Advancing or undermining democracy? No moral equivalence


Vladimir Putin denies meddling in U.S. politics, but he has charged that the U.S. government interfered “aggressively” in Russia’s 2012 presidential vote, notes Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor from 2014 to 2017. At the recent Group of 20 summit, Putin apparently got President Trump to agree to a mutual commitment that neither country would interfere in the other’s elections.

Is this moral equivalence fair? In short, no. Russia’s interference in the United States’ 2016 election could not have been more different from what the United States does to promote democracy in other countries, efforts for which I was responsible as a State Department official, he writes for The Washington Post:

The U.S. government never hacked into Russian leaders’ emails and released them selectively to favor one side in their elections, or flooded Russian social media with fake stories to discredit their ruling party. What it did do, until the U.S. Agency for International Development was expelled from Russia in 2012, was to help fund some of the country’s leading nongovernmental organizations. These included the human rights group Memorial the Committee Against Torture and, most important, given the drama to come, a group called Golos (left), Russia’s main nongovernment organization for election fraud monitoring. This effort was non-partisan and it aimed to strengthen democracy for everyone in Russia, not to steer the outcome.

“Should we have refrained from supporting democracy in Russia? I’m not sure we could have,” Malinowski adds. “Rather, I think, we should be more realistic about our idealism. The advancement of democracy and human rights is as serious a business as anything we do in our foreign policy and cannot be treated as an afterthought in our relations with great powers. After all, the stakes for them, and ultimately for us, are existential.”

The Kremlin and its propaganda machine frequently accuse the Russian opposition of plotting a “Maidan”—a Ukraine-style popular uprising against the regime, notes Vladimir Kara-Murza. As the history of such uprisings—not only in Ukraine, but also in other countries such as Serbia or Georgia—shows, they usually happen when citizens are denied free and fair elections. If anyone is preparing a future “Maidan” in Russia, it is the Kremlin itself, he writes for World Affairs.

Whatever happens over the next half a dozen years, the issue of who or what is to succeed Putin and/or Putinism will come increasingly to the fore, argues Andrew Wood, an associate fellow of Chatham House and a former British Ambassador to Belgrade, and subsequently to Moscow (mid 1995–early 2000). It has been argued that he has already taken some steps to put at least some new and effective persons of the next generation in place. It is often suggested that whoever comes next will be cast from the same mold as Putin himself, for better or worse, he writes for The American Interest:

There is a certain comfort for the West in making such assumptions. The abrupt turn away from the possibility of reform on Putin’s return to the Kremlin in May 2012 in favor of domestic repression and foreign adventure ought, however, to remind us that what we may imagine to be in the interests of the Russian state will not necessarily turn out to be seen that way by the directors of its fortunes. A relatively smooth trajectory towards a reasonably stable outcome over 2018–24 would depend above all on the way that the central authorities manage their relationship with Russian society as a whole.

“Putin and his colleagues understand that moving beyond what they have built could have uncontrollable consequences, as might, for that matter, tightening repression still further,” Wood concludes.

The Institute of Modern Russia wishes a happy birthday to Lyudmila Alekseyeva, who celebrated her 90th anniversary on Thursday, July 20.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email