The Russian media are no longer free and unrestricted. With the
exception of a few minor showcase outlets and the Internet, the
media are dominated by the Kremlin and its allies. The majority of
political parties are under state control, and the activities of
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with foreign ties are under
severe scrutiny. Russia is no longer a free nation.
A return to authoritarianism is not in the interests of the
Russian people, their European neighbors, or the world in general.
Regrettably, most efforts to protest the Kremlin's political
hegemony are suppressed, sometimes violently. Political opponents
and media critics of the Kremlin have been censored, intimidated,
and at times beaten and even killed.
The Kremlin has created and fostered the growth of scores of
nationalist groups to establish "street muscle" and protect itself
against an Orange Revolution scenario. These include Nashi (ours),
the main pro-Putin youth movement, which works to create the public
perception of massive support for the current regime and at times
takes to the streets to stifle opposition to Kremlin policy.
The Moscow leadership seems impervious to America's and Europe's
pleas to foster democracy. While the U.S. and its allies wait for a
more opportune time to reengage, they should consider refocusing
their efforts on Russia's neighbors that are willing to
democratize. Ultimately, the Russians themselves need to realize
that they can benefit more by integrating into the West and
developing democratic institutions that will preserve and protect
On the other hand, Washington cannot ignore Moscow. Too many
pressing issues--from Iran and nuclear proliferation to arms
control treaties and the future of conventional forces in
Europe--are on the table. Even during the Soviet era, Washington
and Moscow at times had a robust diplomatic engagement, despite
viewing the world very differently. Today, many of those
differences have diminished as Russia increasingly integrates
itself into the global economy.
The U.S. and its allies should make clear to the Kremlin and the
Russian people that the lack of freedom in the Soviet Union was a
major cause of its collapse and that nostalgia for those bygone
days is severely misguided.
The Rise and Fall of Russian
In contrast to the Soviet Union, Russia took important steps
during the 1990s to decentralize power and establish independent
institutions that could balance the executive branch. The Russian
constitution adopted in 1993 vested extraordinary authority in the
president but balanced that authority somewhat by decentralizing
power and placing institutional checks on the president. For
example, while the president can dissolve the parliament (Duma) and
call for new elections, the Duma can impeach the president and
recall the government by a vote of no-confidence.
Under the 1993 constitution, Russia attained a certain level of
political equilibrium during the 1990s. In 1994, Communist and
nationalist members in the Duma held roughly the same number of
seats as reform members, leaving approximately 100 centrist members
as the swing voters. Parliamentary elections in 1993 and 1995
were deemed generally free and fair and resulted in Dumas in which
various political viewpoints were represented. Regrettably, the
political equilibrium also resulted in a total deadlock at a time
when an impoverished Russia desperately needed rapid reform.
Since his election in 2000, President Vladimir Putin has
systematically eroded the political balance once enjoyed by
Russia's young democracy. Under Putin's watch, the Kremlin
transformed a robust and often cacophonic multiparty system into an
unchallenged monopoly, consolidating power under the United Russia
party, which completely controls the Duma. Through a series of
political maneuvers and new election laws, Putin and the Kremlin
have established a new form of government that Putin's political
architect Vladislav Surkov calls "sovereign democracy."
Despite the name, sovereign democracy appears to be a return to
a neo-Soviet or quasi-Czarist form of government, reminiscent of
the 1905-1917 era. Its characteristics include the presence of a
single, dominant political party designed to hold power in
perpetuity; consolidation of political power in the Kremlin at the
expense of the federal legislature, federal judiciary, and regional
and local governments; the lack of a clear constitutional order;
and repeated violations of the constitution by the state.
Return of the One-Party State. In 1990, the Soviet
Congress of People's Deputies repealed Article 6 of the Soviet
Constitution, ending the Communist Party's monopoly on power and
one-party rule in the Soviet Union. This opened the door for other
political organizations to participate in elections. However, 17
years later, a dominant "party of power" has again emerged in
Russia, the largest of the 15 former Soviet republics.
After Putin was elected president in March 2000 and the
pro-Kremlin Unity party made major gains in the Duma, Putin and his
allies set out to ensure that future elections would be more
predictable than prior contests. The ultimate goal was to secure
power indefinitely for a new elite group of former KGB officers and
others from Putin's inner circle.
