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"Democracies should not delay or hesitate": Freedom House calls for providing Ukraine with necessary resources

08.03.2024, 11:08

The 2024 Freedom House report on freedom in the world calls on democracies to provide Ukraine with the resources it needs to defend against the Russian aggression. The authors believe that the fate of many democracies around the globe is contingent on Ukraine's victory at a time when freedom in the world has been on decline for 18 years, reports the Voice of America, citing the Freedom House report "Freedom in the World 2024: The Mounting Damage of Flawed Elections and Armed Conflict".

"Democratic governments should not delay or hesitate in providing Ukraine with the resources it needs to defend and reclaim its territory from Russian forces, and to proceed further down the democratic path," the report reads.

Freedom House notes that Ukraine is unique among other countries at critical junctures, both in the extent to which the fate of its democracy could affect the security of other democracies around the world, and in the decisive role to be played by continued military support from the United States and other foreign partners.

While presenting the report, the organization's members stressed that supporting those fighting for freedom is crucial.

The occupation has resulted in a sharp drop in freedom in the parts of Ukraine under Russian control. There, political rights and civil liberties degenerated further in 2023 as Russian authorities conducted sham regional elections, institutionalized and relocated Ukrainian children, and implemented military conscription.

"Since the Kremlin illegally seized Crimea from Ukraine, the level of freedom enjoyed by the nearly two million people living on the peninsula has plummeted," the report reads.

The experts remark that this is a matter of private freedom and the right to hold property. In 2023, occupying Russian forces continued to conscript Crimeans into Russia’s military and nationalized private property. The situation is "particularly dire for ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, who have had their language, religion, and culture suppressed as Moscow attempts to Russify the region," the report says.

Repressive tactics that were initially deployed in Crimea—like staging rigged referendums, coercing residents to accept Russian citizenship, and destroying Ukrainian culture and identity—have spread to other parts of occupied Ukraine, the authors note.

"In 2023, Moscow orchestrated fraudulent regional elections in areas under its occupation, which further cemented Russian domination in Donetsk and Luhansk and trampled political rights in newly occupied portions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia," according to the report.

As for elections in Ukraine, the experts say that the invasion "has also created serious obstacles to holding a presidential election in Ukraine, which was due in March 2024."

"The Kremlin continues to affect the freedom of people in Ukraine – those under Russian occupation in places like Crimea and Eastern Donbas as well as people living in territories controlled by the Kyiv government. There we see martial law and mass displacement necessitated by the war. This means that presidential elections in the country are unlikely. We once again see that autocrats are influencing democracy not only in their own countries, but also around the world," said Adrian Shahbaz, Freedom House's vice president of research and analysis, during the presentation of the report.

Moscow’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine have had a serious impact on what little freedom previously persisted inside Russia. Thousands of people faced administrative charges and denunciations for criticizing the Kremlin’s policies or the war in Ukraine.

"Since 2022, the Kremlin has pursued a vigorous effort to stamp out antiwar dissent, silence critical media coverage, and militarize Russian society, accelerating a 13-point score decline over the last decade," the experts write.

Global freedom on decline for 18 consecutive years both in Europe and the USA

Global freedom declined for the 18th consecutive year in 2023, the experts find. Due to undermined elections and armed conflicts political rights and civil liberties diminished in 52 countries (about a fifth of the world) and improved in only 21.

In Europe, freedom deteriorated in Poland, Hungary, Serbia, and Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been in power since 2003, secured another term in office by winning another vote marred by "major systemic abuses". Restrictions on freedom of expression and the criminal prosecution of political opponents prevail in the country.

On the other hand, the outcome of Poland’s parliamentary elections showed that opposition forces can win even in the face of electoral manipulation.

"A coalition of opposition parties was able to unseat the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which used government controlled media and state resources to gain an advantage," say the Freedom House experts, recalling one of the few bright spots for freedom and democracy in the last year.

People living in disputed territories with no right to self-determination are vulnerable to abuse at the hands of the government, as they have no means to control that government. Among such places the experts list Crimea and Nagorno-Karabakh, where the drop in freedom was the sharpest among all countries and territories in the world due to Azerbaijan forcefully retaking control of that territory.

"Nagorno-Karabakh experienced the most precipitous score decline of the year, losing 40 points after nearly its entire population of 120,000 ethnic Armenians was forced to flee the enclave under intense pressure from Azerbaijan’s military," the report reads.

Speaking of 2024, the experts note that the authoritarian regime in China is working to undermine democracy abroad by interfering in elections.

"In late 2023, media reports indicated that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had convened high-level meetings on the need for effective but covert methods of influencing the Taiwanese election," the report says.

The meetings resulted in China using disinformation and military exercises to frame the election for Taiwanese voters as a choice between war and peace, with the aim of deterring them from supporting political parties and candidates that take a harder line on relations with Beijing.

Researchers stress that the decline of freedom has occurred even in the countries that were previously seen as leaders of global democratization, in Europe and the USA.

"In the United States, harassment and intimidation of federal, state, and local politicians, election administrators, and judges pose a serious challenge to the conduct of November’s presidential election. Threats of violence can have far-reaching, harmful effects, potentially undermining compliance with election rules or deterring participation entirely," the authors warn.

They emphasize that actual violence related to political disputes, such as the January 2021 attack on the Capitol, can and has cost people their lives.

"Americans are heading into a decisive election starkly divided, with some questioning the very utility of fundamental democratic institutions," the experts note.

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