REPORT: What Is Post-Sovietness (Or Kakaya raznitsa in Post-Sovietistan)?

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 (

**The Economist Intelligence Unit is a ranking of all countries (


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” ( 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” ( After a mysterious death surrounded claims that the Ukrainian presidential administration was trying to raid and takeover the independent TV channel ‘ZIK’ (, 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 ( 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 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 and


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 ( 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

( ).


Country                    Ranking

Georgia                            9

Russia                             35

Kazakhstan                   36

Belarus                          38

Moldova                        44

Armenia                        47

Azerbaijan                    57

Uzbekistan                   74

Ukraine                         76

Kyrgyzstan                   77

Tajikistan                   137

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

Kyrgyzstan                                 30.78

Belarus                                        32.37

Kazakhstan                                32.82

Russia                                         33.72

Armenia                                     35.96

Tajikistan                                   37.73

Moldova                                     39.68

Ukraine                                      42.90

Azerbaijan                                 43.66

Georgia                                       53.07

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, 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).

Inordinate Nationalism, Ultra-Nationalism and/or Neo-Fascism

Most post-Soviet states have been plagued by high levels of state and societal nationalism, ultra-nationalism, neo-fascism, and, as a result (as discussed further below), significant ‘stateness’ problems such as separatism. On way to measure this problem is through opinion surveys on tolerance/intolerance levels. Although the most recent World Values Survey data is somewhat out-of-date, being for 2011, it is best toll we have (see Table 5). They show Russia once more falling near, but slightly higher than the middle of ______________________________________________________________

Table 5. World Values Survey‘s 2011 Tolerance Indexes for 9 of the 12 Non-Baltic, Post-Soviet States (Moldova, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were not surveyed)

Survey Questions: “Would not like to have as neighbors:

  1. People of a different race
  2. People of a different religion
  3. Immigrants/foreign workers
  4. People who speak a different language
  5. Homosexuals
  6. Average of 1-5


Country             1            2             3             4              5              6

Uzbekistan     14.0 .     15.1        12.3         7.1         65.0         22.70

Ukraine .         16.9 .    15.0         19.3       11.6         61.7        24.90

Kazakhstan .  11.2 .    12.1         27.8       11.3         73.6         27.20

Russia .           17.2      14.3          32.2       18.9         66.2         29.7

Belarus          23.1       18.0          33.4       17.6         72.1         32.84

Kyrgyzstan   28.1       34.1          30.7        25.9        77.0         39.16

Georgia .       32.1       36.4          32.8         20.2       86.6          41.62

Armenia .     31.8       56.6          18.4         16.2       92.7          43.14

Azerbaijan . 58.1       34.8          40.4         26.3       94.4          50.80


Source: World Values Survey, 2011 data,


the pack, with NATO candidate Georgia scoring as one of the least tolerant post-Soviet states.

Although survey data is useful and indicative on some level, they may not provide a complete picture of ultra-nationalist landscapes in post-Soviet states. Uzbekistan is largely homogenous ethno-nationally and religiously, so respondents might be answering in a experiential and thus attitudinal vacuum.

Three of the four most tolerant post-Soviet states included in the World Values Survey — Ukraine, Georgia and Russia — exhibited relatively high levels of ultra-nationalist behavior after the Soviet collapse. Russian hate crime numbers have been declining since 2009. Despite this lower level of societal ultra-nationalism and hate crimes levels, there are also ultra-nationalist elements inside the state apparatus, including the military and security organs.

