Putin’s Real Target: Democracy in Russia and Beyond

The American Interest

by Arch Puddington, Vice President for Research
and

by David J. Kramer, President, Freedom House

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.

The outcome of the crisis—and the response by the West—may determine the prospects for democracy for Russia’s neighbors and beyond Eurasia.

For some time, Putin has resented attempts to build democratic governments on Russia’s periphery. To be sure, Putin has clashed with neighboring autocrats from time-to-time. But when dictators like Alexander Lukashenka of Belarus have been challenged by reform movements, Putin has invariably sided with the forces of despotism. At the same time, he has imposed trade restrictions on Poland, waged cyber warfare against Estonia, incited Russians in Latvia to undermine that country, and occupied Georgian territory. More recently, the Kremlin initiated a campaign of economic sabotage against Moldova after that country decided to join the EU’s Eastern Partnership agreement.

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