Canada’s new FM a critic of Russia’s ‘authoritarian kleptocracy’



Canada has named Chrystia Freeland, a prominent critic of Russia who was banned by Moscow in 2014, as its new minister of foreign affairs, The Guardian reports:

In 2014, Freeland, who lived in Moscow in the mid-1990s as bureau chief for the Financial Times and interviewed Vladimir Putin in 2000, was added to the Kremlin’s list of westerners banned from Russia as part of a series of retaliatory sanctions against Canada. ….. In a 2015 article titled “My Ukraine, and Putin’s big lie,” Freeland detailed her thoughts on why she had been included on the list; pointing to the fact that she was an activist of Ukrainian descent, a Canadian politician and a former journalist who in recent years had argued that Russia under Putin was careening towards a full-fledged dictatorship.

“It’s a bold appointment,” said Dominique Arel, an associate professor and the chair of Ukrainian studies at the University of Ottawa. “Symbolically, it is a very, very bold move.”


“At core what we’re seeing in Ukraine and in Russia is a fight about post-Soviet authoritarian kleptocracy and how sustainable that political system will be,” she told a Chatham House forum (above):

That’s what Putin has decided to build in Russia. It’s what Yanukovych was trying to build, and did a pretty good job, in Ukraine. To everyone’s surprise, the Ukrainians decided they didn’t want it. It was a very ‘made in Ukraine’ uprising. It was much less about Europe, certainly not about Russia, really about what kind of a political order were you going to have in Ukraine. 

Putin cannot win the battle for hearts and minds in Ukraine, she has argued. “Many outsiders have interpreted [the Ukraine conflict] as a Yugoslav-style ethno-cultural fight. It is nothing of the kind. This is a political struggle.”

Organized civil society is essential, Freeland contends:

Political choices in central Europe and the former Soviet Union over the past quarter century have been as diverse as the region, but there is one constant. The transition worked in countries that arrived in 1989, or 1991, with a strong, well-organized civil society, committed to change, and they failed where it was absent. Poland owes much of its success to the strength of its Catholic Church and to Solidarity, its independent and battle-tested trade union. By contrast, the collapse of the Communism left Russia with a civil society that was atomized and mistrustful.

Journalistic accounts, such as Sale of the Century: Russia’s Wild Ride from Communism to Capitalism by Chrystia Freeland of the Financial Times and “The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia” by The Washington Post’s David Hoffman, introduced personalities and drama to the abstract economic debates, revealing how a handful of individuals used their connections to the Russian state to amass fortunes, wrote Michael McFaul, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

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