by Gordon M. Hahn
The West maintains friendly relations with almost every post-Soviet state except Russia and its closest ally in the region, Belarus. This, despite the fact that all the post-Soviet states have a series of common traits declared abhorrent by Washington and Brussels. Moreover, many states with which the US and the West has good relations rank worse on many indicators of democracy and human rights than do the two Eurasian ‘rogues’ – Russia and Belarus – including Washington’s latest ‘beacon of democracy’ in Eurasia – Ukraine. Outside Eurasia, Russia also sometimes ranks ahead of US allies or states with which Washington has far better relations, such as China and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, etc. This suggests that the real reason for deteriorating US-Russian and overall West-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War are the result of NATO and EU expansion and not the ‘values gap’ between President Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the West as invoked by Washington.
Any differences between the post-Soviet states, excluding the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are matters of degree rather than kind. In other words, the depth of such differences across a umber of indicators fail to meet the threshold of a major, overall qualitative difference in regime type — all of them being softly or medium-range authoritarian. On the democratic side of the ledger, exceptions are the three post-Soviet Baltic states. Georgia, Moldova, and Kyrgyzstan are exceptions — but barely so — ranging from weak democracies and very soft authoritarian. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and less often Tajikistan deviate to the harder side of the authoritarian spectrum. Even the democratic outliers have significant commonalities with the hard authoritarians as well as the soft authoritarians: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In short, all post-Soviet states (and some other post-communist states) share what might be called ‘post-Sovietness’ — what Stephen Kotkin once called rather undiplomatically ‘Trashcanistan.’ In sum, these non-Baltic, post-Soviet Eurasian states fall with in the medium-range globally and are relatively ‘normal’, as Daniel Treisman once characterized Russia.
There are at least seven tendencies (occasionally nascent or recessive) to one degree or another extant in, and common among the post-Soviet states: (1) authoritarianism, usually mixed with democratic elements; (2) a significantly statized economy; (3) a high degree of nationalism and often inordinate levels of ultra-nationalism and neo-fascism as well as extreme and peculiar religious revivals; (5) a ‘stateness’ problem; (6) high levels of criminality; and (7) high levels of corruption in both state and society.
Personalist, Patrimonialist Authoritarianism
The mean in post-Soviet Eurasia is largely soft authoritarian hybrid regimes with democratic elements. These countries’ politics are inordinately personalist rather than institutionalized as compared, for example, with in PRI-era Mexico or pre-reform KMT on Taiwan. A comparison of the 2017 Freedom House’s rating or “aggregate score” for level of democracy on a scale of 1-100 (1=low level of democracy, 100 = high level of said) and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2016 ranking by level of democracy, we see the rather small range across the spectrum from free to unfree that the Eurasian (non-Baltic, post-Soviet) countries cover, reflecting their general similarity in terms of overall democracy. All but three are located in the bottom half of scoring/ranking (see Table 1). _________________________________________________________
Table 1. Democracy Rankings of non-Baltic, Post-Soviet (Eurasian) States.
Country Freedom House* EUI* . Mixed Ranking
Georgia 64 78 (1& 2) 1 (tie)
Moldova 62 76 . (2 & 1) 1 (tie)
Ukraine 61 86 . (3 & 3) 3
Armenia 45 120 (4 & 5) 4 (tie)
Kyrgyzstan 37 98 (5 & 4) 4 (tie)
Belarus 20 127 . (7 & 6) 6
Kazakhstan 22 139 . (6 & 8) 7 (tie)
Russia 20 134 . (7 & 7) 7 (tie)
Azerbaijan . 14 148 . (9 & 9) . 9
Tajikistan 11 161 . (10 & 11) 10 (tie)
Uzbekistan 3 158 . (11 & 10) 10 (tie)
Turkmenistan 3 162 . (12 &12) . 12
*The Freedom House figure represents a score from 1-100 (https://freedomhouse.org/report/fiw-2017-table-country-scores).
**The Economist Intelligence Unit is a ranking of all countries (www.eiu.com/public/topical_report.aspx?campaignid=DemocracyIndex2016).
