By Anna Borshchevskaya, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Anna Borshchevskaya is assistant director at the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center. The views expressed are solely her own.
On Sunday, Ukrainians will head to the polls to elect a new parliament. The elections will be pivotal. Once a promising democracy, Ukraine has become increasingly authoritarian over the past two years.
In a close 2010 election, Ukrainians elected Viktor Yanukovych to the presidency. Yanukovych hails from eastern Ukraine, which is traditionally pro-Russian and, during his first two years in office, he has pushed Ukraine slowly but surely away from the West and back into the Russian sphere.
Yanukovych not only stopped his predecessor’s push for NATO membership, but also extended Russia’s lease over its Sevastopol naval base for 25 years, despite public outcry. Russia now “silently dominates” that city, according to the Kyiv Post. Yanukovych also accepted the Russian position on Holodomor, the great 1933 famine, which many Ukrainians believe was deliberate genocide perpetrated against them by Josef Stalin. He also supported South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence, puppet breakaway states supported by Russia in the wake of its 2008 invasion of Georgia. This past summer, his Party of Regions pushed through a controversial bill to give Russian official language status in Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine (13 out of 27) and, in August, Ukraine joined Russia and Belarus in a Russian-led free-trade zone for former Soviet republics.
By Graeme Reid, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Graeme Reid is director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.
The U.N. Human Rights Council recently passed a resolution on “traditional values of humankind” as a vehicle for “promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.” It sounds innocuous, but its implications are ominous. Indeed, it is an immediate threat to the rights of many vulnerable groups – including women and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) people. And it flies in the face of the founding principles of universality and indivisibility enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This is the third Russian-sponsored traditional values resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council. The second, in 2011, called for a study, and the resulting draft study is highly critical of “traditional values” as a framework, criticizing the concept as “vague, subjective and unclear.” The third, though, adopted on September 27, affirms traditional values as a valid framework for human rights.
By Michael Mazza and Daniel Vajdic, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Mazza is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Daniel Vajdic is a researcher at AEI. The views expressed are their own.
Russia and China are both revisionist powers, intent on transforming the world order to better serve their own parochial interests. Both countries are hostile to an order that intrinsically favors the spread of economic and political liberalism, and both have taken steps to overturn it. Yet the Obama administration is failing to effectively defend the liberal international order that prodigious American sacrifice made possible.
In Asia, China is working to undermine the decades-old U.S. alliance system and assert itself as the region’s dominant power. China’s ongoing military buildup opposite Taiwan (during the friendliest period of Beijing-Taipei ties in years) continues to upset the cross-Strait military balance, which has long contributed to stability in Asia. Beijing’s strategic forces modernization, meanwhile, puts at risk the U.S. nuclear umbrella under whose protection South Korea, Japan, and others have forgone developing their own nuclear weapons. And the harassment of U.S. naval vessels by Chinese maritime forces is part and parcel of a larger effort aimed at changing how U.S. ships operate in Asian littoral waters.
By Tanya Lokshina, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Tanya Lokshina is a senior researcher and deputy Moscow director at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are her own.
The Kremlin’s announcement last week that it was kicking USAID out of Russia is the latest step in a crackdown on foreign-funded civil society groups. It’s a trend that has intensified since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May, with the parliament hastily adopting new restrictive rules for non-governmental organizations. Groups that get even a kopeck of foreign money in their budget will be required to officially register as “foreign agents.” In Russian, that is pretty much understood to imply “foreign spies,” making many here in Russia believe the law aims to marginalize and discredit groups that advocate policy change.
The new law won’t enter into force until late autumn, but you can already see it in action. At least, I did, during a recent trip to Russia’s provinces. While the Justice Ministry is still working out the new law’s implementing regulations, regional officials are apparently already trying to please their federal bosses by exhibiting exemplary exuberance for the new provisions.
By Anna Borshchevskaya, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Anna Borshchevskaya is an assistant director at the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. The views expressed are solely her own.
On September 15, another wave of anti-Putin protests shook Russia – the latest in a series that started in December 2011, making these the largest and most enduring protests in Russia since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Only three days later, the Kremlin expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) from Russia, depriving civil society and pro-democracy organizations of funding they depend on, revealing how frightened Russian President Vladimir Putin really is that Russians prefer freedom over his authoritarian rule.
As I walked past the orthodox synagogue on Bolshaya Bronnaya in Moscow this month prior to the protests, I recalled that around the time I left Russia as a refugee, after the Soviet Union collapsed, vigilante anti-Semitic groups carried out several attacks on the synagogue, including a failed bombing attempt. For many Russians, freedom carries a risk of disorder that they look to their government to uphold, and the government exploits that fear.
By Matthew Rojansky, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Matthew A. Rojansky is deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The views expressed are his own.
According to the U.S. State Department, the Russian government has decided to end the activities of USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development, in the Russian Federation. For the past two decades, the USAID mission in Russia has channeled U.S. foreign assistance totaling almost $3 billion to organizations, causes and projects intended to support “social and economic development” in Russia. In that time, USAID has done some real good, but considering the two sides’ fundamentally different views about the purposes of U.S. assistance, and the Kremlin’s acute sensitivity in the midst of widespread opposition protests, the decision to shut it down is no surprise.
