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The Battle for Ukraine
Putin’s Real Target: Democracy in Russia and Beyond

Vladimir Putin considers stable, prosperous, rule-of-law democracies along Russia’s border as a threat because of what they represent: the possibility of an alternative to autocratic rule in Russia.

Published on: March 19, 2014
David J. Kramer is president of Freedom House. Arch Puddington is vice president for research at that organization.
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  • stefanstackhouse

    He want to be known in the history books as “Vladimir the Greater” (as “Vladimir the Great” is already in the books), the ruler who reversed the dismemberment of the Russian empire and began the long, slow process of re-conquest and re-assembly. The first time the Russian empire was put together it took centuries, progress was slow but steady. He undoubtedly sees the same being the case this time.

    • Arimathean

      Putin does not care about the greatness of Russia. He would rather be the absolute ruler of a weak, backward Russia than share power in a strong, prosperous Russia. Keeping Russia weak is part of his plan for keeping Russia obedient. This strategy has worked so far for the Kim Dynasty in North Korea.

  • Pelle Holmberg

    “Democracy” is a nice word with many definitions.

    If democracy is defined as the willingness and ability for one nation’s leaders to let the majority of their people decide which policy that country should follow, for sure Russia is a more “democratic” country than any of the USA and those in the EU.

    But, it seems like your version of “democracy” means the rights for a political leadership to follow the policies made up by some bankers on Wall Street, in Frankfurt, Paris and Stockholm, while blindfolding their populations through the presstitutes in their controlled media.

    For sure, I would take the Russian version any time! Putin has made the majority of Russians to feel proud over their country again after 10 years of robbery by the IMF in cooperation with the Russian oligarchs.

    • Gary Hemminger

      This post is exactly the point of my post above. Many folks actually want authoritarianism. I don’t think it is an attack to say that Pelle actually wants an authoritarian regime. He outright states it. The American Interest and American’s in general better start figuring this out, because I have. Malthusian Nihilists are now coming out of the word work to attack anything they think is bad, and authoritarian regimes are good in their mind. It is really sad.

  • Gary Hemminger

    Unfortunately I think your belief that the west values many of the items you claim Putin despises is not necessarily so. Freedom of speech has been attacked by the left in this country for over a decade now. Many of the folks that I know coming out of universities decry freedom of speech as problematic. In addition, honest elections in the west? I think corporate and union money have significantly affected what you might believe are honest elections. And a just legal system? The west might have a more just legal system than Russia, but to say it is just is really pushing the needle.

    No, I think that many leaders in the US (mostly on the left, but also some on the right) actually want an authoritarian regime in the US, as long as that authority agrees with them. Just go back and look at what NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman and others have said about authoritarian regimes and how great they are at getting things done. I could give many examples of what I see are authoritarian movements by the US government (ie IRS crackdown on conservatives, President taking unilateral steps to change laws without congressional approval, the press backing democrats or conservatives depending on their political leaings, The NSA/CIA tracking of individuals).

    The US and the West are becoming more like Russia. Putin is just reading the tea leaves and the leaves say the US and the West are weak as they have become Nihilists. Now the Oligarchs have their corrupt money firmly integrated into the west where they can limit the scope of any sanctions.

    Both the left and the right in the US are greedy, uncaring, Nihilists. I am not saying this is the end of the US. I am saying that it is time people started realizing we are becoming like Russia. It might be slow, it might not be in the same league, but you can feel it every day that our government gets more power through the DOJ, the EPA, the executive branch, and every other branch of government whose sole job is to reproduce itself and limit our freedom.

    I am not a Tea Party member. I am a Democrat. Just because I am a Democrat doesn’t mean I am stupid and can’t see what is happening. Corruption is rampant in the US, it just isn’t as blatant as Russia.

  • Pete

    “Vladimir Putin’s brazen invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea are a frontal assault not only on Ukraine’s territorial integrity but also on the very concept of freedom and the ability of people to choose their political destiny.”

    But the people of the Crimea want to join Russia.

    And you can’t just assert that the recent referendum was fixed. Maybe 95% for annexation was bloated but do you doubt that the people of the Crimea want to join Russia. Isn’t that freedom?

