Should Obama pay any attention to Freedom House’s rating of Russia? No, and neither should anyone else. They are not “independent” ratings of freedom.
Freedom House doesn’t like Putin very much: Russia’s “democracy score” has declined from 4.96 in 2003 to 6.18 in 2012 on a scale where 1 is the best and 7 the worst. Worse today, oddly enough, than either Libya or Kosovo but at least not quite as bad as Zimbabwe or North Korea. It doesn’t like Russian elections either. In 2006 we were told “Russians cannot change their government democratically.” But the fact that they have not chosen to elect the Communists, Zhirinovskiy or any of the ephemeral and self-destructive “liberal” parties is not evidence that they cannot; only that they have not.
The goalposts are always moving: new regulations on registering political parties reduced pluralism in 2003 but the registration of many new parties in 2012 “seemed designed to encourage division and confusion among the opposition.” The centralised appointment of regional governors was condemned in 2005 but the return to election in 2012 apparently only helps pro-Kremlin incumbents. Even going uphill, Russia is going downhill.
In 2013 Russia gets a downward arrow “due to the imposition of harsh penalties on protesters participating in unsanctioned rallies and new rules requiring civil society organizations with foreign funding to register as ‘foreign agents’”. It’s OK for Washington to require permits to demonstrate and charge hefty fines or imprisonment for violations, but wrong for Moscow. It’s OK for the USA to demand foreign financed organisations register as such, but wrong for Russia to do so. Why? This is “decision-based evidence making”. To Freedom House, elections, whether the ruling party wins two-thirds of the vote or drops to one half, are always “deeply flawed”. Press freedoms, no matter how many are free to travel to Washington to complain, are always “curtailed”. Demonstrations, no matter how many, are “consistently reduced”.
How “non-government” is Freedom House? Well, it is certainly very much government funded. How about the freedom part? The cynic, looking at these scores over 2003-2012: Latvia from 2.25 to 2.11. Georgia, 4.83 to 4.86. Ukraine 4.71 to 4.82, Armenia 4.92 to 5.39, Kazakhstan 6.17 to 6.54 might be forgiven if he saw a pattern. A pattern that, oddly enough, was replicated in the famous “colour revolutions”. In Ukraine and Georgia NATO membership suddenly shot to the top of the new “democratic” governments’ priorities and in the Kyrgyz Republic a NATO base became very important. Could it be that Freedom House’s assessment correlates closely with geopolitical purposes?
Every now and again, someone gives the game away. The Executive Director of the US branch of Amnesty International when Pussy Riot was declared to be prisoners of conscience was Suzanne Nossel. In and out of US Administrations and NGOs, at AI she boasted she was the author of a 2004 article in Foreign Affairs magazine entitled ‘Smart Power’. “Progressives now have a historic opportunity to reorient U.S. foreign policy around an ambitious agenda of their own… the great mainstay of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy: liberal internationalism… liberal internationalists see trade, diplomacy, foreign aid, and the spread of American values as equally important.” She now heads PEN American Center and is still proud of “smart power”. She evidently sees no conflict of interest between advancing “human rights” and advancing US foreign policy.
So, not so “non-governmental” or “human rights” after all; more like a government funded organisation supporting US foreign policy.