TCS Daily


Russian Rule-Out

By Richard S. Williamson - December 1, 2005 12:00 AM

As Russia's power declines, influence wanes and reach recedes, its misbehavior rises. At the December Ministerial Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a valuable instrument to advance human rights and democracy standards, Russia will seek to eviscerate OSCE election monitoring. This challenge must be met and defeated.

Russia's problems are real and growing. At home, it continues to experience lowering life expectancy, declining birthrates and social unrest. Crony capitalism reigns. Except for resource extraction, the Russian economy is stagnant. Unemployment is high. Pension benefits are meager, forcing millions to live in desperate conditions. And the insurgency in Chechnya remains unchecked. Russia's influence is waning in the various "frozen conflicts" in areas of the former Soviet Union. Russian mediation is being rejected in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and the Dniester Region. And Russian Peacekeepers face being driven out of these conflict zones.

Also, new nations, once part of the Soviet Union and now independent states, have joined the march of freedom: the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and the Yellow Revolution in Kyrgyzstan. In each of these countries Moscow and its chosen instrument, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), initially certified rigged elections. In each case international election observers, including the OSCE, declared the votes fraudulent -- emboldening people to demonstrate and force new elections. And, in each case, "free and fair" elections resulted that voted out Soviet-era bosses and elected new democratic leaders. From reliable allies firmly within Moscow's sphere of influence, these new democracies look to the West for support and inspiration.

Facing rebuffs in the near abroad and disquiet at home, Russian President Vladimir Putin is intent on holding on tightly to what he has. Within Russia there has been a rise in undemocratic behavior, tighter control of the media, and increased state interference in the economy. Where Moscow retains a foothold in the near abroad, Putin seeks to support Soviet-era bosses in power and thwart institutions that support the spread of pluralism and democracy. For example, Moscow supported Belarus closing the offices in Minsk of various non-governmental groups promoting democracy.

In the election earlier this month in Azerbaijan, international election observers from the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe found the vote tainted by fraud and abuse. It failed to meet democratic standards. However the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) observers dominated by Moscow found the vote "protected the electoral rights of the (Azerbaijan) citizens."

The skullduggery in Azerbaijan is important not only because the people were denied a free and fair election. Most of the country's 8 million people are Muslims, a group for whom the march of freedom is vital in order to create opportunity and crowd out potential terrorists. It has oil and gas. It is located strategically between Dagestan to the north, an anarchic region of Russia, and Iran to the south. Furthermore, in an act of political jujitsu, Russia is using its endorsement of the fraudulent election results and the OSCE's report of irregularities as another reason to attack OSCE democracy standards.

Igor Borisov, chairman of the Russian Public Institute of Electoral Rights, has compared the work of the OSCE mission to the Azerbaijani elections to a "witch hunt." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Russia "doubts the objectiveness of the [OSCE] assessment" in Azerbaijan. He said further, "The OSCE bias shows once again the need to sort out the matter of monitoring elections."

Russia has a litany of so-called reform proposals for OSCE monitoring. All are aimed at increasing Moscow's control over OSCE monitoring practices, limiting the independence of election monitoring missions, and delaying their reports to diminish their impact. Thereby Russia hopes to contain the contagion of the colored revolutions.

The United States has equities and shared interests with Russia. Moscow has been a partner in certain fronts of the war on terror. Russia can be helpful with the threat of nuclear breakout in North Korea and Iran. It is in the interest of both Washington and Moscow to secure Russia's loose nukes. Russia has become a principal supplier of oil and gas to our European allies. We must continue to cooperate with Russia on all these issues and more. But that need not prevent us from standing up for the values we cherish and the rights to which everyone everywhere is entitled.

Just as a constructive relationship with Russia is in our interest, so is the march of freedom. The spread of democracy benefits the people who gain self-determination and it benefits us because democracies are our natural friends and allies. Democracies are more stable and less likely to start wars. And democracies are not fertile soil for terrorists.

The OSCE is but one of many tools in the march of freedom. In the end people must select freedom and democracy for themselves. It cannot be imposed from outside. However when people are prepared to stand up and challenge entrenched power and seek the rights to which they are entitled but have long been denied, we should be prepared to help them. At the upcoming OSCE Ministerial Meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia, it is important that Moscow's proposals to weaken OSCE election monitoring be defeated. The United States should take a lead role in this effort.

The author served as Ambassador and Alternate Representative to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs, 2002-2003.

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