62, 67,
democratic waves 1-2, 4-5, 11-12, 153-4, and the United Nations 94-5
201-2, 214, 216; see also fourth EU, see European Union
wave of democracy; reverse wave Eurasian Economic Community (Common
of democracy; third wave of Economic Space) 136, 147, 181,
democracy 213
Denim Revolution 2, 4, 21, 68 European Union 16, 73, 86, 119, 179
diffusion 8, 12-3, 17-8, 106, 120, 123, 159 alternatives to 124-6, 130, 136, 147,
and the North Atlantic Treaty 162, 181
Organization 151-6
Index 235

and Belarus 109-110, 113-4, 116-7, Gryzlov, Boris 67, 96, 99, 149
124-6, 130 GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan,
and integration 14-5, 23, 76, 87, 95, Azerbaijan, and Moldova Group)
121, 123-5, 131, 150, 212, 215 136, 181
and Russia 17, 59, 79, 89, 92-7, 99,
101, 113, 184, 188, 198, 205 Human Rights Watch 51, 194
support for democratization 5, 12, 15, Hungary 4, 153
17, 79-80, 87-8, 154
and Uzbekistan 181-2 Ilves, Toomas 98, 101
imperialism 8, 59, 66, 70, 78-81, 121, 204,
fascism 64-6, 81-2, 87, 90-92, 98, 214 214
Federal Security Service (FSB) 33, 48, 53, India 86, 102, 161
194; see also Patrushev, Nikolai insulate
Fedotov, Yuri 87-90, 95, 97 definition of 19-21
Ferrero-Waldner, Benita 110, 114, 188 theoretical implications of 203-5, 211
fourth wave of democracy 2, 4-5, 11, 201; integration 14-8, 123
see also democratic waves Iran 3, 6, 17, 20, 75, 160-1, 183-4, 210
Fradkov, Mikhail 115-6, 186 Ivanov, Igor 80, 111, 136-8, 145
Freedom House 28, 59, 71, 81, 89, 217-20 Ivanov, Sergei 86, 11
FSB, see Federal Security Service and Belarus 111-2
and color revolutions 42, 76-7, 79
G-8, see Group of Eight and election monitoring 73
Gazprom, 127, 148, 188; see also natural gas and Estonia 89, 92
Georgia and Georgia 143-4
and NATO 16, 76, 151-7 and sovereign democracy 83
political development of 27, 29, 40, and Ukraine 148
200 and Uzbekistan 180
relations with Russia
after the Rose Revolution 7, 136- January 2006 NGO Law, see nongovern-
146, 152, 155-7, 202, 206-7, mental organizations, Russian
212 policy towards
prior to Rose Revolution 132-3
revolution in2, 4, 20-1, 40-1, 72, 136-7, Karimov, Islam 7, 16, 161, 166-8, 179-181
165, 185, 195 Kasparov, Garry 65-6, 187, 189, 196; see
Russian economic sanctions against also Other Russia
140-3 Kazakhstan 29, 56, 58, 61, 147, 160, 168,
Russian military bases in132-3, 137, 170, 193
139 KGB 33, 36, 56; see also Federal Security
see also Abakhazia; Adjara; South Service
Ossetia; Rose Revolution; Khodorkovsky, Mikhail 39, 46
Saakashvili, Mikhail; Shevardnadze, Kmara! 21, 40
Eduard Kolerov, Modest 80, 179
Georgiyevtsky 67 Kosachev, Konstantin46, 96, 98-9, 147
Germany 42, 65-6, 89-92, 101, 117, 132, Kuchma, Leonid 20, 40-1, 57, 60, 135-6,
152, 187 145-6, 155
Great Britain, see United Kingdom Kyrgyzstan 20, 56
Great Patriotic War, see Second World War authoritarian developments in27, 29,
Group of Eight (G-8) 74, 80 200
236 Authoritarian Backlash