So far in our comparison, Georgia has been the constant outlier, outscoring all other non-Baltic post-Soviet states on issues related to political democracy and economic freedom. However, when it comes to building a civic society, Georgia has been one of the least successful post-Soviet states, tending towards nationalism and ultra-nationalism. However, ultra-nationalist behavior has been the purview of the state as well as society. Late Soviet-era Georgia exhibited perhaps the highest level of nationalism, which rapidly escalated into ultra-nationalism with the rise to power of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who stamped out Abkhaz, Ajar and South Ossetiyan autonomy and along with the Georgian Orthodox Church encouraged violence against these minorities — including even calls for genocide — leading to war, frozen conflicts, and de facto independent states in all three of the noted regions. After a more civic interlude under former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnaze, the Mikheil Saakashvili’s national-democratic revolution led to a return to ultra-nationalism with promises to forcefully reincorporate the breakaway republics. Saakashvili’s ultra-nationalism led  to a successful Tbilisi-backed coup in Ajariya bringing it back into the Georgian fold. It also prevented him from renouncing violence and produced his intemperate invasion of South Ossetiya in August 2008.  Georgia has seen less official ultra-nationalist policies since Saakashvili’s departure in 2010, but anti-immigrant sentiment is significant, with ‘Georgia for Georgian’ marches reminiscent of anti-immigrant felling and the annual ‘Russian march’ of ultras and skinheads with its slogan ‘Russia for the Russians’ ( and

More ominously, nationalism, ultra-nationalism and neo-fascism are now rampant in Ukraine, largely targeting Russians, the Russian language, and Russian culture. Much of the war in Donbass is a reflection of this. In addition, as I have written about extensively on this site, neo-fascists march through Ukrainian cities on a quarterly basis, and ultra-nationalists groups have ensconced themselves in the executive branch, the security forces, police, and Verkhovniy Rada. Neo-fascist groups recently set up an official vigilante corps that will ‘monitor’ Ukraine’s streets. A similar development recently occurred in Georgia ( In sum, the ostensible outliers’ tolerance levels are not a precise reflection of their relationship on this score from the rest of the post-Soviet field as the survey data seem to suggests.

A companion phenomenon to post-Soviet ultra-nationalism is the rise of religious revivalism throughout the region, occasionally accompanied by extremist or rather peculiar versions of pre-revolutionary religious traditions. The rise of radical Islamism and jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus under first the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya, then the Imarat Kavkaz (Caucaus Emirate), and more recently ISIS’s Vilaiyat Kavkaz of the Islamic State are just the most radical and robust of such religious excesses. Islamists and jihadists are present in Central Asia, Azerbaijan, and Russia’s Tatarstan and Bashkortostan (Bashkiriya) too. There are radical elements in the Slavic countries’ Orthodox Churches as well as in Georgia’s and Armenia’s own. In addition, small, often bizarre Christian suicide and doomsday sects have popped in Russia from time to time.

Stateness Problem

Each of the non-Baltic, post-Soviet states, except for Belarus and Turkmenistan, has experienced and remains burdened by one or more ‘stateness’ problems, meaning there is a threat to the state’s sovereign control over certain territories due to minority ethno-nationalism, regionalism, separatism and/or irredentism. Almost all of the post-Soviet Eurasian stateness problems derive from the psuedo-federative, ethno-national administrative-territorial construction of the USSR and its collapse. I have published extensively on this and Russia’s subsequent problems with ultranationalist and then jihadi separatism in Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus as well as in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, and this need not be repeated in any detail here. Similarly, Ukraine has been threatened by separatism in Crimea (a threat which came to fruition with Russian help) and Donbas since the Soviet collapse, as I detail in my recently published book Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West and the ‘New Cold War’ and on this website. Neighboring Moldova has already seen its territorial integrity broken in the frozen conflict in Transdniestr. It is also threatened by a separatist movement in Gagauzia. More recently, western villages near the border have declared their secession to Rumania.

In the Transcaucasus, Armenia’s claim on Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh led to a war and frozen conflict, which festers and occasionally unfreezes on the edges to this day. In turn, Azerbaijan lays claim to Armenia‘s Zangezur region so far only verbally, without conflict. Georgian ultranationalist violence and repression in the late 1980s and early 1990s under Zviad Gamsakhurdia, which contributed to the destabilization of the USSR during Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, provoked a backlash of Abkhazian, South Ossetiyan, and Ajarian nationalism, autonomy-seeking, and ultimately separatism. This led to war, frozen conflicts, the 2008 unfreezing of the Abkhazian and South Ossetiyan conflicts by Mikheil Saakashvili, and establishment and recognition by Russia of these two breakaway regions’ state independence.