    • stefanstackhouse

      If they just wanted to split, then I would be very supportive of them. There is a very good case that Crimea really doesn’t belong in Ukraine. There are plenty of nations smaller than Crimea, so becoming independent would be far from an outlandish proposition. We’ve supported the self-determination of other peoples, why not the people of Crimea?

      It is the Russian annexation that is the real problem here. Putin is reassembling the Russian Empire, piece by piece. Even if 95% of the people who voted in Crimea want to be annexed, once the precedent is set and allowed to stand then the preferences of populations of future pieces targeted for annexation might very well count for very little.

    • S.C. Schwarz

      You can’t mass troops on a country’s borders, invade, and then have a “referendum.” That’s conquest not democracy.

      • Andrew Allison

        There was no invasion — Russia already had all the troops it needed in Crimea at the invitation of Ukraine, and the people of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to join the Russian federation.

    • Arimathean

      Perhaps 95% of the people WHO VOTED want to be under Russian rule, but no turn-out figures have been reported. Most of the people who would have voted NO stayed home in order to avoid validating an inherently illegitimate referendum.

      Moreover, Russia’s pretense of respecting local self-determination is a sham. I will believe their sincerity when they hold a similar referendum in Chechnya.

      • Andrew Allison

        There was an 83.1% turnout, of whom 95% voted for annexation. That’s a clear majority of those entitled to vote and by no means an illegitimate referendum. The simple fact is that a clear majority of those eligible to vote voted for annexation.

        • Arimathean

          That figure is completely bogus. It is no doubt boosted by the 123% turnout in Sebastopol.

          • Andrew Allison

            The fact that electoral officials in Sevastopol appear to have been taking lessons from their “vote early and often” counterparts in Chicago doesn’t change the fact that a clear majority of Crimeans voted for annexation. Sevastopol, which was to all intents and purposes already a Russian city, accounted for only 25% of the votes cast, and the 20% of them that may have been fictitious for just 5%. Given the exposure of the alleged Sevastopol fraud, it strains credulity to think that it was widespread.

          • Arimathean

            There is no reason to believe that the results elsewhere were any less fraudulent. The 95% result could not possibly have been obtained if there was high turnout. It is obvious that the affirmative vote would have been near-zero from Ukrainians and Tatars, as well as from the many Russians who preferred to live in Ukraine rather than Russia. The people who opposed the referendum did not participate.

            In any case, the referendum was not legitimate. Even if it had been unanimous, it would have still been illegal.

    • A referendum at two weeks’ notice, in occupied territory, is like an unfair trial: its result is as unreliable as a conviction secured by jury or evidence tampering.

      The Crimeans’ will can only be gauged by a properly held referendum.

      • Pete

        You;re right, Alex.

        But do you suppose the results of a ‘properly held’ referendum will be any different that the shot-gun one held this week?

    • Nick Bidler

      The last time such a vote was held, it was 2%.

  • free_agent

    I think it was Clarence Darrow that said “Russia has been the last word in tyranny for a thousand years.”

    • Pete

      Clarence Darrow — that crank and atheistic blowhard. Is the that the Clarence Darrow you mean?

  • Andrew Allison

    “Vladimir Putin’s brazen invasion of
    Ukraine and annexation of Crimea are a frontal assault not only on
    Ukraine’s territorial integrity but also on the very concept of freedom
    and the ability of people to choose their political destiny.” is ridiculous on its face. Putin did not invade Ukraine, the troops were already there at the invitation of the Ukrainian government. Neither did he annex Crimea. The citizens of Crimea voted to request annexation. The real culprit in this sorry affair is the EU, which encouraged the overthrow of the Yanukovych government without understanding the inevitable consequences. The rampant misrepresentation of which this article is an example runs the risk of inciting further stupidity. The West can huff and puff all it wants to, but Crimea is, de facto, now part of the Russian Federation. The sensible response on the part of the West would be to acknowledge the fact in exchange for an agreement on the part of Russia to stop at the Crimea border. The most likely outcome of continued denial of of the facts is unrest in Russian-majority Ukrainian provinces (Crimea was not a province, but an autonomous region with its own government).

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