Rather than being muted by the breaking news, the report was amplified. Its theme (and title) — "The Global Expansion of Authoritarian Rule" — reflected Russia's illegal, immoral attack on its sovereign neighbor.
Global freedom, the analysis starkly states, "faces a dire threat" as "enemies of liberal democracy — a form of self-government in which human rights are recognized and every individual is entitled to equal treatment under the law — are accelerating their attacks."
That's certainly the case in Ukraine, a democracy attacked by an authoritarian military superpower (aided by its supplicant state Belarus). While Ukraine was not a perfect democracy, as Freedom House points out, it was a functioning one and looked to improve its institutions as it sought to join NATO and the European Union. And it is decidedly not a "territory," as Russian President Vladimir Putin put it, but a fully independent nation now threatened by a dictator.
Few cases of democratic erosion are as dramatic as Ukraine's, but the trend is clear, according to Freedom House: 16 consecutive years of decline in global freedom, with 60 countries suffering declines in 2021 compared with only 25 improving.
Unlike the attempted Kremlin conquest of Ukraine, most of this loss of freedom is an inside job. "Authoritarian regimes have become more effective at co-opting or circumventing the norms and institutions meant to support basic liberties, and at providing aid to others who wish to do the same," according to the report.
Depressingly, even in some democracies, the report states, "internal forces have exploited the shortcomings in their systems, distorting national politics to promote hatred, violence and unbridled power." For example, the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
But by far the most egregious examples of rising authoritarianism are found in countries such as China, which has drawn considerably closer to the kindred repressive regime in Russia, a nation that could be exhibit A of Freedom House's report.
"The events that are happening this week in Ukraine fit squarely into the narrative and trends that we identified in our report," Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz told an editorial writer. "What you see now in Ukraine is an unprovoked invasion that is basically going to have the impact, potentially, of overturning a democracy in the middle of Europe."
Holding the Kremlin responsible for attempting to upend democracy has rallied allies in the West, Asia and Australia. But as always, Washington will need to be the leader in this effort.
"The world still looks to the United States to be the leader on democracy, and I think you're seeing that in Ukraine," Abramowitz said.
Whether that's enough to stop Putin's invasion remains to be seen. But not presenting a united front would certainly encourage him to continue his attacks on democracy — and the world order.