In Central Asia, elements in Tajikistan lay claim to Uzbekistan’s Samarkand and Bukhara, traditionally Uzbek cities. Tajikistan itself is plagued by communalism and some separatist sentiment among the Ismaeli Muslim Pamiris in Gorno-Badakhshan, where earlier a criminalized regionalism emerged in the early 1990s on the background of the Tajik civil war. Elements in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan lay claim parts of Uzbekistan’s Ferghana Valley for their states, respectively. Some in Uzbekistan would turn lays claim or at least the right to intervene in southern Kyrgyzstan to protect the Uzbek minority from Kyrgyz nationalist violence. Kazakhstan is plagued by potential separatism in its Russian-populated northwest regions as well as by Karakalpakstani regionalism in its south. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan have been afflicted by outbreaks of jihadi terrorist separatism sporadically. Minority nationalism and/or jihadism interacts with majority nationalism and ultra-nationalism, polarizing these post-Soviet states’ polities.

High Levels of Criminality

All of the Eurasian states have considerable problems with organized crime, narcotics trafficking, and crime in general, but rates are relatively low and similar in comparison with the global range. A good measure for both organized and individual crime levels is the intentional homicide rate. According to United Nations crime statistics from some 219 countries, Russia rates as the most murderous of countries with some 11 murders per 100,000 in population (see Table 6). Tajikistan rates best with just 1.44 murders per


Table 6. Number of Intentional Homicides/100,000 population in the Non-Baltic, Post-Soviet States in 2015.*


Country           Number of Homicides/100,000 population

Tajikistan                                      1.44

Armenia                                        2.45

Azerbaijan                                    2.45

Georgia                                         2.68

Uzbekistan                                   2.99

Moldova                                       3.19

Belarus                                         3.58

Turkmenistan                             4.20

Ukraine                                        4.36

Kazakhstan                                 4.84

Kyrgyzstan                                  5.12

Russia                                         11.31


*Date for Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova are for 2014. Data for Ukraine is from 2010

Source: United Nations, Office on Drugs and Crime,


100,000. None of these countries exceed the rate of 5.12 intentional murders per 100,000 residents, besides Russia which exceeds that level by a factor of two and ranks near the bottom of the rankings globally–38th worst of the 219 countries for which the UN presents data. This is the one parameter in which Russia is a negative outlier so far. But it is one that should not be a decisive or even an important factor in terms of its relations with other countries. At the same time, however, the extent this is a likely reflection of Russian organized crime, which is very global and has ties to the intelligence services, this is a significant foreign relations issue, but hardly a pivotal one – even by Western officials’ own pronouncements – or one NATO’s expansion can address.

High Levels of State, Societal and Personal Corruption

The uniqueness and inevitability of post-Sovietness is no more true than when it comes to the development, persistence and pervasiveness of corruption. This is a direct result of the Soviet state’s legacy of totalitarian politics but more so its highly centralized economy. Separating the economy in the former Soviet Union was a task unprecedented in world history and for he political and economic sciences. The state sector, as noted above, comprised he bulk of the economy, leading to rent-seeking, When privatized, state enterprises usually went to former state officials or enterprise managers, with continuing ties to the state.

Although the West is fond of bashing Russian President Vladimir Putin for his corruption and that of his cronies, an honest look at corruption in both countries, gives a resounding answer of ‘none’ to the question ‘Kakaya raznitsa?’ (What’s the difference) in post-Sovietistan? Moldova, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Russia are leaders, but Russia is not an outlier in post-Soviet or global corruption. It is simply one of many poor performers (see Table 7). The only outlier is Georgia and on the positive side. Saakashvili’s chief 


Table 7. Public Perceptions of Corruption in the Non-Baltic, Post-Soviet States in 2017.*


Percent Who           The Government Is Fighting Corruption

Country                  Paid Bribe                              Net Badly/Well _______________ 

Georgia                      5-10                                                41/26

