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On the 20th anniversary of the Soviet Union's collapse, a panel of leading experts on Russia gathered at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to reflect on and assess the events that have taken place since then and what the future holds for Russia. AEI's Nicholas Eberstadt opened the discussion by noting that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was one of the greatest geopolitical events of the last century. Specifically, according to AEI's Leon Aron, the demise of the Soviet Union was brought about by Russia's glorious revolution in 1991. Today, the country's burgeoning civil society is continuing this revolution. Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics argued that Vladimir Putin made a fundamental mistake in September when he acknowledged Dmitry Medvedev's presidency has been a sham. In essence, Putin conceded that he has been Russia's de facto leader during the last three years, a period of economic stagnation. Aslund maintained that this week's protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg are evidence that Putin's leadership is imploding. The financial crisis, which has hit Russia far harder than any other major economy, has convinced the Kremlin that a multipolar world is forming, Andrew Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies argued. However, the crisis has also compelled Kremlin leaders to question whether Russia will represent a powerful, independent pole in this reconfigured system -- a belief that was axiomatic in Moscow just a few years ago. Georgetown University's Angela Stent observed that, contrary to conventional wisdom, U.S.-Russia relations have been more consistent than most assume. Despite several honeymoons during their respective tenures, both the Clinton and Bush administrations ended with U.S-Russia ties at a post-Cold war nadir. Putin's recent comments about U.S. and other "foreign meddling" in Russia's parliamentary elections do not suggest relations will improve in the near future.
---Vera Zimmerman and Daniel Vajdic
Since December 1991, Russia has undergone huge transformations both domestically and in its foreign relations. With an expansion of political freedoms and rapid privatization, the Yeltsin years appeared to set Russia on a path to democratic and free-market consolidation. However, over the last 12 years Russia has turned into an authoritarian, corrupt petro-state. In addition to continuing these trends, Vladimir Putin’s inevitable return to the presidency next year has the potential to strain U.S.-Russia relations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program, U.S. missile defense plans in Europe and the promotion of democracy in what Russia calls its “sphere of privileged interests.”
What were the original hopes and expectations of Russia’s 1991 revolution? Why have they not been realized in the 20 years since then? What will Russia look like 20 years from today? At this AEI event 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, a group of leading experts will discuss these and other questions in the context of Russia’s domestic politics, economic policies, role in the global economy and, above all, its relations with the United States.
LEON ARON, AEI
ANDERS ASLUND, Peterson Institute for International Economics
ANDREW KUCHINS, Center for Strategic and International Studies
ANGELA STENT, Georgetown University
NICHOLAS EBERSTADT, AEI
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Leon Aron is a resident scholar and director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute. In addition to writing Russian Outlook, AEI’s quarterly essay on the economic, political, social and cultural aspects of Russia’s post-Soviet evolution, Mr. Aron has contributed numerous articles on Russian affairs to leading U.S. and Russian newspapers and magazines, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, Commentary, New York Times Book Review and The Times Literary Supplement. He is the author of the first full-length scholarly biography of Boris Yeltsin, “Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life” (St. Martin’s, 2000) and the forthcoming “Roads to the Temple: Memory, Truth, Ideals and Ideas in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991” (Yale University Press, Spring 2012).
Anders Aslund has been a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute since 2006. He is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. He examines the economies of Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe and focuses on the broader implications of economic transition. He worked at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace from 1994 to 2005, first as a senior associate and then as director of the Russian and Eurasian Program. He also worked at the Brookings Institution and the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies. Mr. Åslund has served as an economic adviser to the governments of Russia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. He worked as a Swedish diplomat in Kuwait, Poland, Geneva and Moscow.
Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist and a demographer by training, holds the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute and is also a senior adviser to the National Board of Asian Research, a member of the visiting committee at the Harvard School of Public Health and a member of the Global Leadership Council at the World Economic Forum. Mr. Eberstadt has published over 300 studies and articles in scholarly and popular journals, mainly on topics in demography, international development and East Asian security. He is the author of numerous monographs and articles on North and South Korea, East Asia and countries of the former Soviet Union.
Andrew Kuchins is a senior fellow and the director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Russia and Eurasia Program. He is an internationally known expert on Russian foreign and domestic policies who publishes widely and is frequently called on by business, government, media and academic leaders for comment and consultation on Russian and Eurasian affairs. From 2000 to 2006, Mr. Kuchins was a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he was director of its Russian and Eurasian Program in Washington, D.C., from 2000 to 2003 and again in 2006, and director of the Carnegie Moscow Center in Russia from 2003 to 2005. He currently teaches at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and has also taught at Georgetown and Stanford Universities.
Angela Stent is director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies and professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University. She is also a senior fellow (nonresident) at the Brookings Institution and co-chairs its Hewett Forum on Post-Soviet Affairs. From 2004-2006 she served as national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council. From 1999 to 2001, she served in the Office of Policy Planning at the U.S. Department of State. Ms. Stent’s academic work focuses on the triangular political and economic relationship between the United States, Russia and Europe.