The Foreign Service Journal, May 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MAY 2018 27 United States are threats. Putin refuses to accept that people in Ukraine and Georgia, for example, to say nothing of Russians themselves, are capable on their own of demanding better from their leaders; they must be instigated from outside. This is why he accused former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of giving a “signal” to Russians who protested the fraudulent parliamentary elections in December 2011. But Putin is not alone in leading the authoritarian charge. Ilham Aliyev oversees a massively corrupt regime in Azerbaijan, which has more political prisoners than Russia. Belarus contin- ues to suffer under Aleksandr Lukashenko’s tight grip on power. The United States has applied targeted sanctions for human rights abuses against Putin’s Russia and Lukashenko’s Belarus, but not against Aliyev’s Azerbaijan. Leaders of all these coun- tries need to know that there are consequences for engaging in gross abuses against freedom, targeting critics and denying the opposition the right to participate in the political process, as well as for interfering in other countries’ elections. Western democra- cies should not legitimize phony elections in Russia (in March) and Azerbaijan (April), and Western leaders should not be con- gratulating these leaders for winning rigged elections. It is important to remember that the way regimes treat their own people is often indicative of how they will behave in foreign policy. If they engage in authoritarian practices within their own borders, they are less likely to respect the rights of people else- where, to say nothing of concepts of sovereignty and territorial integrity (see Russia’s invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014). If we do nothing in the face of gross human rights abuses, we signal to leaders in these countries that they can get away with such behavior, emboldening them to push the enve- lope even further. For the sake of freedom and democracy, as well as for security reasons, it is important to push back against authoritarian behavior in Europe and elsewhere. Democratic Backsliding in Europe Poland and Hungary were among the first in Europe to transi- tion from communist systems to thriving democracies. Their membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union was the culmination of their efforts to return to the European fold. Poland has been a leader and model for COURTESYOFFREEDOMHOUSE