Uzbekistan             15-20                                           not included

Kazakhstan             20-30                                                47/37

Belarus                    20-30                                                 46/29

Armenia                  20-30                                                 65/14

Kyrgyzstan              30-40                                                 58/32

Azerbaijan              30-40                                                 14/25

Russia                      30-40                                                  62/18

Ukraine                   30-40                                                  87/9

Tajikistan               40-50                                                   20/61

Moldova                 40-50                                                   84/7


Turkmenistan  not included                                   not included


Source: Transparency International, Global Corruption Barometer, 2017 and


accomplishment. However, unnoticed in the West was the downside of his massive crackdown. As Sergei Markedonov notes, during Saakashvili’s reign Georgia became Europe’s ‘leader’ in the number of those imprisoned. He cites former Georgian ombudsman Nano Devdariani to the effect that out of a population 4.5 million more than 250,000 went through the penal system under Saakashvili ( In the wake of his forced departure from the country, it was revealed that not only was the penal system in overdrive but that torture and other forms of corruption such as use of administrative resources such as the tax police to pressure businessmen were and remain rampant ( 

Again the rogue/beacon of democracy (Russia-Ukraine) comparison demonstrates well the commonality among even Eurasia’s Western-received antipodes; one guarding the gates of Europe from the Putin’s horde of slaves and criminals. The right-hand column in Table 7 shows that while Ukraine and Russia fall in the same range of 30-40 percent of citizens responding that they have paid bribes in the last year, but it also shows that Russians have a more positive view of the government’s efforts to crack down on corruption. An instructive example is paying bribes for grades in higher education. Russia is known to suffer from this practice, but it turns out that Ukraine suffers no less so. “Of 600 students surveyed at public universities in Lviv — a city in the west of Ukraine seen as relatively uncorrupt — 48 percent had paid bribes,” a 2017 study revealed. “Meanwhile, 95 percent of those surveyed admitted to cheating on exams or tests” ( Transparency International’s corruption ranking for 2016 listed Russia and Ukraine in a dead heat in 131st place.

If we take the sum of the rankings for these Eurasian states, we have a slightly crude albeit ranking of them according to their level of modernization or, as some might prefer, ‘Westernization,’ though increasingly the West is suffering from many of the same problems such as less democratic governance and rule of law due to growing corruption and decline in political culture. Table 8 shows that overall Russia is ranked  

Table 8. Ranking based on Rankings from tables 1-7.
                                                      Ranking in Tables                                Summary
Country .                    1 .        2 .        3 .        4 .        5 .       6 .        7 .        Ranking*  

Georgia                      1 .         1 .       1 .       10 .       7 .       4 .         1 .             1

Armenia                    4           2 .       6 .         5 .        8 .      2           5               2 (tie)

Kazakhstan               7           3 .       3 .         3 .        3 .     10 .       3 .             2 (tie)

Belarus                      6 .          7 .      4 .         2 .         5 .      7 .        4 .             4

Kyrgyzstan               4 .          4 .     10 .        1 .         6 .     11 .       6 .             5

Moldova                    1 .         8 .       5 .         7 .         –         6 .       11 .           6

Russia                        7 .         9 .       2 .         4 .         4 .     12 .        8             7

Uzbekistan .            10 .       10 .      8 .         –            5 .       5 .         2 .           8

Azerbaijan                9 .         5 .      7 .         9 .         9 .        2 .         7 .           9

Ukraine                     3 .        11 .     9 .         8 .         2 .        9 .         9 .          10

Tajikistan                10 .         6 .     11 .       6 .          –          1 .        10 .         11

Turkmenistan .      12 .       12        –           –             –          8 .          –            12


*Column 7 for the Summary Ranking is derived by dividing the the total sum

of the countries’ ranking for Tables 1-7 divided by the number of Tables the country

was included in, given the several cases where countries were not included.


