Watchdog Sees Less Freedom

Democracy declined significantly last year in Russia, whose influence has damaged democracy in neighboring countries, the U.S. think tank Freedom House said in a report released Monday.

The report, which analyzed 193 countries last year, concludes that democratic norms were rolled back in Russia and U.S.-backed Georgia, as well as in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova.

The U.S. government has hailed Georgia, which was crushed by Russia in an August war over the breakaway Georgian republic of South Ossetia, as a beacon of democracy among former Soviet republics.

The Freedom House report said the former Soviet Union was the only region to show consistent decline during the past decade. Among the factors are the presence of a number of "petro-authoritarian" states in the region, such as Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, and the "continued authoritarian legacy of the Soviet Union and the strong influence of Russia on its neighbors," wrote Arch Puddington, director of research for Freedom House.

There was no official reaction to the report from Russia. Government officials in the past have routinely accused Freedom House of being biased against Russia.

(AP, MT)