The findings of Sharing worst practice: How countries and institutions in the former Soviet Union help create legal tools of repression highlight the clear similarities in the types of repressive practices being undertaken by countries across the former Soviet Union. First and foremost this is a function of the nature of their domestic political systems, whether they be authoritarian, semi-authoritarian or troubled democracies, they all feature ruling elites keen to maintain their position of political dominance. Shared concerns, from popular protest and current economic weakness to the age of the regime leaders are at the heart of encouraging similar legislation and forms of repression across the region. The expert contributors to the publication agree that the current situation in the region combines a mix of different influences: Russian and other neighbouring countries’ encouragement to draft repressive legislation (either through bilateral diplomacy or supported by regional instructions), the autonomous emulation of worst practice (building on both regional and global trends) or self-generated bad practice (building on their Soviet legacy and current authoritarian systems). The balance of this mix differs in each country in the region depending on local circumstances and their strategic outlook.
Russia is not the author of all the repressive legislation in the region but it has significant direct influence and helps shape and promote an emerging conservative regional values agenda, alongside what David Lewis describes as the ‘Moscow Consensus’ of a strong commitment to state sovereignty that is attractive to repressive regimes. Russia’s approach mimics Western structures and techniques but combines them with anti-Western discourse, deep media manipulation, management of civil society and a fusion of the political and economic elite, often through the families of the President or senior ministers. Russia promotes these ideas effectively through its significant regional Russian media penetration and through proxy groups, from NGOs to the Orthodox Church, promoting a conservative, traditional values-agenda that it argues is more in keeping with the history and culture of the region, than Western alternatives.
Though there may be some encouragement for repressive action through regional institutions and bilateral diplomacy, regimes in the region will seek ideas for legislation and practice that help sustain their political and structural control, templates of which are willingly provided by Russia and other countries in the region. For example, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan need no direction from Russia or indeed China to clamp down on dissent but remain open to new methods of how to do so. For the most part regional institutions act to reinforce the status quo, promoting authoritarian cultural norms rather than developing rules-based systems, echoing their domestic political environments where informal power structures have influence far in excess of codified law and formal procedures. Such structures reinforce and expand the primacy of national sovereignty narratives and frame challenges to a regime as a threat to sovereignty and independence of the country.
So while there is some ‘sharing of worst practice’ amongst the countries of the former Soviet Union, for the most part it is authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes informally collaborating and perhaps more importantly learning from each other about methods that can help them consolidate their own power, that are primarily driving the spate of similar looking repressive legislation and practice that spreading across the region.