Russia 'Not Free'

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Dec. 24, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: Just this week, one of the nation’s oldest, nonpartisan voices for democracy, Freedom House founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, changed its classification of Russia from partly free to not free. The chairman of Freedom House is James Woolsey, the veteran lawyer and diplomat who was also head of the CIA under President Clinton.

Welcome to you, sir.


HUME: Why did you change the classification of Russia?

WOOLSEY: We do this reassessment every year. And if you look at the parliamentary elections in Russia a year ago, look at the "presidential elections," and I use the word with quotes, this past year, of Putin. You look at his taking the tragedy of Beslan (search) as the terrorist attack on the school in September, as an excuse to do away with the election of governors. And to do away with the election of individual members of the Duma, who can run on these party slates but he essentially controls the parties.

You look at what he has done to the freedom of the press by taking over one by one any of the independent television networks.

You look at the fact that in going so strongly against Khodorkovsky and Yukos.

HUME: The oil company.

WOOLSEY: The oil company, he was mainly going against an individual oligarch, businessman who was distinguished from the others because he was supporting liberal and independent candidates for the Duma, in some kind of, you know, electoral opposition to Putin.

I think Putin — it’s almost a matter of terminology whether Russia is a fascist state yet, or whether it is just a step or so short of being fascist. But it’s an awful lot closer to being like Mussolini’s Italy than it is to being like what Yeltsin was trying to bring about, I think, in the early 1990s.

HUME: What is your assessment of how the Russian people respond to all this? You know, we hear from American officials with some force about how the Iraqi people — the Iraqi people really want to vote. Was this a passion that Russians ever really had? Do they still have it? And what does that mean for Putin?

WOOLSEY: I think a lot of Russians would really like to have a decent government and freedom of elections. Because of their history, they crave security. Then there were two chances in the 19-Century with the reformers around the time of the Napoleonic Wars and with Alexander the Second, where they might have moved toward liberal democracy or at least constitutional monarchy, those failed. Korinsky failed in 1917 and again it looks like the aftermath of Yeltsin has failed.

HUME: You think this is now a failure?

WOOLSEY: So far, yes. I mean would have stayed on the fence. I was an election observer for the Jamestown Foundation in 1996 and in 2000 in Russia. And we were worried by 2000. But I think over the course of the last year, it has just very clear they have effectively become had a dictatorship.

HUME: This is an interesting dilemma for the Bush administration, which has predicated its foreign policy on the spread of democracy. It is in part a practical measure intended to get at the causes of terrorism. But how does this president — he seems to be giving Vladimir Putin (search) an awful lot of running room here on these issues?

WOOLSEY: Well, he does. But presidents have a lot tougher jobs than those of us who head up non-governmental organizations. After all, in World War II for nearly four years, we were allied with Stalin, at that time history’s greatest murder because we had a tougher problem, Adolf Hitler. And we made common cause of various dictators during the Cold War.

Now most of those states: Spain, Portugal, Chile, Taiwan (search), the South Korea that we helped the dictators for reason of the Cold War fighting the Soviets, those states are now democracies. We didn’t forget about them. But we were not always able to promote democracy in each and every case. We ought to do it as much as we can.

The world after all, has gone from 20 democracies in 1945 to 119, according to Freedom House’s count today, electoral democracies. That’s not bad progress, nearly 100 democracies added since World War II.

HUME: Do you see with this drift away from democracy, is this purely in your judgment a matter — I mean you mentioned a number of things in your catalogue of causes that ranged from the quality of elections also to the quality of freedoms. Do you see an irreversible slide back toward a totalitarian state, without a market economy and the old way of doing things?

WOOLSEY: I wouldn’t call Russian totalitarian yet. It really doesn’t have an ideology, a totalitarian ideology. It’s more extremely authoritarian. It’s sort of a kleptocracy, in a way. And very close to being a dictatorship in the old fashioned sort. It’s not an ideological place. Putin isn’t trying to promote some worldview the way the communists were or the Nazis were.

And so it may be somewhat less dangerous, although it could conceivably have been quite dangerous to democracy in Ukraine. I think that’s why Putin was interfering in Ukraine. He was worried...

HUME: You see that effort, by the way, as having failed?

WOOLSEY: I think it’s failed. We’ll know for sure when we see this election the 26. But I think Putin’s effort to help Yanukovych and Kuchma essentially steel the Ukrainian election has probably failed, assuming things go the way they look like they are going to on Sunday.

HUME: Now, we saw in the streets of Ukraine quite a demonstration of people’s hunger to vote and have a clean election. You indicate you think the Russian people would like that, but it may not be tops on their list. Do you think we could we have the kind of uprising in Russia, for example, that Ukraine had.

WOOLSEY: I think not any time soon. I said the Russian people have sort of had two chances in the 19-Century and two chances in the 20- Century, and none of the four has worked out. Your heart goes out to them. They are wonderful people, talented in music and literature and art and science.

HUME: Long suffering.

WOOLSEY: Long suffering. A wonderful sense of humor, the Russian sense of humor is delightful. One wants to do what one can to help them. But I’m afraid it’s probably going to be now a long time, decades before we see a democratic Russia. I hope not quite so long.

HUME: And you are not the unsympathetic to setting that priority aside in favor of others on the part of American policy makers?

WOOLSEY: I think one has to make choices in difficult circumstances sometimes about things like getting cooperation in the War on Terror. Putin however has an interest of his own in fighting the War on Terror.

And the main thing we should not do is shut up. We ought to be clear and explicit about this slide back towards dictatorship, even as we’re working with him as we can work. But those of us outside the government may have to do a lot of the communicating with the Russian people more perhaps than the American government itself.

HUME: Jim Woolsey, a pleasure to have you.

WOOLSEY: Good to be with you, Brit.

HUME: Merry Christmas to you.

WOOLSEY: Thank you, same to you.

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