A well-respected think tank has just been slammed for being too cozy with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It also stands accused of being a "trojan horse" for Russian Influence.
James Kirchick, a Fellow with the conservative think tank Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), has some pretty harsh words for the Carnegie Moscow Center (a subdivision of the Carnegie Institute for International Peace) and certain scholars there. Following are some of Think Tank Watch's favorite excerpts from the piece, entitled "How a US Think Tank Fell for Putin."
On the "Secret" Boisto Meeting to Solve the Russia/Ukraine Tensions:
The Boisto Group’s meeting was sponsored by three entities: the Finnish Foreign Ministry, the Institute for World Economy and International Relations (a think tank affiliated with the Russian Academy of Sciences), and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, one of the largest funders of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which describes itself as “the oldest international affairs think tank in the United States” (Such a long-running pedigree hasn’t been without its hiccups: a former president of Carnegie was Alger Hiss, the State Department official who spied for the Soviets.) Boisto’s first three signatories were Tom Graham, a former associate at the Carnegie Endowment, and a managing director at Kissinger Associates; Andrew Weiss, the Carnegie Endowment’s vice president for studies who also serves as a senior adviser at the Albright Stonebridge Group, and Deana Arsenian, vice president of the international program and director of the Russia program at the Carnegie Corporation. On the Russian side, the delegation included, among others, Alexei Arbatov, a scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center, and Vyacheslav Trubnikov, a former head of the country’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR).
Think tank vs. Business Consulting - A Conflict of Interest?
Policy analysts who simultaneously work for major consulting shops founded by former secretaries of state (Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, respectively), Graham and Weiss—who also served as co-chairs of the Boisto initiative—are influential players in the transatlantic conversation about Russia, although it’s unclear where their analytical work stops and their business interests begin.
“I don’t want to be holier than thou,” a Russia analyst at a prominent Washington think tank said when asked about Graham and Weiss’s work as business consultants while also dispensing ostensibly objective analysis. “It seems to be a direct conflict of interest.
On Western Think Tanks in Russia
Carnegie was the first major Western think tank to open a branch in Russia following the breakup of the Soviet Union, and, ironically, it may be the last. 1994, when the Moscow center was founded, was a period of optimism for liberal reform of the post-communist system, and Carnegie Moscow was one of the leading Western outposts providing independent and reliable analysis of Russian domestic politics and foreign policy. After Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, and throughout his rise as Russia’s new tsar, the center built a reputation for quality and insight. That reputation was built in part upon the work of three individuals: Lilia Shevtsova, a political scientist and one of the most well-respected analysts of Russian politics; Nikolai Petrov, who headed the center’s Society and Regions Program; and Maria Lipman, a journalist and author who edited the center’s renowned Russian-language Pro et Contra journal. All three have been vocal and prominent critics of Putin and the corrupt and sclerotic system he has imposed.
On Recent Turnover at Carnegie's Moscow Center
The center began to undergo serious change, however, after Putin returned to the presidency in 2012 following a rigged election and violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. In January 2013, Petrov left after his program was canceled, not due to lack of funds, he contends, but a desire not to ruffle Kremlin feathers.
Next to go was Lipman, laid off in the summer of 2014 due to what she was formally informed were “personnel cuts.” This came as a surprise, not least because in 2013 Carnegie Moscow had received a three-year grant of $350,000 from the MacArthur Foundation to fund the publication of Pro et Contra.
Last out the door in October was Shevtsova, who only two months earlier had signed the open letter protesting the Boisto manifesto, pitting her against her superiors, Arsenian and Weiss. Shevtsova, who is now affiliated with the Brookings Institution, told The Daily Beast: “Carnegie has been a wonderful place over the years with a strong a tradition of pluralism of views, including most prominently liberal principled views. Over the past year or two, however, I have sensed that this has changed, with a squeezing out of different points of view.”
On Carnegie's New Hired in Moscow
Three months after Shevtsova’s departure, in January 2015, Carnegie announced the hiring of three new analysts in its Moscow office, ostensibly to replace the veterans who had left. “I’m a great admirer of [Lilia] Shevtsova, Masha Lipman and Nikolai Petrov and their remarkable contributions to the Carnegie Moscow Center over many years,” Weiss said in an email. However, one current Carnegie staffer has referred to Lipman and Shevtsova as “dinosaurs” in this author’s presence.
Carnegie Not a Target of Russia's Campaign Targeting Think Tanks, NGOs
As the Russian government ratchets up a xenophobic campaign targeting Western nongovernmental organizations, accusing them of espionage and attempting to foment a coup, Carnegie’s presence in Moscow continues to be tolerated. Its name is conspicuously missing from the latest list of “undesirable organizations” compiled by the Russian government, which includes many other institutions of similar profile: George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation, the latter of which announced last week that it will leave Russia due to Kremlin pressure.
Adding to the mystery of Carnegie’s absence from the list of “undesirable organizations” is the fact that MacArthur, Mott, and Open Society have all funded the Moscow center.
Carnegie Moscow Center Doesn't Do Anti-Russia?
A list of events held by the Carnegie Moscow Center on its website provides one clue to why this might be the case: Scarcely any have addressed internal Russian politics or, more amazingly, the ongoing war in Ukraine. “[Carnegie Moscow] used to be a venue where events were held regularly, and, I would say, quite frequently, that discussed current developments in looking at various aspects of Russia. I don’t see such events any more and if they still hold them they are much fewer,” Lipman said.
Carnegie Moscow Center Cozy with Russian Intelligence?
According to Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess grandmaster, human rights activist, and Daily Beast contributor, Carnegie functions in a role not unfamiliar to students of the Cold War: as a tribune to the West through which Russian intelligence whispers the official Moscow line—or rather, what Moscow wants the West to believe is that line. The Moscow center is the sort of operation that influential actors in the Kremlin, he said, “use at a time when they need to communicate their messages to the West not from official structures but from something that is viewed as independent and even American.”
Has Carnegie Lost Its Independence?
Over half a dozen Russia analysts at prominent Washington-based think tanks consulted for this article chose not to go on the record with their concerns out of professional courtesy. But they joined Kasparov in assessing that Carnegie has decided to place a premium on maintaining its presence in Moscow, sacrificing its intellectual independence and analytical rigor in the process.
Russia Moscow Center Influenced by Putin-Connected Think Tank?
Last December, Graham, Rumer and Weiss attended a conference in Moscow hosted by the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI), a think tank that, until 2009, was connected to Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR) and now provides analysis directly to the presidential administration. Under the leadership of Leonid Reshetnikov, a retired SVR general, the institute strongly supported the annexation of Crimea, and, according to former institute researcher Alexander Sytin, has hosted the separatist leader Igor Girkin (aka Igor Strelkov), himself a former operative in Russian intelligence and a purported “friend” of the institute’s director.
The Carnegie Moscow Center, which started its activities in 1994, was recently ranked as the 14th best non-US think tank in the world by the University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings. It was ranked as the 26th best think tank in the world. It was also ranked as the best think tank in Central and Eastern Europe.
CEIP was ranked as the world's third best think tank, and the second best think tank in the United States (after Brookings).