Energy riches bad for democracy in post-Soviet space - U.S. NGO

(RIA Novosti) - Former Soviet republics with massive energy resources backslide on democracy and have developed totalitarian tendencies, a respected Russian business daily cited a report by American NGO Freedom House as saying Thursday.

Vedomosti said the Nations in Transit report had singled out Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan in a study measuring democracy in the EU's eastern neighbors, saying they had seen economic growth thanks to high energy prices, but had failed to advance democracy, national governance, media freedom, and judicial independence, reports Trend.

"They [national leaders] are taking advantage of high energy prices by building authoritarian regimes that are unresponsive to their citizens and unreliable in the international sphere," the paper quoted report editor Jeannette Goehring as saying.

And Russia "warrants particular attention because its position and influence give it enormous implications for the former Soviet region," a Freedom House press release said.

Vedomosti said the think tank had downgraded Russia's democracy ratings for the third consecutive time, from 5.61 in 2005 to 5.75 in 2006 on a scale with 1 as the best and 7 as worst. The NGO criticized President Vladimir Putin for moves to centralize power, introducing a 7% threshold for political parties running for parliament, and passing a new law on NGOs that is seen in the West as too restrictive.

The paper said the study also slammed Russia for corruption, which it said was particularly widespread in the energy sector, as the state had regained control over 30% of the oil industry.

Report editor Goehring added that leaders in the region did not seem to understand that improving accountability would provide prosperity and rule of law, and would give their states more options internationally.

The NGO was critical of other energy states in the region, Vedomosti said. Democratic development in oil-rich Kazakhstan was hindered by the re-election in 2005 of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has run the Central Asian republic since 1989, the newspaper cited the report as saying.

In oil-rich Caucasus republic Azerbaijan in 2005, the study said, President Ilkham Aliyev continued to accumulate power he had inherited from his father, the late President Geidar Aliyev.

In Turkmenistan, which has vast natural gas and oil deposits, a campaign in 2005 to force citizens to study the Rukhnama, a kind of spiritual code written by President Saparmurat Niyazov, also known as Turkmenbashi or "father of all Turkmen," had further worsened the country's democratic record, the paper said, quoting the study.

Vedomosti also quoted an analyst from the liberal Moscow Carnegie Center, who largely supported the study, but said the organization had overdone in its criticism of Russia.

Alexei Malashenko said the West was thereby trying to "touch on Russia's sore point" ahead of the summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations the country will host in July.

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