Russians not fundamentally illiberal – unlike Putin


Contrary to some analysts’ suggestions that Russian culture and history have fostered a predisposition towards authoritarian rule, new research suggests otherwise. The evidence emerging from a cross-country comparison of attitudes towards democracy and free-market institutions “does not support a common view that the Russian personality is fundamentally illiberal or non-democratic,” the researchers conclude.

A senior U.S. official today used a United Nations forum to condemn Russia’s human rights record, highlighting the one-year anniversary of the assassination of former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov [above] in central Moscow.

“The Russian government’s attempts to suffocate civil society, suppress political opposition, and stigmatize members of minority groups, continue unabated,” Deputy US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Ukraine also called on the UN Human Rights Council to press Russia to open access for international organizations to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the human rights situation in Crimea.

Despite this dark picture, there is reason for hope, notes Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy. On the occasion of the anniversary of Nemtsov’s murder, his colleague Ilya Yashin showed incredible bravery by publishing a report documenting Kadyrov’s crimes entitled “A Threat to National Security,” the purpose of which is “to open Russian society’s eyes to the fact that Ramzan Kadyrov, with the connivance of the country’s authorities and secret services, has become a figure that poses a threat to Russia’s national security,” he told the Senate Human Rights Caucus today (above):

Just yesterday in the European Parliament, Russian democrats, including Nemtsov’s daughter Zhanna Nemtsova, called once again upon the international community to help bring the masterminds of Nemtsov’s murder to justice. 

There is also reason for hope in the continuing struggle of Russian NGOs, which have fought the new repressive laws every step of the way with unyielding determination.  I was recently visited by the leader of a major Russian pro-democracy organization, who told me that Russian NGOs and activists can survive Putin’s repression.  What they cannot survive, he said, is the termination of support by Western governments and private foundations. 

Ludmilla Alexeeva, the founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group and Russia’s most prominent human rights defender, wrote last week in The Washington Post that Russian activists “are fighting for the values that attracted Western aid in the first place….Surely the project of defending freedom in Russia is worth pursuing while there are Russians willing to stand up for it.”

There are reasons why Europe’s left- and right-wing extremists support Putin. It is also not a coincidence that Russian civil rights activists value their relationships with liberals and democrats in the West, analyst Julius von Freytag-Loringhoven writes for Handelsblatt:

Partners of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, like the GOLOS Association, have also come under fire in Russia for having accepted money from the United States in the past. The Kremlin has systematically dried up these sources of funding with new laws, but this hasn’t stopped the activists from doing their work.

“A similar situation applies to friends of the Kremlin among Europe’s extremists,” he adds. “Those on the right love Mr. Putin because they see him as a symbol of authoritarian power and alternative to liberal democracy, a strong national state and the fight against the hegemony of the United States.”


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