The first step was to restrict participation in future elections
by making it difficult to form political parties. Prior to Putin's
presidency, a political party could register to compete in
elections if it had over 100 registered members. In July 2001, Putin
signed a new law that raised that number to 10,000 and required
that the party have at least 100 members in each of Russia's 89
regions. Since 2006, the total membership
requirement has increased to 50,000.
This law drastically limits the number of parties eligible to
compete in Duma elections, effectively barring small single-issue
parties and regional political organizations. Opposition parties,
such as the Republican Party of Russia led by Vladimir Ryzhkov and
Vladimir Lysenko, were completely banned, while other tiny parties
loyal to the Kremlin received a break from the authorities to
overcome the barrier and split the opposition.
Not satisfied with stifling new political parties, the Kremlin
moved to consolidate two existing parties supported mostly by
loyalist politicians to create a single, dominant party. By the end
of Putin's first year in office, the pro-Kremlin Unity party had
successfully absorbed the Fatherland-All Russia party, its bitter
opponent during the 1999 parliamentary election. This merger created
United Russia, a new party of power, which quickly ended the
long-standing parliamentary power-sharing agreement with the
Communist Party. In April 2002, the Communists were stripped of
nearly all of their leadership posts in the Duma.
By the 2003 parliamentary elections, Putin and his allies had
prepared the ground for an election landslide. With Putin's
popularity at record levels and high oil prices fueling a new
prosperity, United Russia won over 300 seats in the 450-seat Duma.
Many of the remaining seats were won by parties sympathetic to the
Kremlin and Putin. The Kremlin also did everything in its power to
keep the democrats divided. Liberal opposition parties, such as the
center-left Yabloko party and center-right Union of Right Forces,
failed to win 5 percent of the vote--the minimum threshold required
to win proportional representation in the Duma. Indeed, evidence
suggests that votes were undercounted to achieve that very
result. Recent Russian elections have been
criticized by election monitors from the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the OSCE monitor group slated
to observe the December 2007 Duma elections was forced to cancel
its mission due to Russian noncooperation.
With two-thirds of the seats in the Duma, United Russia passed
additional legislation to restrict political participation in the
parliamentary elections scheduled for December 2007. The new
legislation raised the minimum threshold from 5 percent to 7
percent. Other provisions prohibited the common
practice among smaller parties of forming electoral blocs to reach
the minimum threshold and prohibited Duma members from changing
their party affiliations after an election.
Another law ended the practice of allowing voters to vote
"against all" as a protest vote and ended the minimum voter
participation requirement, preventing an election from being
declared invalid because a majority voted "against all" or because
voter turnout was too low.
Yet another law changed the entire Duma to proportional
representation using party lists for the December election.
Previously, 225 Duma members were elected from single-seat
districts, and 225 were elected proportionally. Combined with the 7
percent threshold, this effectively ends the smaller opposition
parties' chances of winning any seats.
Furthermore, because of Russia's size--an estimated 141 million
people spread across 11 time zones, 89 regions, and more than 120
ethnic groups-- eliminating all single-seat districts and electing
the Duma solely by party list severely weakens the connection
between voters and their representatives. Instead of Duma members
being directly responsible to their voters, they will be primarily
responsible to a handful of party leaders, most of whom reside
inside Moscow's Garden Ring or in the prestigious gated enclaves
along the Rublevka highway.
Collectively, the new election laws cement the United Russia
party as the "party of power" in the Duma for the foreseeable
future. Indeed, Putin has already signaled that he may run at the
head of the United Russia list in the next Duma elections and thus
would almost certainly become Russia's next prime minister.
This would pave the way for Putin to serve a third, nonconsecutive
term as president, which is permitted under the constitution.
Recentralization of Power in the Kremlin. Beginning in
1996, the Russian people directly elected their regional governors,
who until then had been appointed by the Kremlin. In 1996, voters
elected 48 of Russia's 89 governors for the first time in Russian
history. Russian voters accepted some of the Kremlin's previous
appointees, electing 20 of the 44 incumbents. The elected
regional governors, no longer dependent on the Kremlin for their
positions, naturally became more independent and less deferential
to the president and Moscow. Formerly, federal
bureaucracies from the tax authorities to secret services were
partially accountable to regional elected governors.