The full range on the democracy scale occupied by the post-Soviets is limited, extending throughout the bottom two-thirds of the world’s states. Only three of the non-Baltic Soviet states rank in the top half or top 97 states, and they do so just barely. The US and EU have good relations with some of the worst in this group, including with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan. The 2009 Andizhan (Andijan) massacre has left its mark on Western relations with Uzbekistan, despite signs of a liberalizaton to come. Turkmenistan is largely isolated in general, including from its Central Asian neighbors and Russia.
Let us take one bilateral comparison: the ‘rogue’ Russia and the West’s latest ‘beacon of democracy in the post-Soviet space’ Ukraine. The fact is that the level of state repression in Russia and Ukraine is very similar. When Russia was faced with an openly violent, potentially Islamist separatist movement in Chechnya in 1991, it negotiated for three years before invading. The post-Maidan Ukrainian regime upon the first sign of opposition separatism in Donbass immediately declared its ‘ATO’ or anti-terrorist operation. No talks, no offer to talk. The Maidan regime is constantly violating the human rights of its citizens, even those in areas loyal to the regime. Human Rights Watch’s recent assessment of human rights in Ukraine during 2017 condemned the regime’s use of “torture” and “restrictions on free expression,” which I have covered in earlier years. HRW noted that the regime allows “torture and enforced disappearances, and…attacks on journalists and anti-corruption and rights groups” (www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/18/ukraine-failing-its-human-rights-commitments). To be clear, this was HRW’s assessment of human rights in Ukraine, not in Russia, though it does issue similar assessments of human rights in Russia. But that is the point – not much difference between Russia and Ukraine, despite the latter’s higher rankings. The latter is the result largely of more competitive elections, but even there problems persist. Competition is easy to tolerate when meaningful opposition is absent. Opposition to Ukrainian nationalism — the core of the Maidan regime — has always been located largely in Donbass, as all previous nationwide elections and opinion surveys show.
Here are more examples from among many possible cases that might be brought to bear on the question of stealth authoritarianism in Ukraine. There are no more opposition-oriented nationwide television channels or programs, all such have been shut down. The media space is dominated largely by Poroshenko and his supporters much as in Russia, the information is dominated by Putin and his supporters. Poroshenko owns one of the main television channels after promising to disassociate from this and his numerous other holdings if elected president. Other channels are pressured either by state organs or by ultra-nationalist groups sometimes working in concert with Ukraine’s increasingly out-of-control domestic security service, the SBU.
A prime example of Ukrainian ‘Russian-style’ ostensibly ‘legal’ means in silencing independent voices is the fate of Savik Shuster, who once left Russia because of pressures on freedom of speech. In Ukraine, he has had his program removed from both the air and the Internet by way of the same judicial ‘stealth authoritarianism’ that Putin began using and I described in 2003. Thus, the Ukrainian tax service charged him with avoiding tax payments. The Ukrainian journalistic community took this as an attempt to shut Shuster down. His program was forces to change channels several times for unclear reasons and disappeared from the air in 2017 due to lack of financing. Clearly, those who financed his program were similarly pressured by the regime to withdraw support. Shuster reacted by noting in different terminology the post-Soviet syndrome extant in Ukraine: “I did not expect deception from Petro Poroshenko. I thought that he really was a European person. He speaks like a European person, and I believed him; we all believed him…He has an absolutely Stalinist approach, just one with an offshore account. He turned out to be a person completely not European” (www.mk.ru/social/2016/04/26/savik-shuster-poroshenko-obmanshhik.html). After a mysterious death surrounded claims that the Ukrainian presidential administration was trying to raid and takeover the independent TV channel ‘ZIK’ (www.pravda.com.ua/rus/articles/2017/12/22/7166390/), the channel’s leading talk show host, Natalya Vlashchenko, recently warned that the pro-regime nationalist National Front party threatened her program “would need security” and then apparently hacked her FB page with threats through bots (www.pravda.com.ua/rus/articles/2018/01/25/7169494/). This should sound familiar in the midst of the ‘Russiagate’ controversy.
Statized political economy
Most of Post-Soviet political economies are either directly or indirectly state-dominated, with limited economic freedom for private businesses or individual entrepreneurs. The state sector tends to be larger than in other states, and the deficit/GDP ratios are high. Economic freedom rankings demonstrate that except for three outliers (Georgia, Armenia, and Kazakhstan), the non-Baltic post-Soviet states fall in the bottom half of the world’s countries in the sphere of economic liberalism (see Table 2). Russia again lies
Table 2. Economic Freedom Indexes for the Non-Baltic Post-Soviet States.
