Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Window on Eurasia: West’s Failure to Insist Kremlin Respect Democracy is Why Russia is Not Ukraine, Moscow Activist Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, December 11 --Russia and Ukraine were in roughly the same situation with regard to civil and political rights until Ukrainians carried out the Orange Revolution in 2004, but that revolution would not have succeeded had it not been for “the uncompromising position” of the West which demanded that Kyiv respect democracy or face “very serious consequences.”

Ukraine also had the advantage, Vladislav Naganov, an ally of Aleksey Navalny says, both in that “part of the administrative resource of Ukraine already then was working for the opposition” with the Kyiv mayor and the heads of some regions backing the opposition and also in that Ukraine had an independent television (

Russia in 2004, five years into the rule of Vladimir Putin, had none of those advantages. It did not face “uncompromising” demands with real teeth from the West, it could not count on part of the power vertical to support the opposition, and television if not the Internet was already under the tight control of the Kremlin.

In the years since, according to Naganov, “the development of Russia and Ukraine has gone along different paths. In Ukraine, for these nine years, there has been “an open and free political competition, and society is accustomed to these rules. It has been accustomed to freedom of speech and to an independent media.”

Ukrainian society, Naganov says, has become accustomed to its right to form whatever political parties it wants and to nominate candidates of its choice.  Elections are not falsified, at least “not so boldly and crudely as in Russia.”  And Ukrainian society “has become accustomed that it can freely meet on the streets” and no one from the authorities will try to stop that.

In Russia, in contrast, over this period, there has been a consistent “tightening of the screws,” the political system has been transformed” into a desert or a swamp, censorship has triumphed, “and society also has become accustomed to these rules,” not all of its members but most.  And elections have been falsified routinely.

“Finally,” Naganov writes, “the relationship of the European Union and the United States to the authorities of Russia and Ukraine was and remains different.”  The West has continued to make clear demands of the Ukrainians and to impose real penalties when Kyiv does not meet them; it has not done so in the case of Russia.  And the Kremlin has become accustomed to that.

Given this difference in treatment, no one should be surprised that “Putin does everything that he wants on the territory of the Russian Federation” while “Yanukovich cannot allow himself the same,” unless of course he no longer cares about the West because of increasing pressure from Moscow.

That is why there are millions of demonstrators in Ukraine and only a relative handful in the Russian Federation, but would that be the case if Ukrainians couldn’t be sure that opposition deputies would support them, the authorities restrained in moving against them, their national media open to cover them, and themselves unlikely to be accused of being “agents of the CIA?”

If Russians could be equally sure of these things, they would go into the streets in massive numbers as well, Naganov says.  Indeed, those who do so under current conditions are all the more remarkable.  They are showing the way, not only for what other Russians must do but also what the West must do as well.

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