This experiment with elected regional governors did not last.
After his election in 2000, Putin moved quickly to restrict the
relative independence that the governors had enjoyed for four
years. In March 2000, the Kremlin suspended gubernatorial
elections, claiming a need to improve the quality of the government
and to fight graft and organized crime. Putin also pushed through
legislation to remove the regional governors from their ex
officio positions in the Federation Council (the upper house of
the federal legislature) and to change tax policies, reducing the
governors' economic power by redistributing the tax pie in favor of
the central authorities in Moscow.
In addition, Putin created a new, extra-constitutional layer of
bureaucracy over the regional governors by appointing seven envoys
to preside over seven newly created "super-regions."
This would be the equivalent of a U.S. President creating
proconsuls for the Northeast, the South, the Midwest, the West, and
the West Coast regions of the United States without amending the
Not surprisingly, many of the super-region envoys were KGB
veterans or former generals, including Victor Cherkesov, a close
Putin ally and then deputy director of the Federal Security Service
(the domestic successor to the KGB); Georgy Poltavchenko, a former
KGB officer and Putin ally from St. Petersburg; Konstantin
Pulikovsky, an army military general who fought in Chechnya; Viktor
Kazantsev, a former military commander in the North Caucasus; and
Oleg Safonov, an appointed envoy to the Far East.
In September 2004, the Putin Administration used the Beslan
school hostage tragedy as a pretext to implement the rest of its
plan to reclaim the power to appoint regional governors.
Sergei Mitrokhin, a Yabloko party leader, characterized Putin's
plan as "the beginning of a constitutional coup d'etat" and "a step
toward dictatorship." Although privately wary, the regional
governors had little choice but to endorse Putin's reform publicly,
even though it would drastically diminish their own autonomy and
authority. The Duma readily gave its full support to the Kremlin's
recentralization of power.
The Increasingly State-Controlled
Television, newspapers, and radio stations in the Soviet Union
were state-owned and heavily censored. During the glasnost
(openness) reforms under Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s and
the Yeltsin administration's reforms in the 1990s, Russian mass
media became freer and more independent, although not quite to the
level of the press in the West. The law on the press and the 1993
constitution guarantee freedom for mass communication and,
theoretically, banned censorship.
In December 1994, President Yeltsin ordered the government to
divest from the Ostankino Russian State Television (ORT) channel
and signaled that Russia should abandon government control of the
media. By 1995, over 150 independent radio and television companies
(including national independent television stations NTV and TV6)
were broadcasting in Russia, over 10,000 newspapers were in
publication, and foreign cable and satellite channels were widely
While the Russian government was divesting from mass media,
powerful financial groups and individuals--some friendly with the
Kremlin, some not--were investing in and buying up major media
outlets. These groups, especially those led by businessmen Boris
Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, competed for political power and
influence over Russian public opinion. Russian media became corrupt
and overpoliticized. Television channels and print media competed
in airing sensationalism, gore, and kompromat (compromising
materials) about politicians and businessmen.
Matters came to a head during the 1999 Duma elections when the
pro-Putin Berezovsky and the ORT engaged in a fierce media war
against Gusinsky, whose NTV television supported former Prime
Minister Evgeny Primakov and former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's
Fatherland-All Russia party. Gusinsky lost the media
war, and his Media-MOST media group suffered for its opposition to
the Second Chechen War, which began in summer 1999. The Kremlin
targeted Gusinsky and Media-MOST with tax raids, embezzlement
charges, and arrests. Gazprom, the government-controlled gas
monopoly and a Media-MOST shareholder, called in a $700 million
loan. As a result, Gazprom took control of NTV television in April
2001; fired the staff of Itogi, a weekly magazine owned by
Media-MOST; and closed the Sevodnya newspaper. Gusinsky, who
had fled the country in 2000 after being charged with fraud, was in
no position to oppose the Kremlin's onslaught.
