Making Concessions to Putin Will Only Whet His Appetite for More

On Monday, Russian president-for-life Vladimir Putin explained that the “peacekeeper” paratroopers he sent to Kazakhstan to help quash civil unrest were part of his larger policy of preventing “color revolutions” in former Soviet-bloc countries.

Putin made his remarks at a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which the New York Times described as “a body equivalent to NATO that includes six countries from the former Soviet Union.”

I bring this up not to indulge in media criticism but to point out how easy it is to fall for Russian propaganda and the logic of false equivalence when discussing relations with Russia and authoritarian regimes generally. Yes, CSTO is, like NATO, a military alliance, but the similarities end there. Commitment to democratic principles is a membership requirement for NATO. None of CSTO’s members—Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan—are democracies. Armenia comes closest; Freedom House designates it a “semi-consolidated authoritarian regime” with a “Democracy Score” of 33 out of 100. The rest are “consolidated authoritarian regimes.”

In short, CSTO is a dictators’ club in which authoritarians agree to protect one another’s grip on power, including from internal threats from their own people. NATO doesn’t send troops into member countries to prop up failed autocrats.

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