‘RepressIntern’: Russian security cooperation with fellow authoritarians
Mark Galeotti is author of Russia-oriented chapter in the publication "No shelter: The harassment of activists abroad by intelligence services from the former Soviet Union." edited by Adam Hug, published by The Foreign Policy Center. This publication shows how repressive regimes from the former Soviet Union, most notably Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan operate outside their borders to challenge dissenting voices.
Under Vladimir Putin, Moscow has assiduously sought to retain its authority over the states of former-Soviet Eurasia (with the grudging exception of the Baltics), through a combination of political connection, military threat, security guarantees and economic cooperation. Quite how successful it has been has tended to vary over time and in relation to the complexion of the country in question. Very broadly, Moscow has found it much easier to maintain positive relations with authoritarian rather than democratising regimes, and this has been especially true of a relatively unremarked form of ‘soft power’ it has developed, that of intelligence cooperation directed towards the mutual suppression of activists and opposition forces.
This ‘Axis of Repression’ extends through Central Asia to Belarus, via Azerbaijan. It also used to include Ukraine, under semi-democratic clients such as Viktor Yanukovych, but clearly that is no longer the case. None of these regimes could be considered client states of Moscow’s. They have their own interests, and often advance them precisely by playing off Russia against other actors, whether the West in the case of Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko, or China with Kazakhstan. However, they generally share with the Kremlin a keen interest in their own political longevity, and also a disinclination to allow Western notions of free elections, transparent government and human rights to take root.