Berezovsky and his media empire fared no better than Gusinsky
after Putin took office. Despite his aggressive support of Putin in
the 1999 Duma elections, Berezovsky fell out of favor with the
Kremlin for demanding too much political control. Berezovsky fled
Russia in the face of alleged plots to murder him, and his media
assets came under assault. For example, in September 2001, a Moscow
court ordered the liquidation of TV6, in which Berezovsky was the
majority shareholder. TV6 was ultimately closed down in connection
with a suit filed by Lukoil, a massive oil company that was a
minority shareholder in TV6. The TV6 frequency was
later awarded to a group of Kremlin insiders and renamed TVS, which
was closed down in June 2003 and replaced with an all-sports
Since June 2003, no independent, nationwide television network
has operated in Russia. Russia's networks are controlled either
directly by the government or by groups who support the Kremlin.
Journalists are widely practicing self-censorship. Some prominent
opposition voices have been silenced, fired, or murdered. Lists of
people are prohibited from appearing on national television,
including prominent politicians and critics.
Government control of the radio waves is the next likely step in
the Kremlin's campaign to control all Russian media. Only Echo
Moskvy, a liberal station with an elite audience primarily in
Moscow, is still uncensored, as are some Western radio stations
such as Voice of America and the BBC, which are rebroadcast in a
However, the Kremlin has ordered most Western stations off the
air. In the past year, Kremlin regulators have successfully forced
over 60 local radio stations to stop broadcasting programs produced
by Voice of America, Radio Liberty, and the BBC.
The state-owned Channel One network recently imposed a new,
pro-Kremlin management team on the Russian News Service, Russia's
largest independent radio network. The management team issued
a series of new directives that are eerily reminiscent of
Soviet-era media practices:
- The United States is be portrayed as "the enemy" on the
network's radio broadcasts,
- Political figures opposed to the Kremlin are not to be
mentioned on the air, and
- All stations are required to adhere to a "50 percent positive
rule" in which at least half of any reporting done on Russia must
- A very few conventional media outlets and the Internet are the
only remaining sources of uncensored information.
Suppression of Political Dissent
The Kremlin is clearly taking no chances in the "election" of
Putin's presidential successor. Consolidating United Russia's
power, ending direct elections for regional governors, and
reestablishing control over Russia's major media are apparently
insufficient to guarantee the Kremlin's continued dominance.
In what could be the ultimate act of suppressing political
dissent, several political rivals of Russia's current power
structure have been mysteriously gunned down over the past several
- In April 2003, Sergei Yushenkov--a member of the Duma, a
founder and co-chairman of the Liberal Russia Party supported by
Berezovsky, and an advocate for democracy, free-market economic
reform, and human rights--was shot and killed with a silenced
weapon outside his Moscow home after registering his party for the
December 2003 Duma elections.
- Vladimir Golovlev, a co-founder of Liberal Russia, was
assassinated less than a year earlier.
- Yuri Shchekochikhin, a crusading journalist who investigated
high-level government corruption for the independent Novaya
Gazeta, died under suspicious circumstances in 2003 and is
widely rumored to have been poisoned.
Nor are assassination attempts on Kremlin opponents apparently
limited to Russian soil. Alexander Litvinenko, a former-KGB agent
and vehement Putin critic, was murdered by polonium poisoning in
London in 2006.
While these acts have never been definitively linked to the
Kremlin, the pattern of dead Kremlin critics is a powerful tool in
suppressing political dissent. The question is whether or not
Putin's Russia has returned full circle to its authoritarian,
violent past. Assassination of political rivals has a long
tradition in Russian history. Stalin's agents famously murdered
Leon Trotsky in Mexico City in 1940. Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian
separatist leader from World War II, was murdered in 1959 in
Germany by a KGB assassin.
The Kremlin is also using intimidation to suppress political
dissent. For example, the Yabloko Party came under attack in
October 2003 when the office of one of its consultants was raided
by Russian authorities. Yabloko was one of several liberal
organizations and political parties supported by Mikhail
Khodorkovsky, a Kremlin critic and former owner of Yukos oil
company, who was arrested two days after the raid. Khodorkovsky, who
advocated political reform and supported the creation of a
parliamentary republic, has since been sentenced to eight years in
a Siberian prison for tax evasion in what many Russian legal
experts and human rights activists believe is a case of selective
prosecution of a regime foe. Khodorkovsky's case is on appeal to
the European Court of Human Rights.
