An influential human rights watchdog says energy rich states in the European Union's eastern neighborhood are experiencing an "alarming decline in democracy and accountability." The study conducted by Freedom House and released simultaneously in Budapest and Berlin on Tuesday, urged the Western world to be less reliant on energy resources from countries like Russia, as it allegedly moves towards authoritarianism.

The study Nations in Transit 2006 makes clear that, while former Soviet Union states Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan increased their economic power based on energy resources, they are "plagued by weak institutions, deteriorating governance standards, worsening media and judicial freedom and rising corruption."

Besides these four republics, the 'Nations in Transit 2006' study rates national and local governance, media and judicial independence, electoral process, civil society, and corruption in 25 other nations and territories in the European Union and its eastern neighborhood.

Jeannette Goehring who edited the report for human rights group Freedom House, tells VOA News the democratic standards in Russia and other energy rich ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia are in danger. "Unfortunately what we see is that the political will in a lot of these countries has been showing us that it is not seriously willing to improve [things] like the freedom of the press or an independent judiciary. [They] are trying to control them more and more. Unfortunately the revenue created by the energy resources has allowed this to happen at an accelerated pace. Some of these countries demonstrate arrogance that comes from the resources wealth, which does not necessary translate in good governance or stability in the long term," she said.

Chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia Ivan Krastev, who contributed to the study, says "oil nationalism" in oil-rich Russia is partly to blame for the negative trend. "For the last two years Russia completed a spectacular transition from a one party state to a one pipeline state. The policy consequences of this is that any genuine democratization of Russia is going to be possible only after the liberalization of the Russian energy sector," he said.

Anita Orban, Deputy Director of the International Center for Democratic Transition (ICDT) in Budapest tells VOA News the European Union should create an alternative energy program which will make it less dependent on gas deliveries from Russia and give the EU greater leverage to promote democratic change. "I am saying that you can have less leverage on countries which are having huge natural gas resources like on Russia. Europe has less leverage on Russia because of the dependency than it may have on countries with crude oil resources. The difference between the two industries has policy consequences," she said.

However Budapest based analyst Tamas Kiss, of the U.S.-based Platts energy news service, says he doubts the E.U. would agree on an alternative energy plan any time soon. "Germany for example would be very slow to make an announcement concerning violations of democracy in Russia. Mostly because it is heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas and I would say especially gas. Germany has even gone around its E.U. member partner Poland by heaving a secret agreement with the Russians, where the Russians and the Germans would have a gas pipe line going through the Baltic Sea," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied his government allows or encourages human rights abuses. He says Russia upholds all fundamental human rights standards and all of its international obligations.