and color revolutions 2, 4, 40, 42, 68, neocolonialism, see imperialism

129, 131, 165-7, 169 neoimperialism, see imperialism
and election monitoring 60, 146 NGOs, see nongovernmental organizations
relations with Russia 177-9, 181, 206-8, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)
213 3, 19
and Shanghai Cooperation Organization role incolor revolutions 2, 5, 13, 20-1,
160-1, 167-70, 173, 175-6, 181 23, 41, 45, 61, 68, 71, 203
see also Akayev, Askar; Tulip Revolution Russian policy towards 39, 45-53, 68,
169, 193-5, 204, 210
Latvia 28, 86-91, 93-6, 101, 134, 153 North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Lavrov, Sergei 3, 74-5 (NATO) 73, 88-9, 92, 118, 179-80
and 2006 NGO law 49-50 and Belarus 118-9, 130
and Belarus 111-3 expansion of 16-7, 76, 87, 118, 130-2,
and election monitoring 58, 73 139, 142, 145, 150-6, 178, 207,
and Estonia 91, 97-9 212, 215
and Georgia 138, 141-2 membership requirements 15, 23
and Uzbekisan 180 and promotion of democracy 151-6
Lithuania 29, 73, 86-7, 90, 114, 153, 198 and Russia 101, 143, 145, 151-6
Lukashenko, Alexander 105-6, 200, 205 war with Serbia 80
and Belarusian elections 110-15, 126-7 North Korea 17, 203, 209
and Belarusian national identity 107,
120-6 ODIHR, see Office for Democratic
rivalry with Vladimir Putin108-9, Institutions and Human Rights
126-130 Office for Democratic Institutions and
and Russia 107 Human Rights (ODIHR) 191-3; see
diplomatic support from 111-3 also election monitoring;
economic support from 116-8 Organization for Security and
military support from 119-20 Cooperation inEurope (OSCE)
political support from 113-6 orange plague, see orange virus
see also Belarus Orange Revolution 2, 18, 183, 200, 206
Belarusian reaction to 122
Markov, Sergei 46, 61-2, 65, 197 impact on Russia–Ukraine relations
Medvedev, Dmitri 83-4, 152, 185, 188-90, 145-51, 155, 206, 212
198-9, 203, 205, 209 origins of 4, 16, 40-1, 135-6
Milošević, Slobodan 18, 21, 40 Russian policy during 79, 136, 177-8
Moldova 29, 56, 58-9, 136, 177-8, 181 Russian reaction to 5, 7, 42-3, 45, 47-8,
multipolarity 74, 119-20, 163-4; see also 57-8, 60-1, 68, 71-2, 76, 78-80,
unipolarity 111, 131-2, 136-8, 143-4, 185, 197
Myanmar 3, 23-4, 206, 211-2 and Shanghai Cooperation
Organization 159, 166
Nashi 62-8, 100, 196-8, 204 orange virus 5, 6, 42-3, 45, 62, 131; see
NATO, see North Atlantic Treaty also Orange Revolution, Russian
Organization reaction to
natural gas 17, 106, 108, 116-7, 127-8, Organization for Security and Cooperation
135, 139, 141, 147-8, 150; see also inEurope (OSCE) 138
Gazprom and Belarus 109-110
Nazi, see fascism election monitoring by 54-60, 188,
Nemtsov, Boris 82, 187, 189 191-3
Index 237

and Uzbekistan 169 and United States of America 74, 78-

see also Office for Democratic Institu- 81, 85-6, 111, 119-20, 192
tions and Human Rights and Uzbekistan 149
OSCE, see Organization for Security and and youth groups 63-4, 66-7, 196, 198
Cooperation inEurope see also Russia
Other Russia 65-7, 187, 196; see also
Kasparov, Garry redefine
Otpor! 21, 40 definition of 22
theoretical implications of 69-71, 204-5,
PA OSCE, see Organization for Security 211
and Cooperation inEurope reverse wave (of democracy) 2, 4, 6, 9, 11,
Pakistan 1, 95, 161 19, 200-201, 214, 216
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Rice, Condoleezza 48, 51-3, 111-3, 139
Europe (PACE) 50, 71, 96, 110, Romania 15, 153
113, 146 Rose Revolution 2
and election monitoring 54-5, 189, origins of 40, 133
192-3 Russian reaction to 47, 131-2, 136-8,
Party of Regions 146-7, 149; see also 142-3, 185, 206-7
Yanukovych, Viktor Russia
Patrushev, Nikolai 53, 194-5; see also 1996 presidential election in29-30, 32-
Federal Security Service 6, 107, 186
Pavlovsky, Gleb 63, 65, 82 1999 parliamentary election in33, 36<