In addition to the wholesale intimidation and assassination of
political opponents, the Kremlin has systematically suppressed mass
dissent, cracking down on pro-democracy civil society organizations
and creating nationalist groups and movements such as Nashi, the
pro-Kremlin "youth group" designed to provide public support for
the current government and counter pro-democracy street
The "Putin Youth." Arguably one of the most disturbing
aspects of the Kremlin's determination to suppress political
dissent is its creation in 2005 of a veritable army of nationalist
organizations, including Nashi. Nashi boasts over 100,000 members
and operates in a manner that some have compared to the violent,
paramilitary, heavily ideological youth movements formed in 1920s
Germany prior to the Nazi takeover in 1933.
Nashi's manifesto is based on the writings of Vladislav Surkov,
Putin's chief political adviser, and is defined by unwavering
devotion to Putin, anti-Americanism, and anti-Western sentiment.
New recruits watch propaganda films and receive basic
military-style training, including learning how to field-strip
AK-47s and Makarov pistols. In its formative stage, Nashi even
conducted a book burning of "unpatriotic" publications.
Russian politicians or activists who disagree with Putin or his
policies are immediately branded as "traitors" or "fascists" by
Nashi. At Nashi functions, Putin's political opponents (e.g., world
chess champion grandmaster Garry Kasparov) have been depicted as
Nashi's modus operandi is quick-reaction demonstrations in
force, sometimes violent, to prevent political threats to the
Kremlin, especially when the supposed threat comes from abroad.
When the Estonian government relocated a Soviet war memorial from
the center of Tallinn to a nearby war cemetery over Russia's
objections, hundreds of Nashi members laid siege to the Estonian
embassy in Moscow, spray painting its walls with graffiti, pelting
the building with rocks, and blocking traffic without any
interference from the Moscow police. When Estonian Ambassador
Marina Kaljurand called a press conference to demand more security
at the embassy, Nashi members violently stormed the meeting.
Similarly, for six months after daring to appear at a conference
organized by the opposition movement Other Russia, British
Ambassador to Russia Anthony Brenton was hounded by Nashi members
who blocked his car, harassed him while he was shopping, and posted
his daily schedule on the Internet.
The Kremlin's intent in creating Nashi is clear: preventing
formation of a democratic movement in Russia like those that led to
the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in
Georgia-- revolutions that many in the Russian government and media
believe were inspired and supported by the United States. With
parliamentary elections in December 2007 and the presidential
election in March 2008, the Kremlin is taking no chances that a
grassroots democratic (or ultranationalist) movement will take hold
and gain momentum.
To that end, Nashi was established in towns close to Moscow so
that its members could quickly assemble in Red Square (or
elsewhere) to support Putin and the Kremlin. Indeed, Nashi recently
distributed 10,000 specially made SIM cards to its members so
that they could promptly report any democratic rally to the Kremlin
and swiftly organize to put it down.
Nashi's sometimes violent activities are neither hindered by the
Russian police nor renounced by Putin or the Kremlin. To the
contrary, Putin has embraced Nashi as "part of his team" and meets
with its leadership at his summer residence in Zavidovo. If
the Russian people take to the streets in connection with the
upcoming Duma and presidential elections, Nashi will surely be
Restrictions on Nongovernmental Organizations. The
Kremlin has recently imposed a series of restrictions on Russia's
community of civil society nongovernmental organizations. These
organizations strengthen democratic institutions and promote
political awareness with the purpose of creating better informed
citizens, who in turn participate in politics and hold the Russian
government accountable for its actions. Such groups are facing
increasing difficulties in Russia.
Since Putin's election in 2000, the government has passed a
series of laws that restrict NGO activities. For example, in
June 2002, the Duma, ostensibly concerned with radical Islamist
propaganda, empowered the government to suspend the activities of
NGOs with members who have been accused of "extremism," but it did
not define "extremism." Putin himself made his personal views
clear in a May 2004 state of the union speech, when he accused
Russian NGOs of "receiving funding from influential foreign
foundations and serving dubious groups and commercial interests."
The Kremlin dealt another blow to the NGO community by arresting
Khodorkovsky, one of Russia's major donors to NGOs and
pro-democracy political parties, in October 2003.
The NGO crackdown began in earnest after the Orange Revolution
propelled pro-democracy politicians to power in Ukraine in January
2005. Several months later, Putin announced a prohibition on
foreign contributions to Russian political NGOs to block external
interference in Russian affairs.
