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Post-Event Summary
The protests that have occurred in Russia since December have shed light on the country’s burgeoning civil society. At an event at AEI on Thursday, resident scholar Leon Aron alleged that the development of civil society will give rise to a more democratic citizenship.

The principle objective of Russia’s grassroots activists, said Aron, is to advance the notion that Russians can and should hold the Kremlin accountable for its actions regardless of the group in power. Leonard Benardo of the Open Society Foundation emphasized that Russian President Vladamir Putin’s “sovereign democracy” has failed and warned that Russian civil society therefore lacks an ideological framework in which to operate.

Bernardo also noted that the degradation of public discourse in Russia demonizes human rights and other civil society groups. Andrew Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies raised important questions about the ability of Russian civil society to sustain mobilization and to grow constituencies over time.

Kutchins stressed that the catalyst for change is always difficult to predict, but that Russia’s trajectory suggests that “modernists” will outnumber “traditionalists” in the next several years. Andrew Weiss concluded the event by highlighting the combined role of money and power in impeding Russia’s overall democratization.

–Uriel Epshtein

Event Description
The hundreds of thousands of protesters that have flooded Moscow and other cities since Russia’s fraudulent December 4, 2011, parliamentary election have given visibility to the country’s burgeoning civil society. Last summer, Leon Aron and Daniel Vajdic, both of AEI, spent nearly a month traversing Russia and conducted 40 hours of recorded interviews with the leaders and activists of six grassroots organizations.

How do civil society organizations operate in the authoritarian environment of Vladimir Putin’s “sovereign democracy?”  To what extent are they able to further their causes despite pervasive corruption and the rule of courts that take their cues from the Kremlin? What are the long-term prospects for civil society in Russia and how will civil society affect the country’s flourishing pro-democracy movement? Leon Aron will explore these issues in his presentation, which will be followed by the panel’s comments and reactions.


1:45 PM

2:00 PM
Leon Aron, AEI
Leonard Benardo, Open Society Foundation
Andrew Kuchins, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Andrew Weiss, RAND Corporation

Nicholas Eberstadt, AEI

4:00 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Daniel Vajdic at [email protected], 202.862.5942.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact Véronique Rodman at [email protected], 202.862.4871.

Speaker Biographies

Leon Aron is resident scholar and director of Russian Studies at AEI. He is the author of three books and over 300 articles and essays. Since 1999, he has written the Russian Outlook, a quarterly essay on economic, political, social and cultural aspects of Russia’s post-Soviet transition, published by AEI. He is the author of the first full-scale scholarly biography of Boris Yeltsin, entitled, “Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000),  “Russia’s Revolution: Essays 1989-2006” (AEI Press, 2007) and “Roads to the Temple: Memory, Truth, Ideals and Ideas in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991” (Yale University Press, June 2012). Aron has taught a graduate seminar at Georgetown University and was awarded the Peace Fellowship at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Leonard Benardo has been at the Open Society Foundations since 1996. In that capacity, he has overseen the Foundations’ activities in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltics, Poland and Hungary. In addition to directing the Open Society Fellowship, he currently oversees all Open Society grant making in Russia and works closely with the Central European University in the development of its new School of Public Policy and International Affairs. Prior to his working in New York, Benardo worked in the Moscow office of the Foundations. He has written for the New York Times, the New York Review of Books and International Herald Tribune, and is the co-author of “Brooklyn by Name: How the Neighborhoods, Streets, Parks, Bridges, and More Got Their Names” (NYU Press, 2006) and “Citizen-in-Chief: The Second Lives of the American Presidents” (Harper, 2010).

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 consulting on Russian and Eurasian affairs. From 2000 to 2006, 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 he was also the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center in Russia from 2003 to 2005. He has held senior management and research positions at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley. Kuchins currently teaches at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and has also taught at Georgetown University and Stanford University.

Andrew Weiss is director of the RAND Center for Russia and Eurasia and executive director of the RAND Business Leaders Forum. He is also a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. Weiss has divided his career between government service and the financial sector. From 1998 to 2001, he served as director for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Council staff, where he was responsible for day-to-day management of U.S.–Russian relations. Weiss was also a member of the U.S. State Department’s policy planning staff (1994–1998), a policy assistant in the office of the under secretary of defense for policy (1992–1994) and a budget analyst in the Department of the Army (1991–1992). From 2002 to 2008, Weiss worked at American International Group Inc. subsidiary companies, serving mostly as an investment strategist/ researcher for global commodities and energy markets.

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