News / Europe

    Is Russia Leading a Regional Authoritarian Trend?

    Russian opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov, right, and Eduard Limonov, face the media in Moscow after they were released from detention, Jan 17, 2011
    Russian opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov, right, and Eduard Limonov, face the media in Moscow after they were released from detention, Jan 17, 2011

    Multimedia

    Audio
    James Brooke

    Police have arrested leading opposition politicians in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Some analysts would say there's a chilly political wind blowing this winter across the Slavic core of the old Soviet Union.

    In Ukraine, one former minister is in jail, another is enjoying political asylum in the Czech Republic, and the former prime minister is fighting legal charges of misspending state money.

    Next door in Belarus, the harshest political crackdown seen in Europe in years, has landed four presidential candidates in prison.

    And in Russia, judges working blocks from the Kremlin sentenced two charismatic opposition leaders, Mikhail Khordokovsky and Boris Nemtsov, to jail.

    In response, Amnesty International charged Russia with "strangling" the rights to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest.

    Is there a coordinated clampdown on freedoms in these three nations, the Slavic core of the old Soviet Union?

    From New York, émigré Russian scientist Yuri Mayarshak says yes. "A few days ago we had simultaneous, almost simultaneous persecution of opposition in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Of course, it could be a coincidence, but a chance of such a coincidence is not very likely, indeed."

    But to analysts on the ground in Minsk, Moscow and Kyiv,  each government is following its own dynamic.

    Russian analyst and editor Fyodor Lyukanov said, "To be frank, I do not see any connection between those trends." Lyukanov said the Kremlin’s top concern is to win parliamentary elections later this year and presidential elections the following March.

    On the carrot side, social spending this year is to hit $100 billion, double military spending. On the stick side, the Kremlin will not allow street protests to grow into national movements.

    While police sweep up liberal, pro-Western demonstrators, the street force the Kremlin really fears are the nationalists.

    Chanting  "Russia for Russians" and "Moscow for Moscovites,"  the nationalists draw young Russians who say the Islamic immigration is changing the Slavic Christian face of Russian cities. Saying what many Russians believe, the nationalists advocate separating Russia from the violence-torn Islamic areas of the Northern Caucasus.

    Eugeniusz Smolar watches this movement from Warsaw where he directs the Center for International Relations. "Much more dangerous to Russia at the moment is the instability in the Caucasus, in the Northern Caucasus. Actually, we are facing kind of a very small level civil war. People are dying. There are a lot of terrorist attacks. This is the reason for the traditional way of seeking stability in Russia."

    Smolar said that the rising price of oil, Russia’s top export, allows Russia to buy peace and to ignore outside advice to open up the economy and the political system. Oil is now trading at $92 a barrel, a two-year high. Many forecasters say it will soon top $100 a barrel.

    Smolar further makes a link between oil prices and the power of the Kremlin. "Putin (Prime Minister Vladimir Putin) is feeling much stronger at the moment because of the quite drastic rise of the price of oil. So the money is pouring into the state coffer. They will have the money to pay for social needs, and social means in their way, is how they perceive power, is nothing more than crowd control measure, stability, to keep peace in the country."

    South of the border, in Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych became President last February. Since then, critics say, he has degraded press freedom, rigged local elections and threatened non-governmental organizations. After the prosecutions of ministers of the prior government, U.S. and European Union officials warned him against using the justice system to selectively target his political opponents.

    But the opposition’s mismanagement of Ukraine over the previous five years partly opened the door to President Yanukovych’s power grab.

    Lukyanov believes that a new opposition will emerge in Ukraine, a country that is a patchwork of linguistic, regional and historical loyalties. "Probably the new opposition should emerge sooner or later, but not the old one," said the Russian analyst.

    The director of the Razumkov Center in Kyiv, Valeriy Chaliy, said Ukraine leaders have to balance their nation between Russia and the European Union. A  move too far in the authoritarian direction would threaten relations with the European Union.

    "Ukraine will remain taking steps to the European-style democracy," said Chaliy. "And I cannot imagine that Ukraine will go the way of Russia. It is a completely different situation."

    Chaliy and others say that the Slavic world’s wild card is Belarus.

    At a time when Belarus has bad relations with Russia, President Alexander Lukashenko deeply alienated the European Union by ordering arrests of opposition politicians, journalists and activists. The crackdown has been so intense that people in Poland compare it to 1981 when the communist government declared martial law against the Solidarity movement.

    Lukyanov, who edits Russia in Global Affairs  magazine, said he was baffled by Belarus.

    "It is very difficult to understand the logic of Lukashenko because it looks like he is a a little bit crazy," said Lukyanov. "To have fights at the same time against Europe and against Russia, by such a tiny country as Belarus, sandwiched between two major geopolitical and geo-economic entities, that is very bold move, I would say."

    From a distance, it may seem that the leaders of Russia and Belarus are authoritarian pals.

    In reality, Russia cut off all oil supplies to Belarus on January 1 of this year. With winter oil supplies dwindling, the Prime Minister of Belarus flies Thursday  to Moscow to meet with Prime Minister Putin. He is expected to agree to a new supply price that will deprive Belarus of billions of dollars of subsidies from its former patron, Russia.

    You May Like

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora