Human Rights Watch
World Report 2007
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Audio Commentary

Press Conference

Photography - Year in Review

News Release





Russia has followed a similar trajectory. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was in too much disarray at home to play much of a role abroad. But as the value of its gas and oil reserves has soared and President Putin has consolidated power by neutralizing most other domestic centers of power, the Kremlin is flexing its muscles. Determined to reassert its dominance within the former Soviet Union, Putin’s Russia has cozied up to entrenched dictators such as Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov, Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko, and Turkmenistan’s Saparmurat Niazov, and done much to undermine democratic government in Ukraine and Georgia.

For example, on the eve of the first anniversary of Uzbekistan’s Andijan massacre, President Putin demonstrated his political support of President Karimov by inviting him to Putin’s holiday residence. At about the same time, the lower house of the Russian parliament ratified a military alliance treaty with Uzbekistan. Similarly, despite its considerable influence, Russia has not lifted a finger to ease repression in Turkmenistan, even when the victims are Russian citizens.

This behavior abroad is matched by Putin’s conduct at home. He presides over military forces in Chechnya that continue to use pervasive torture and to “disappear” more people than security forces in just about any other country. He has the power to rein in his Chechen proxies who are behind most of these abuses, but instead he supports them unconditionally and heaps praise on their leader. His Kremlin has transformed most competing centers of power—the Duma, the provincial governors, the electronic media, the business community—into pliant partners. Nongovernmental organizations, one of the few remaining independent sectors, are threatened by new regulations that invite meddling and closures. Unidentified assailants have murdered high-profile independent journalists, such as Anna Politkovskaia, who was investigating atrocities in Chechnya, without any successful prosecution of the perpetrators.

Like China, Putin has paid little price for dancing with dictators. Few other governments refer publicly to his misdeeds. Their occasional grumbling is barely heard over their groveling for energy deals.

Russia will persist in its misconduct if it continues to get away with it. The Russian government aspires to global citizenship. Its membership in the G8 matters to it. But the world’s most powerful democracies have not insisted that it earn its seat at the table. They rewarded Russia with the G8 chairmanship in July and let it host the G8 summit in St. Petersburg without any positive movement on its human rights record at home or abroad. Its desire to join the World Trade Organization, which seemed to be nearing fulfillment as this report went to press, depends on a willingness to play by global economic rules. But it is wrong for the world to accept Russia as a closed, authoritarian country so long as its markets are open. Turning Russia around will hardly be easy, but it will be impossible if no one even tries, and those in a position to speak out remain mute.