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Sunday, March 26, 2023

Freedom House finds decline in global freedom in 2022

The military aggression undertaken by Russia against Ukraine has resulted in numerous human rights violations in Ukraine. However, the decline in the level of civil liberties has been observed in the last year not only in the post-Soviet space: coups and attempts to undermine the work of legitimately elected authorities have destabilized countries such as Burkina Faso , Tunisia, Peru and Brazil last year. This is according to the annual report “Freedom in the world – 2023”, published Thursday by the human rights organization Freedom House.

As the report’s authors note, the level of freedom around the world has declined for the 17th consecutive year. The gap between the number of countries that saw an overall improvement in political rights and civil liberties and those that saw an overall decline in freedoms fell to its lowest level in 17 years of global decline in freedoms in 2022. 84 of the 195 countries in the world were declared free in 2022.

Three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Eurasia is dominated by authoritarianism and none of the former Soviet countries were declared free in the last year except for the three Baltic states. This lack of democratic governance has destabilized the region as autocrats use military force to attack neighbors and suppress internal dissent, Freedom House said.

In 2022, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine took center stage among a wider array of active and frozen conflicts on the Eurasian continent. The February attack marked a sharp escalation after eight years of more limited Russian aggression. All of this has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, the largest refugee crisis in Europe and far-reaching consequences for the world’s economy and security.

The war in Ukraine, the report’s authors note, had serious implications for Belarusian sovereignty, since Russian troops were operating from Belarusian territory. It has also heightened the risk of renewed conflict in Moldova, where the breakaway region of Transnistria has long hosted a Russian garrison, and heightened tensions in the breakaway Russian-backed Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. from where Moscow withdrew part of its forces. to help the troops in Ukraine. The Kremlin’s preoccupation with Ukraine has made it difficult for it to manage rivalries or manipulate conflicts elsewhere. The Azerbaijani regime intensified its military aggression against Armenia despite Russian security guarantees, and in September there was a series of bombardments on the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, killing around 100 people.

The war on Ukraine has also forced European democracies to rethink their security needs in 2022. Finland and Sweden have abandoned their longstanding policy of military neutrality and asked to join NATO, while the Germany has doubled its defense budget. The European Union has unanimously imposed sanctions on Russia, provided Ukraine with billions of dollars in aid and accepted large numbers of Ukrainian refugees.

The authors cite the Russian-controlled Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as an example of how autocracies use regional organizations to prop up repressive regimes. In January 2022, the CSTO sent troops to protect Kazakh authorities from large-scale anti-government protests sparked by a sharp increase in fuel prices.

“However, authoritarian cooperation is driven by narrow self-interest and focused on low-cost actions, meaning it can break down when regimes diverge or face strong democratic pressure,” the report said. The CSTO’s reaction to the events in Kazakhstan contrasts sharply with the organization’s failure to help Armenia, the organization’s only member with “partly free” status, which has suffered repeated attacks on its sovereign territory by a neighboring state, formerly also part of the USSR, Azerbaijan.

Furthermore, the report notes that few of President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian allies have openly supported his war of aggression against Ukraine. Chinese President Xi Jinping has not backed the invasion or provided military support to Russia, although he called the bilateral Moscow-Beijing partnership “unlimited” in early 2022.

The countries of Transcaucasia and Central Asia are often considered to be in Moscow’s geopolitical orbit, but Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have refused to recognize Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territories, and all respect the sanctions imposed on Russian banks.

The Kremlin’s staunchest ally in the region remains Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who depends on support from Moscow to maintain his tenuous grip on power. At the same time, Belarus has set a sad “record” in 2022, entering the Top 10 least free countries in the world, losing only to Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Syria and South Sudan.

Corruption on an unprecedented scale, which developed in Russia during the years of the reign of Vladimir Putin, led to the fact that the regime could not achieve the goals of its war of aggression. Although the Kremlin has spent hundreds of billions of dollars over the past two decades to modernize the Russian military, it remains an ill-equipped military force, often undersupplied with food and medical supplies, using maps and weapons from the Soviet era.

“Many in the United States and elsewhere believed Putin’s boast that Russia’s military capabilities matched those of NATO and far exceeded those of Ukraine, but the course of the war quickly refuted these claims,” ​​the report said. – Families of Russian conscripts are now asked to provide soldiers with everything from body armor to bandages. But that hasn’t stopped the Kremlin from sending these soldiers to their deaths as the war continues, because admitting defeat would jeopardize the illusion of power on which Putin’s illegitimate power partly depends.”

Threats against independent journalists have also increased over the past year. Last year, Freedom House estimated that media freedom was under pressure in at least 157 countries and territories.

In Russia, the report says, years of media repression took a hard turn as the government worked to stamp out domestic opposition to a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russian journalists and independent media have long fought laws that stigmatize them as foreign, extremist or “undesirable” agents. In 2022, authorities blocked access to most independent Russian and foreign media still broadcasting and operating in the country, including Ekho Moskvy, Dozhd, media, BBC and Meduza. Some foreign journalists have also been denied entry to Russia.

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