From the Kremlin’s perspective, the very notion of Russians receiving foreign assistance is unacceptable – an affront to Russia’s national dignity. As the world’s largest country, a nuclear superpower, and the hub of one of history’s great civilizations, Russia finds it hard to accept any kind of assistance from abroad, no matter how necessary or useful it might be. While the high cost of the post-Communist transition permitted Russian officialdom to swallow its pride for a time, with a fast-growing Russian economy now buoyed by high global energy prices, there is no such excuse for accepting handouts, especially from the West.
By Stewart Patrick, CFR
Stewart M. Patrick is senior fellow and director of the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of The Internationalist originally appeared here. The views expressed are his own.
After the longest accession negotiations in the history of the WTO, Russia has finally joined the World Trade Organization. This is an important milestone for the WTO – and for Russia, which according to the CIA possesses the world’s seventh largest economy, with a GDP of $1.9 trillion. For Moscow, it’s certainly been a long road. The Russians first submitted an application for WTO membership back in June 1993, under the newly democratic government of Boris Yeltsin.
So what took so long? A baby born in 1993, after all, would now be a legal adult. Russia’s political system, alas, has matured more slowly. During the 1990s, Russia’s political volatility, the slow pace of domestic economic reforms, a devastating ruble crisis, and opposition from (still) influential communists conspired repeatedly to delay WTO negotiations. During his first presidential term, Vladimir Putin began a concerted push for WTO accession, implementing necessary customs reforms. But his subsequent retrenchment on state control over the oil and natural gas sectors, as well as persistent frustrations over inadequate protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) damaged Russia’s candidacy. By 2009, Putin had abandoned Russia’s individual WTO application and proclaimed that Russia would apply as a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, an arrangement that subsequently fell apart.
By Olga Oliker, Special to CNN
Olga Oliker is a senior international policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.
Pussy Riot has been everywhere. The blogosphere has been awash for weeks in demands that the three jailed members of this Russian performance art collective be freed. Yesterday, a Russian court rejected those demands.
Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, imprisoned since March on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, were found guilty and sentenced to two years imprisonment each. But while Amnesty International has declared the three “prisoners of conscience,” Madonna got far more attention for their cause by displaying the group’s name on her back at a recent Moscow concert.
By Michelle Ringuette, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Michelle Ringuette is chief of campaigns and programs at Amnesty International USA. The views expressed are her own.
All eyes were on Moscow this morning as Maria Alekhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, were found guilty and sentenced to two years' imprisonment. For What? Performing a peaceful protest song in a Russian Orthodox Cathedral that lasted less than a minute.
Most agreed that the court wouldn't rule in the women's favor; they themselves had predicted a guilty verdict. Already, Russian authorities had unjustly detained these women, stealing them away from their families and children, and orchestrated a legal process that tiptoed the line on international fair trial standards.
Say what you will about Pussy Riot: this might not be your kind of music. Their actions might offend you. But this doesn't change the fact that freedom of expression, in whatever peaceful form it takes, is a human right, and one on which the protection of other rights rests.
By Chris Brown, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Chris Brown is professor of international relations at the London School of Economics. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
The resignation of Kofi Annan from his role as U.N. envoy to Syria does no more than recognize what has been clear for most of the past three months, namely that in this case, the standard peacemaking model of a ceasefire followed by talks between the parties to produce a compromise has no chance of success.
A year ago, such an initiative might have worked. But too much blood has now been spilled, and, crucially, the conflict has become overtly sectarian in a way that wasn’t the case in its early stages.
Annan, in his valedictory message in the Financial Times yesterday, is still inclined to blame disunity in the Security Council for the failure of his plan. “Only a united international community can compel both sides to engage in a peaceful political transition,” he argues. This should, I think, be revised to “not even a united international community can compel both sides to engage in a peaceful political transition if neither side conceives it to be in their interest to do so.”
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Kofi Annan’s resignation as the U.N. and Arab League joint special envoy is a blow to any hopes that the situation in Syria could go down a stable path. It has also dashed hopes that an early route could be found to an inclusive government that could oversee decreasing levels of violence. Annan represented the possibility of something positive for Syria, and his departure is a sign that things are going to continue to spiral downwards.
There are two basic problems in Syria – an internal and an external political divide. The internal divide is evident every day. We have a brutal regime that is using maximum force, one that is making no concessions and that is simply holding onto power by any means possible. That is the principle problem in Syria, and one that can only be resolved if Bashar al-Assad and the people around him are deposed from power.
But there’s also a sectarian problem in Syria as is evidenced by the fact that minorities, who comprise 40 percent of the population, don’t seem to have joined the opposition. The Alawites, of course, who make up about 12 percent of Syria, are sticking with the Alawite-dominated regime. But the Christians appear to be doing so as well, for fear of what would happen to them in a majoritarian and more Islamist Syria. Other Syrian minorities such as the Kurds also don’t seem part of the Free Syria Army.