Ukraine’s ‘existential threat’ to authoritarian kleptocracy


“A successful democratic experiment in Ukraine presents an existential threat to Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian kleptocracy in Russia,” says detained opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza.

It’s his strong conviction that Russia, one day, will be free and democratic, but people should avoid “cultural condescension,” a phrase he borrows from Ronald Reagan’s Westminster speech of 1982, the National Review’s Jay Nordlinger reports:

Reagan said, “Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.” Earlier this year, Kara-Murza told me, “I have absolutely no doubt that one day we will have a normal, modern, accountable democratic government in Russia. There’s no reason that our nation is destined to be an outlier in Europe or the world, and to live under the yoke of a dictatorship.”

The war in Ukraine is exacerbating societal and political challenges across the former Soviet bloc, notes Simon Fraser University’s Protesters in Georgia and Kazakhstan are calling for their governments to take stronger pro-Ukraine stances. Throughout the region, civil society has rallied to send humanitarian aid. Volunteers and mercenaries from Georgia and elsewhere have gone to Ukraine to fight, she writes for The Conversation.

While Ukraine did remarkably well in the first phase of the war, Donbas is very different, The New York Times reports:

To go on the offensive normally requires a manpower advantage of 3 to 1, weaponry aside, which Ukraine does not now possess. The Russians are making slow but incremental gains, if at a high cost in casualties. (While Washington and London are happy to provide estimates of Russian casualties, sometimes rather high, according to some military experts, they say little about Ukrainian casualties. Ukraine is treating those figures as state secrets.)

“What is victory for Ukraine?” asked Daniel Fried, a longtime senior U.S. diplomat. “The Biden Administration’s comfort zone is not a bad place to be — that it’s up to the Ukrainians to decide,” he said. “I agree, because there’s no way a detailed conversation now on what is a just settlement will do any good, because it comes down to what territories Ukraine should surrender.”

The horrors of the 20th century ended with a triumph of progress or, as Adam Michnik once put it, an improbable happy ending like a Hollywood movie. But, as Tolstoy wrote long ago, happy endings are fleeting, said Fried, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

We now face resurgence of aggression from despots – acutely so from Putin’s Kremlin and in broad systemic fashion from President Xi’s China, he added, delivering this year’s Lennart Meri Lecture (above). We face doubts about liberal democracy from within democracies, nearly as deep as in the 1930s when, challenged from fascism and Stalinism, liberal democracy seemed skidding on history’s exit ramp.

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