“It is the proximity of Ukrainian democracy that scares Putin, more than NATO”

Kenneth Roth is the executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW). The NGO publishes, Thursday, January 13, its annual report on the human rights situation in the 110 countries where it is particularly active. He looks back at the situation in the states of the former Soviet Union (USSR), thirty years after its fall.

How do you interpret the recent riots in Kazakhstan and the repression orchestrated by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev with the support of Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

These events are part of two different dynamics. First, a popular uprising in reaction to rising gas prices. This protest very quickly expressed a wider dissatisfaction with the autocratic regime in power in this country. Then, in a few days, this phenomenon was accompanied by a struggle for power between those close to President Tokayev and those of the former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.

It is not surprising that the Kremlin has been very attentive to the situation to avoid any possibility of destabilization, as has been the case elsewhere in the region in recent years in the face of “color revolutions”. Thus, the three countries in the region which are concentrating the efforts of the Russian army are states which have experienced a kind of democratic push. Kazakhstan falls into this category, as does Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko likely lost the 2020 elections before violently cracking down on his opposition.

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Only Ukraine has been able to achieve its democratic ambition. In my opinion, it is also the proximity of Ukrainian democracy that scares Vladimir Putin, much more than the threat of seeing this country one day join NATO. The hardening of Moscow is explained by the fear of any form of democratic change at home and among its neighbors.

About Belarus, what do you think of the attempt, in 2021, to instrumentalize migrants by bringing them to the Polish border?

For Alexander Lukashenko, it was a question of protesting against the sanctions taken against him by the European Union (EU), but this cynical calculation did not work. He had to give it up because the migrants massed on the border could not cross to Poland. The Polish government seized the opportunity to try to deflect the attention aroused in Europe by its own excesses, such as the contested reform of the justice system, by brandishing a xenophobic discourse.

In this case, the EU acted miserably when Warsaw decided to turn back these people. She closed her eyes, a bit like it also happens in Greece. It is a way of violating international conventions on asylum.

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