December 6, 2005
A U.S. NGO Made in Moscow
By Stephen Boykewich
Plans are in the works to set up a Washington-based think tank that would be funded with Russian money and combat the U.S. perception of Russia "as a bad pupil," Kremlin-connected consultant Gleb Pavlovsky said Monday.
Among possible participants in the project are metals mogul Oleg Deripaska and Dimitri Simes, president of the Washington-based Nixon Center, Pavlovsky said.
The nongovernmental organization would correct "an increasingly ideological and propagandistic approach" to Russia on the part of American scholars and commentators, said Pavlovsky, who heads the Fund for Effective Politics, a think tank, and hosts the NTV talk show "Big Politics."
"I think the level of intellectual competency in American programs related to Russia is dropping," he said by telephone. Scholarly and research institutions "are spending their money the way it's easiest to do so: on educational programs teaching bad Russia the right way to behave."
A think tank in Washington would help create "the real debates we need on the most complex, controversial issues" as Russia assumes the chair of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in 2006, he said. "When you're being taught, there's no dialogue."
Pavlovsky said one possible sponsor for the project was Deripaska, who was in Washington on Tuesday to speak at the Carnegie Center for International Peace on restructuring Soviet enterprises. Deripaska has been aggressively acquiring assets in the industrial and natural resources spheres as other oligarchs have turned cautious after the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and effective renationalization of his Yukos oil empire.
Georgy Oganov, a spokesman for Deripaska's Basic Element holding company, said "this issue was discussed ... on many occasions among Mr. Deripaska and people living in the States, including people at the Nixon Center."
"We understand that it will be helpful for the Russian Federation as well as for us as a private company operating in this country to increase understanding of the processes that are taking place in this country, both politically and economically," Oganov said.
Simes said the Nixon Center, a conservative think tank, had paid for Pavlovsky and several other Russian political analysts to visit Washington in November for a research project on American influence in former Soviet republics. But he said he had not discussed plans for a Russian-funded think tank with them or with Deripaska.
"There's clearly a background for this" think tank idea, Simes said, citing plans for Russia Today -- a 24-hour, English-language news channel funded by the Kremlin -- and increased activity by state-controlled RIA-Novosti as signs of Moscow's increasing concern about foreign perceptions.
But Simes said that after the Yukos affair, "any think tank that would take money from Russian tycoons -- there would be a perception that this was arranged by the Russian government. This think tank would have no credibility whatsoever."
Simes, who was born in Russia and emigrated to the United States in 1973, agreed with Pavlovsky's perception that U.S. scholarship on Russia had seen better days. "In the U.S., it's not a very prestigious field anymore. It used to attract the best and brightest," he said by telephone from Washington.
Carnegie Moscow Center director Andrew Kuchins disagreed. Although U.S. government funding for Russia studies has dropped precipitously since the Soviet collapse, "in many cases it is of much higher quality today because scholars have much better access," he said.
As to the plans for the think tank, Kuchins expressed cautious approval. "I would welcome this development, but I would also hope this organization would be able to maintain as much independence as possible," he said.
Pavlovsky could not say when the think tank might be set up, saying discussions were ongoing.
Talk of Russian-funded scholarship in Washington comes amid government efforts to counter U.S. influence in the former Soviet Union.
A State Duma bill that would bar foreign funding for NGOs deemed to be engaged in political activity drew criticism from the U.S. State Department last month. Nearly simultaneously, the Duma voted to allocate $7.4 million to what Duma Deputy Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin called the development of democracy in the Baltic countries. The move was seen as a response to a vote in U.S. Congress to devote $4 million to the development of Russian political parties.