Vladimir Putin has stopped pretending. For months, the Russian president had claimed that he was merely interested in the security of his nation. For months, he had assured the world that he was interested in a diplomatic solution. For months, he had ridiculed warnings about an impending Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Then he ordered a full-scale attack on a sovereign nation. Russian missiles blew up targets in key cities including Kyiv, Lviv, and Kharkiv. Russian troops rapidly advanced into Ukrainian territory. War has returned to the heart of Europe.
Though Putin insisted that Russia was merely carrying out a “special military operation,” he clearly intended the world to hear his message. The global order that had emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union is a thing of the past. Putin no longer intends to let even the most basic international norms—like the prohibition on territorial conquest by military means—limit his ambitions.
We stand at the beginning of a new era of naked power politics.
The attack on Ukraine coincided with the long-planned publication of a Freedom House report on the state of democracy in the world. As this year’s report went live on the organization’s website, just after midnight this morning, CNN was showing live pictures of Russian troops advancing across the border and billowing towers of smoke rising above major Ukrainian cities.
Based on meticulous monitoring of developments in every corner of the globe, Freedom House finds that the world has entered the 16th consecutive year of what the political scientist Larry Diamond has termed a “democratic recession.” In 2021, the number of countries moving away from democracy once again exceeded the number of countries moving toward it by a big margin. [Continue reading…]