Baku, January 19 – Stung by Western assessments that Russia is becoming less free, Moscow officials say they will create a new organization of their own to “rate” democracy in the U.S. and other Western countries, clearly calculating that in the name of “balance,” some in the media will pair their assessments with Western ones.
In recent weeks, Freedom House, the Heritage Foundation, and other Western non-governmental organizations have released their annual assessments of the state of freedom in the Russian Federation and other post-communist countries. This year, most have given Moscow significantly lower marks.
Not surprisingly, many Russian officials from Putin on down are furious, seeing these measures as reflecting a double standard on the part of Western countries and lashing out at the NGOs as well as at the governments they believe stand behind them (http://lenta.ru/articles/2008/01/16/superrating/).
Most of this anger has been expressed in typical ways – denouncing those doing the ratings and Western presumptions of their right to evaluate the situation in Russia (http://www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=13622) or increasing criticism of countries like Estonia with higher marks (http://www.rosbalt.ru/2008/01/16/447706.html).
But now, some Russian officials who say they have President Putin’s backing have proposed taking an additional step: creating their own agency to monitor the status of democracy and freedom in those countries where the Western agencies are located (http://www.newsru.com/russia/18jan2008/centr.html).
According to yesterday’s Wall Street Journal – and it is from a translation of its article (http://www.inopressa.ru/wsj/2008/01/18/11:36:15/russia) that most Russian reports about this draw, Moscow will spend 700,000 Euros (1.1 million U.S. dollars) to open its own rating centers in Europe and the United States within two months.
Although Putin mentioned this possibility in Portugal in October, the New York paper said, the arrangements for setting up these rating centers are reportedly in the hands of Anatoliy Kucherena, a Moscow lawyer whom Putin appointed to the Russian Social Chamber in 2006.
It is unlikely that these Russian government-financed centers will ever gain the credibility in the countries they rate that Western groups have even if Western media will now cite them in the name of “balance” whenever Western agencies rate Russia. But they are not the primary audience, the Kremlin appears to have in mind.
On the one hand, it obviously hopes that media outside of Western Europe and the United States will take these evaluations seriously, something that will not only damage the reputations of Western countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America but help Moscow deflect criticism of itself by implying that such evaluations are all politicized.
And on the other, the Russian leadership hopes that this step will have an impact at home, reducing the number of its citizens who take the Western ratings seriously and thus reducing still further public demands there for a return to more democratic arrangements in the Russian Federation.
At the very least, this latest Kremlin initiative, like the closure of British Council offices across the Russian Federation, is unfortunately a step that in the current environment, Putin and his advisors assume will have more positive than negative consequences for themselves and their increasingly authoritarian regime.