seventh among the 12 Eurasian states. Georgia is the modernization outlier, attaining much higher levels of progress in its post-Soviet development and nearly the level of the three post-Soviet Baltic states. Thus, Georgia is in some ways a real beacon of democracy in Eurasia. The West’s new ‘beacon’, Ukraine, fares rather poorly — in 10th place — lagging behind Central Asia’s Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, the latter acquiring outlier status in the direction of lack of modernization and development. Ranking 2-5 are occupied by countries with excellent, indeed, allied relationships with Russia: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. These countries score higher than the West’s new ally, Ukraine. 
Conclusions and Implications

It is clear from the data presented above that in comparative terms Russia is a middling state when it comes to political and economic freedom, the nationalism/civic or tolerance/intolerance parameter, stateness problems, corruption, and criminality. An explanation for much of the Eurasian, post-Soviet commonality illustrated herein lies in correlations between them. Multivariant statistical cross-country analysis has suggested, for example, that there is a “statistically significant” “qualitatively important” positive correlation between aggregate economic freedom and tolerance, “both at a given point in time and over time.” The most important types of economic freedom in supporting tolerance are access to sound money, legal structure, and security of property rights. (Niclas Berggren and Therese Nilsson, “Does Economic Freedom Foster Tolerance,” Kyklos: International Review for Social Sciences, Volume 66, Number 2 (May 2013), pp. 177-207,, p. 200). All of the non-Baltic, post-Soviet states are lacking in economic freedom and such key factors as broad access to sound money, sound market-oriented legal institutions, and secure property rights. Shortcomings such as intolerance and violence likely are compounded by other variables such as authoritarianism, corruption, and criminality and perhaps visa versa.

Moving from hypothesizing to policy implications, it is clear that Russia is no deviant by any measure in Eurasia or even globally. Thus, the problem between Russia and the West is not ‘values’ gap’ between Western democracy and Russian authoritarianism. If lack of various freedoms, human rights, rule of law and such are the pebbles in the West’s shoe, then the West should have far worse relations with Azerbaijan, Armenia, NATO-favorite Georgia, and Central Asian states, excluding Kyrgyzstan. In this regard, one could add the far better working relationships Washington and Brussels maintain with China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and others despite their having a far worse democracy, economic freedom, human rights, corruption, criminality, and tolerance records than has Moscow and the overwhelming majority of Eurasian post-Soviet states. Looking at the issue from the perspective of Russian foreign policy, Moscow has demonstrated little problem with developing good relations with democracies, except those in the West (see Gordon M. Hahn, “Russia and the Democracies: Is Russia a Foe of the Liberal Democratic Order?,” Russian and Eurasian Politics, 21 February 2017,

Russian-Western antagonisms, therefore, appear to lie not in Russia’s ‘sistema’ or Putin’s head per se but rather in Russian foreign policy towards the West. But that is only part of the answer. Russian foreign policy is a product not just of domestic factors and internally-set foreign policy goals. It is primarily a reaction to Western policy towards Russia and its perceived national and security interests–that is, the problem in Russo-West relationship lies largely in the two sides’ direct relations. The core problem in those relations is the security dilemma created on Russia’s western periphery by NATO and less so EU expansion to Russia’s border in tandem with Western-backed color revolutions in the same. Russia did not intervene in Georgia and Ukraine because of the Russian values or democracy deficit. It did so because its historical compatriots and allies, the Ossetians, the Russian Crimeans, and Russian Donbassians were put at risk by war and revolution institgated by Western-backed, and prospective NATO members, Georgia and Ukraine, respectively.

The downturn in Russian-Western relations has been almost exclusively driven by the Western interest in expanding NATO and Russia being the lone power (for now) wishing and able to counter it. China’s resistance to NATO expansion or membership in the alliance in lieu of a Western policy change or Russian regime change may be the only hope, therefore, for improving Russo-Western relations. Finally, the cost of NATO expansion and color revolution policy should not be measured in just the loss of Russia but by its driving Moscow into the arms of Beijing. All this was sacrificed, moreover, at the price of war and for very limited gains for democracy, free markets and the rule of law in places like Georgia and now Ukraine.


About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California,

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.

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