In January 2006, Putin signed into law new restrictions on NGO
activities and membership. For instance, an NGO will not be
permitted to register if, in the opinion of the government, its
"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." The new law also allows government
representatives to attend any NGO event, including private strategy
sessions and board meetings, and prohibits individuals identified
by the government as "undesirable" from founding, joining, or
participating in NGO activities.
Such broad prohibitions arguably could be used to restrict any
activity conducted by NGOs that advocates for press freedom,
women's rights, ethnic minorities, or political participation. The
government's power to attend the private meetings of an NGO and
declare its members "undesirable" sends a clear message to Russian
civil society not to run afoul of Kremlin policy.
To inject the government into the activities of Russian civil
society, Putin established the Public Chamber in 2004 with the
purported purpose of reviewing draft legislation and serving as a
watchdog over the government, the media, and law enforcement. This
organ has no precedent in international practice. Under the
procedures for setting up the Public Chamber, the Kremlin selected
its first 42 members, who in turn selected a second set of 42
members from national Russian public associations. The combined 84
members then selected the final 42 members from regional and
interregional public associations.
The creation of the Public Chamber misses the point entirely:
Civil society and the individual NGOs that make up that society are
supposed to be independent of the government, serving as a liaison
between the government and the governed. A Kremlin-built
organization created to supplant the NGO community is an oxymoron.
Rather, the likely purpose of the Public Chamber is to supplant
Russian civil society with a more government-friendly
Rewriting the History of Stalin's
Crimes and the Soviet Union
Most nations gloss over some of the embarrassing episodes in
their histories. Historical revisionism is also common. In Russia,
attitudes toward Stalin and his repressions have always been the
litmus test--the watershed between freedom's supporters and its
opponents. Today, some Russian officials and large percentages of
the Russian people are not merely glossing over the same monstrous
policies and practices of the Stalin era, but are instead embracing
The Kremlin uses history opportunistically. In the run-up to
past parliamentary elections, when the Communist Party was still an
electoral annoyance, if not a real threat, government-controlled
television showed a flurry of films depicting Communist atrocities.
Now the government is using its heavy hand to rewrite Soviet
history and indoctrinate Russian schoolchildren.
Earlier this year, the Kremlin published two new manuals to
serve as the basis for history and social studies texts for the
upcoming school year. The social studies manual depicts the United
States as an imperialist country determined to create a global
empire and describes the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the
greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century." The history
manual lauds Joseph Stalin, whose regime was responsible for the
deaths of approximately 20 million Soviet citizens, as
"the most successful Soviet leader ever." The history text also
defends the Kremlin's interference in Ukraine's rigged 2004
presidential election, in which Putin publicly backed pro-Russia
Viktor Yanukovych against the pro-Western democratic reformer
Viktor Yushchenko, who was later mysteriously poisoned. The final
chapter of the manual, entitled "Sovereign Democracy," introduces
Russian schoolchildren to the current elite's vision for their
Putin has defended the new texts, downplaying Stalin's purges
and the incarceration and death of millions in the Gulag labor
camps as "problematic pages" in Russian history. In an attempt to
minimize the Great Purge of 1937 in which a million people were
systematically murdered by Stalin's secret police, Putin compared
it to the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, conveniently
ignoring the fact that the United States was at war with Japan at
the time and that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki actually saved
lives on both sides by forcing Japan to surrender.
Historical revisionism apparently bore fruit even before release
of the new school texts. A recent poll found that 54 percent of
Russian youth ages 16-19 believed that Stalin was a "wise leader"
who did "more good than bad." Only 17 percent believed that Stalin
was responsible for the execution and imprisonment of millions of
people. A majority viewed the United States as a rival and an enemy
and believed that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a tragedy.This historical blindness does not bode
well for either Russia or U.S.-Russia relations.
