Top U.S. experts, diplomats urge the West to tighten noose on Azeri kleptocrats
Top U.S. experts, former diplomats on Wednesday urged the Western democracies to impose sanctions on authoritarian regimes like Azerbaijan, where non-state actors are engaged in exporting "Neo-Gulag values" to the West, TURAN's Washington D.C. correspondent reports.
Two expert panels, set up at Hudson Institute to explore the true nature of contemporary kleptocratic regimes featuring a new report "How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West", focused on the methods post-Soviet kleptocrats deploy to undermine Western democracy - and what can be done to fight back.
"We need to foster greater understanding of how Neo-Gulag values are being transferred to the West-and how, left unchecked, they threaten to devastate the very fabric of American democracy, capitalism and society," said Ilya Zaslavskiy, author of the report.
When the Soviet empire collapsed in 1991, he noted, it was widely believed that Western-style democracy and liberal capitalism based on free elections, separation of powers and the rule of law would eventually take root in the post-Soviet countries. Instead of exporting its democratic norms, the West today is witnessing an increasingly coordinated assault on its own value system.
For David Kramer, former U.S. assistant secretary of State, kleptocratic regimes are demonizing the West because "they view [the West] as obvious threat to their own grip on power."
"Authoritarianism, corruption and kleptocracy go hand in hand and reinforce each other. The West needs to see much stronger efforts on exposing corruption and authoritarianism because in doing one, you'll actually be getting both," he said adding that time to tighten noose against kleptocrats and their enablers.
"There also needs to be much more scrutiny of money that finds its way to the West. If you start taking away the Western havens for kleptocrats to stash ill-gotten gains, you remove incentive to steal," he added.
Jeffrey Gedmin, a former head of the RFE/RL, agreed that part of the tragedy and the danger is "that the West has become an accomplice." "We should be figuring out how to contain kleptocrats - but also be much more self-aware about our own behavior," he said.
Speaking on Azerbaijan, Richard Kauzlarich, former U.S. Ambassador to Baku, highlighted the fact that current generation of corrupt leaders and their cronies in the country "feel comfortable flaunting their wealth."
"They are more dangerous," he said explaining that even during late president Heydar Aliyev's years "there was a very controlled process as people weren't really allowed to flaunt the benefits that they were receiving... It was done with the certain set of discipline and responsibility."
"Not with the second generation though," he added, suggesting to distinguish between oligarchs such as Ziya Mammadov, Araz Agalarov and their sons Anar and Emin. "Look at the way these people - the second generation - behave.... Selfies on privet jets, yachts .... - absolutely no concept of what this does."
For Kauzlarich, the West has to move "more aggressively" by imposing sanctions and working more on disclosure and transparency: "This is the national security problem for the United States," he added. "We really do need to think about applying sanctions - whether they are financial sanctions on specific government officials, or travel sanctions on people who maybe even involved in breaking our own sanctions on Iran," he saod.
The panelists also mentioned that fighting back against kleptocracy while avoiding libel suits isn"t a matter of bravery - it"s strategy.
In his statement to the panel, Paul Massaro, policy advisor to the Helsinki Commission, reaffirmed the Comission's position on opposing kleptocracy: "Kleptocracies promote and export values inimical to our own," he said.