Democracy deteriorated in the region stretching from Central Europe to Central Asia in 2022, according to a report released Wednesday, and analysts say at least part of the blame can be pinned on the tentacled reach of Russia’s war with Ukraine.

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The overall decline last year noted by Freedom House – a nonpartisan organization that researches and advocates for democracy, political rights and civil liberties – means that democracy has now been sinking for 19 consecutive years in the region, which is made up of 29 countries.

After invading Ukraine in February of last year, Russia was one of the countries studied that experienced the steepest of democracy score declines.

We saw a lot of optimistic analysis that Ukraine’s brave defense and resilience would really bolster the democratic sails in this region. And we have seen European solidarity by and large for Ukraine’s defense,” says Mike Smeltzer, a senior research analyst at Freedom House and author of the “Nations in Transit” report. “But it hasn’t undone the democratic deterioration in the region that we’ve seen up to this point.

Russia’s War

Russia’s drop was the largest in its history as documented by the organization, which rates seven indicators – such as electoral processes and corruption – on a scale of 1 to 7 for all countries, in consultation with regional experts and other advisers. Countries are then given an average rating, which corresponds to an overall score falling in a range that describes their level of democratic governance. The five possible categories range from “consolidated democracies,” considered the most democratic, to “consolidated authoritarian regimes,” the least democratic.

Russia, with its score dropping in five of the seven different indicators, remains at the lowest end of the range. Hungary – whose government oversaw “deeply distortedparliamentary elections in 2022, according to the organization – also saw a significant decline in its score compared to 2021. However, Freedom House considers the country to be in the middle of the scale as a “transitional or hybrid regime.

Most countries in the region (11) fall in that category, while eight are considered consolidated authoritarian regimes. Six of those – Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, in addition to Russia – suffered declines in their “already abysmal” scores, according to Freedom House’s announcement release. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan each received the lowest possible score.

Democratic rise

The news is not all negative from a democratic perspective, however. Seven of the nations studied by Freedom House – all considered either hybrid regimes or consolidated democracies – saw score improvements year-over-year. But, Smeltzer notes, the bigger picture remains concerning for these Eurasian countries.

When you take the other countries that are the democracies and the hybrid regimes, the picture looked a little bit more stable. But of course, stable doesn’t always mean good news,” he says. “This region has really declined over time, and so they’re at a much lower point than they were 20 years ago when democracy was really flourishing in this region.

There are, however, still encouraging trends elsewhere. The already-high civil society indicator rating for Lithuania – which, along with the other Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia, received the best overall scores in the region – improved for the first time in nearly two decades.

Ukraine’s own response is another bright spot, according to Freedom House. The country, under the leadership of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, held its commitment to democracy in the face of claims by Russian President Vladimir Putin that rights and freedoms are threats to stability, Smeltzer notes.

He also names Moldova as another good example of a country that showed “democratic maturity” in a “heightened security environment,” as it shares a border with Ukraine. While Ukraine’s score was unchanged from 2021 to 2022, Moldova was one of the seven countries that improved.

They’re saying, ‘we can have both – we can have freedom and we can have security,’” Smeltzer adds. “And I think that sends a really enlightening and hopeful message for the rest of the region, that there is a successful middle way through this.

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