What the U.S. Should Do
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. policy toward
Russia has been premised on a transition to democracy that has not
happened and is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. While
the U.S. government and pro-democracy NGOs should continue to work
with the Russian government when possible to strengthen Russia's
beleaguered civil society, U.S. policymakers should recognize that
Russia has chosen a path that leads it away from true
Russia is unlikely to make significant democratic reforms in the
short term, but the United States should continue to prepare for a
time when the Russian people realize that a one-party state in
which all power is consolidated in the executive branch is not in
their best interests. To that end, the United States should:
- Promote a diverse freedom agenda. Russian political
elites and (more disturbingly) the Russian people do not appear
inclined to prioritize political pluralism, engage in robust policy
debate, or dissent against Kremlin policies. Moreover, the Kremlin
has successfully curtailed the activities of pro-democracy NGOs to
prevent them from sparking an Orange Revolution in Russia.
While the United States should continue to fund democracy
promoters such as the International Republican Institute and the
National Democratic Institute, it should refocus in the near term
on strengthening the Russian NGO community in areas where the
Kremlin has less of a pretext to interfere: enhancing economic
freedom, supporting human rights, protecting press and academic
freedoms, and promoting religious and ethnic tolerance. Tens of
thousands of NGOs are still active in Russia and constitute a wide
community of activists who want to see their country freer and
under less stringent political control.
- Reorganize public diplomacy. U.S. public diplomacy
strategy toward Russia should candidly acknowledge that Russia has
regrettably chosen "sovereign democracy" over true democracy,
distancing itself from the community of democratic nations. Mere
statements of "disappointment" by the U.S. government have never
been effective and are no longer sufficient. Reaching ordinary
Russians has become more difficult in recent years because of a
systematic crackdown on U.S. public diplomacy radio
The United States should therefore increase its efforts to reach
the Russian people, especially Russia's young people, through the
Internet-- the only means of mass communication not yet controlled
by the Russian government. Internet programming (e.g., video,
social networking sites similar to MySpace or Facebook, and RSS
news feeds) should target the average Russian. These Web products
should include objective and unbiased information, analysis,
commentary on events, and possibly even satirical portrayals of
"sovereign democracy" produced and directed by Russians for
Russians. They should also distribute video and audio clips of
events and speeches that have been barred from Russian television
and radio to remind ordinary Russians that their media outlets are
reporting selectively. Interviews of former Soviet dissidents and
documentaries detailing Communism's failures and Stalin's crimes
should also be presented to counter the Kremlin's historical
revisionism and reeducation efforts.
- Establish an international Victims of Communism Museum in
Washington, D.C., and in Central Europe. Over 15 years passed
between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dedication of the
Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C. Before another 15
years pass, the United States should establish an international
Victims of Communism Museum located in Washington, D.C., with a
sister institution in Eastern or Central Europe (e.g., in Prague,
Warsaw, or Budapest) to remind the world of the follies of
These museums would help to confront the contemporary elite's
revisionist treatment of the Soviet Union and Stalin, honor the 100
million victims of Communism, and highlight the ongoing struggles
of people currently living under despotic Communist regimes in
China, North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam. They should also include a
robust on-line component in multiple languages, should support
academic research on the crimes of Communism, and develop school
curricula to keep the memory of victims and historic lessons
- Expand student exchange programs. Foreign students who
visit the United States for educational or cultural exchanges
invariably return to their home countries with positive impressions
of American citizens, freedom, and democracy. The United States
should expose more young Russians to the experience of living in a
free and open society by expanding exchanges of high school and
To that end, Congress and the State Department should double the
number of grants awarded through the Freedom Support Act to the
Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program, which coordinates youth
exchanges between the United States and the former Soviet
republics. The FLEX Program should emphasize recruitment of Russian
students while continuing to support exchanges from other former
- Prioritize the strengthening of democratic institutions in
the former Soviet republics. The United States should
prioritize expanding political, economic, and military ties with
and support for freedom and democracy in those of Russia's
neighbors that are receptive to the freedom agenda. The United
States should make a long-term commitment to fund the development
of democratic institutions in countries that are amenable to
strengthening their young democracies, such as Ukraine, Georgia,
Armenia, and Azerbaijan. According to former U.S. National Security
Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, Ukraine is a crucial model for Russia.
Democratic development in Ukraine could be a harbinger of Russia's
- Apply pressure to Russia through international
organizations. The United States should coordinate with U.S.
allies in international bodies--e.g., the G-8, the Council of
Europe, and the OSCE--to examine Russia's performance in freedom,
human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. If feasible, these
international bodies should enlist the cooperation of Russia's
government and NGOs. Each body should establish a blue ribbon panel
or commission to examine a particular aspect or problem, develop
detailed recommendations, and work to the extent possible with the
Russian government to improve Russia's performance.