HERITAGE . CATO-FRASER AVERAGE
Georgia 13 8 11
Armenia 33 29 31
Kazakhstan 42 66 54
Azerbaijan 68 114 91
Kyrgyzstan 89 80 85
Belarus 104 not included 104
Tajikistan 109 82 96
Moldova 110 102 106
Russia 114 100 107
Uzbekistan 148 not included 148
Ukraine 166 149 157
Turkmenistan 170 not included 170
SOURCES: For more details see the Heritage Foundation report at http://www.heritage.org/index/ranking. The Washington-based Cato Institute and Canada’s Fraser Institute issue a similar report, the Economic Freedom of the World rating, last published in 2017 covering the state of economic freedom country-by-country for the year 2015. See http://www.cato.org/economic-freedom-world and http://www.fraserinstitute.org/sites/default/files/economic-freedom-of-the-world-2017.pdf.
approximately in the middle of the pack (global and Eurasian).
The World Bank’s ‘Doing Business Report’ shows significantly different rankings, but the states in question fall evaluating the ease of doing business in 190 countries based on parameters such as ease in starting a business, registering property, getting loans, paying taxes, and enforcing contracts (www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/wbg/doingbusiness/documents/profiles/country/rus.pdf). Nine of the eleven states in question included in the 2017 ranking (Turkmenistan is not included) shows them falling within a small range of the 190 ranks – from 35th to 77th place. Only Georgia (ranked 9th) and Tajikistan (ranked (137) fall outside this range, which constitutes just one-sixth of the full range of 190 countries included in the study (see Table 3). This time, Russia falls near the top of the pack — outranked only by Georgia ____________________________________________________________________
Table 3. 2017 EDB Ranking for non-Baltic post-Soviet States
Turkmenistan not included
— instead of approximately in the middle.
These Eurasian countries also have larger shadow economies in comparison with Europe but smaller ones in comparison with other regions of the world, speaking to the relative weakness, lack of autonomy, corruption and criminality of their state institutions. According to the International Monetary Fund’s data for 2015, Kyrgyzstan had the smallest share of the national economy occupied by the shadow economy among the ten non-Baltic post-Soviet states included in the study(see Table 4). The leader in democracy __________________________________________________________________
Table 4. Size of Shadow Economy as Percent of Entire Economy
in 2015 Listed from Smallest to largest Shadow Economy Sector
Country Shadow Economy Percent
Uzbekistan not included
Turkmenistan not included
Source: , “Shadow Economies Around the World: What Did We Learn Over the Last 20 Years,” International Monetary Fund, 2015 http://www.imf.org/en/publications/wp/issues/2018/01/25/shadow-economies-around-the-world-what-did-we-learn-over-the-last-20-years-45583, pp. 69-75.
ratings, Georgia, again fails to meet expectations, falling to the bottom of the list of the ten countries included in the study. The West’s new favorite, Ukraine places in the bottom half with 43 percent of its economy in the shadows. Russia place fourth, with 34 percent of its economy found in the shadows, not a highly non-European result by any means. The IMF did not rank the countries but rather simply listed their percentage data. For better comparison, I note: that the countries’ with the smallest and largest shadow economy sectors of the 158 countries included in the study were Switzerland (6.96 percent) and Haiti (56.38 percent), respectively; the US percent in 2015 was 7 percent; that Europe’s average from 2010-2015 was 20.20 percent; and that the European country with the largest shadow economy sector (29.17 percent) was Bulgaria (“Shadow Economies Around the World: What Did We Learn Over the Last 20 Years,” pp. 72, 75, 58, 69 and 76).
[THE FULL REPORT TO INCLUDE BOTH PARTS 1 AND 2 WILL BE PUBLISHED IN APPROXIMATELY ONE WEEK]
About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, http://www.canalyt.com and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California, www.cetisresearch.org.
Dr. Hahn is the author of Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the ‘New Cold War (McFarland Publishers, 2017) and three previously and well-received books: Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002); Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007); and The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media and has served as a consultant and provided expert testimony to the U.S. government.
Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. He has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Kennan Institute in Washington DC as well as the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.