At present, proponents of freedom and democracy can only hope
that the Kremlin's current restrictions on the media, NGOs, free
speech, and freedom of expression will eventually lose legitimacy
and stature in the eyes of Russian people.
Hopefully, the Russian people will come to understand that their
country will stagnate and decline without true freedom even while
it remains a principal exporter of energy resources and other raw
materials. Russia and its citizens deserve better than becoming a
Saudi Arabia with a cold climate and nuclear weapons. The United
States should continue to engage Russia on issues of national
importance such as energy and national security, but policymakers
should openly acknowledge that Russia has chosen not to become a
true democracy and is apparently satisfied with "sovereign
Although the United States should not turn its back on Russia,
it should refocus its efforts to promote freedom and democracy on
more fertile ground elsewhere in the world.
Steven Groves is Bernard
and Barbara Lomas Fellow in the Margaret Thatcher Center for
Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage
Constitution of the Russian Federation, 1993,
at www.constitution.ru/en/10003000-01.htm (November
20, 2007), and Freedom House, Freedom in the World 1994-1995
(Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1995), p. 481.
Freedom House, Freedom in the World
1994-1995, p. 480.
Graeme Gill and Roger D. Markwick,
Russia's Stillborn Democracy? From Gorbachev to
Yeltsin (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2000).
Freedom House, Freedom in the World
1996-1997 (Edison, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1998), p.
Law on Elections of Deputies to the State
Duma, Russian Federal Law No. 51-F3, May 18, 2005, and Freedom
House, Freedom in the World 2006 (Washington, D.C.: Rowman
& Littlefield Publishers, 2006), s.v. "Russia," at www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=363&year=2006&country=7044 (November
Freedom House, Freedom in the World
1996-1997, p. 422.
"The Making of a Neo-KGB State," The
Economist, August 23, 2007, at www.economist.com/world/
displaystory.cfm?story_id=9682621 (November 20, 2007); "Putin's
Power Play," Business Week, international ed., June 5, 2000,
at www.businessweek.com/2000/00_23/b3684202.htm (November
20, 2007); and BBC News, "Putin Seeks Power over Regions," June 15,
2000, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/monitoring/media_reports/771909.stm (November
Freedom House, Freedom in the World
2006, s.v. "Russia."
Constitution of the Russian Federation, Art.
Freedom House, Freedom in the World
1994-1995, p. 482.
Freedom House, Freedom in the World
2000-2001 (Washington, D.C.: Transaction Publishers, 2001), p.
Freedom House, Freedom in the World
2003, s.v. "Russia."
Freedom House, Freedom in the World
2004, s.v. "Russia."
Steven Lee Myers, "Youth Groups Created by
Kremlin Serve Putin's Cause," The New York Times, July 8,
2007, at www.nytimes.com/2007/07/08/world/europe/08moscow.html (November
20, 2007), and Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova, "Putin's Powerful
Youth Guard," Newsweek International, May 28, 2007.
Myers, "Youth Groups Created by Kremlin Serve
A subscriber identity module (SIM) is an
identity card that stores a person's identity and phone number for
use with any compatible cell phone. It also can store a large
number of contacts. Kent German, "SIM Card Explained," CNET, April
12, 2005, at http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-10166_7-6160666-1.html (November
Matthews and Nemtsova, "Putin's Powerful
Freedom House, Freedom in the World
2004, s.v. "Russia."
Freedom House, Freedom in the World
2006, s.v. "Russia."
Law on Political Parties.
SeeLionel Beehner, "Russia's Soviet Past
Still Haunts Relations with West," Council on Foreign Relations
Backgrounder, June 29, 2007, at www.cfr.org/publication/13697 (November
Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court
of the Red Tsar (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003), p.
Some prominent Russians have suggested
building such a museum in Moscow, but this is probably politically
impossible at present.
The current Moscow power establishment is leading Russia back in
time. Instead of moving forward toward a nation that cherishes and
protects freedom and democracy, the establishment is creating a
state and body politic dominated by a new breed of oligarchic
groups composed of security officers and their business