Category Archives: Russia

What Mr. Putin Wants from Mr. Trump

In a packed hall in downtown Seattle in late January, the Jackson Foundation and the World Affairs Council hosted a remarkably timely discussion on U.S.-Russian relations in the Trump era.  The Foundation had the opportunity to showcase Andrei Kozyrev, the former Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation.  In opening comments, I reminded the audience that Kozyrev was a historic figure in modern Russian political life,  who with President Boris Yeltsin helped to dismantle the USSR and worked to better relations with both the U.S. and Europe during the early 1990s.  Kozyrev had extraordinary hopes for Russia’s democratic evolution in those heady years.  In a lively conversation and question and answer session moderated by former CNN Moscow Bureau Chief and veteran Russia-watcher Jill Dougherty, Kozyrev indicated he remains hopeful about the essential spirit of the Russian people, despite having soured on Putin and his policies in the many years (17) Putin has been in control.  In response to a question as to whether the Russian people seek a strongman and gravitate to authoritarianism, Kozyrev said “I witnessed the protests of the Russian people at the Russian White House when tanks surrounded us.  I saw thousands of ordinary Russians who surrounded the building in a human wall against the tanks.  That was the Russian people speaking.”  Emphasizing that Russia’s poor relative wealth to the rest of Europe will inevitably take its toll, and stressing that Russians are in essence Europeans, he said that “I tend to believe that sooner or later the Russian people will want more.”

Kozyrev was upfront about what he thought Putin wanted from President Trump:  “Putin now has a sense of entitlement, wants President Trump to give him “payback” for his help in the election,” Kozyrev said, citing the champagne celebration in the Duma as reflecting the overall elation that greeted Trump’s victory in Russia.  And yet the former Foreign Minister was scathing in his assessment of Putin and his alleged political smarts:  “While Putin is perceived as a man of strategy and strength, it is not anywhere shown in his actions,” noting the bombing of Aleppo, which raises the discontent of Sunni Muslims worldwide, and particularly within Russia.  “Is that a smart strategy?” he asked rhetorically.  He also decried Putin’s policy in Eastern Ukraine, stressing that Russia will be “stuck there” indefinitely, as well as tied into federal subsidies in the Russian-grabbed territory of Crimea from now on.  He characterized both as “a total disaster, with no exit in sight in both places” (Ukraine and Syria).

Andrei Kozyrev and Jill Dougherty

Kozyrev also referred to Russia’s economic situation as very stretched and said that President Trump, in negotiating a new relationship with Russia or considering the lifting of economic sanctions, should take into account that Russia’s economy is 13 times smaller than the U.S. economy – and dwarfed by the economies of the U.S. and European allies taken as a whole.  “With an overextended foreign policy, two wars without any prospect of winning,” Putin doesn’t have much to bargain with.  Yes, they will find areas to cooperate on – citing Iran as a good example, and the space programs – but the Russians won’t bargain where they don’t see their own self-interest, he predicted.

Lara Iglitzin poses a question as Maria Denny, Foundation Board Member, (right) looks on.

The Seattle crowd seemed particularly moved by Kozyrev’s answer to a question as to why Boris Yeltsin had chosen Vladimir Putin to succeed him, so many years ago.  “Yeltsin was a limited political figure,” Kozyrev explained.  “While he used democratic slogans, his understanding of democracy was skin-deep.”  When Russia faced major challenges (such as oil prices as low as $10 barrel), Yeltsin fell back on who he was, which was a creature of the Soviet political structure.  And fellow democrats, Kozyrev included, could not come up with a younger, viable alternative political figure.  In that, “we failed,” Kozyrev concluded.  The audience appreciated Kozyrev’s candor on both current U.S.-Russia relations and the historical perspective.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

Rising Stars at the Jackson School

This week the Jackson Foundation hosted a lunch to highlight graduate students at the University of Washington’s Jackson School who are benefiting from Jackson Foundation fellowship support.  “These Jackson Fellowships represent the core of the Foundation’s long-time support for the School,” said John Hempelmann, Foundation president, in introducing the event.  “Support for high-level graduate training in international affairs is fundamental to the Jackson legacy.”

It is always inspiring and somewhat humbling to meet the young graduate students who are benefiting from the Fellowships.  They are an accomplished bunch, with many languages and research areas between them!

Craig Gannett and Andrew Munro chat with Celia Ann Baker, Jackson/Culp Fellow
Craig Gannett and Andrew Munro, Board members, chat with Celia Anne Baker, Jackson/Culp Fellow

To help the School with a new initiative, the Foundation supports a PhD student in the Jackson School’s doctoral program.  The program is pragmatic in nature – it is three years (rather than the customary five) and thematic (rather than just history, politics, or economics).  Two recent PhD fellows, Deep Pal and Oded Oron, joined Foundation Board members for lunch. Deep studies Indian foreign and security policy and follows India’s interaction with China with great interest.  Deep values the Jackson legacy in his work:  “I was first exposed to Senator Jackson’s vision of forging closer alliances in Asia during my stint with the National Bureau of Asian Research in Washington, D.C. I believe this line of thought resonates in my work – at a time when Asia is undergoing profound changes, alliances between like-minded powers like India and the United States are going to be more important.”

Deep Pal and Oded Oron, Jackson PhD Fellows
Deep Pal and Oded Oron, Jackson PhD Fellows

Oded’s research focuses on the mobilization of irregular migrants such as guest workers, undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and refuges. His dissertation compares African migrants mobilizing in Israel with migrant movements in Washington State, so the Fellowship here has been a great fit.  He is also deeply aware of the Jackson legacy in immigrant human rights, represented by the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and Jackson’s outspoken defense of the right to emigrate freely.

The Foundation also funds two Henry M. Jackson/Gordon Culp Fellows each year — one in Russian and East European Studies and one in China Studies at the School.  Ross Doll, the China Fellow, and Celia Anne Baker, the Russia Fellow, engaged the crowd as they talked about their work and the way that the Fellowship has helped them move forward professionally.  These two fields have been integral to the history of the Jackson School and were a key reason that Senator Jackson worked hard to support the School and its students during his Senate years.  The Foundation is proud to continue that tradition.

Ross Doll, Jackson/Culp Fellow
Ross Doll, Jackson/Culp Fellow
Celia Ann Baker, Jackson/Culp Fellow
Celia Anne Baker, Jackson/Culp Fellow

Resat Kasaba, Jackson School Director, spoke of the Foundation’s unstinting commitment to the School for over 30 years:  “In recent years we have introduced a new Ph.D. Program and a new Applied Master’s Program with Foundation support.   These initiatives have enriched the Jackson School’s profile significantly.   Thanks to our partnership, we have recruited top-notch students from around the world, strengthened our ties to the Pacific Northwest region, and established new relationships with the policy world in Washington D.C.  Foundation support has been critical in keeping the School at the top of its game.”

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

A Conversation with Ukrainian Ambassador Valeriy Chaly

Lara and ChalyThe Jackson Foundation and the World Affairs Council of Seattle convened a high-level conversation with Ambassador Valeriy Chaly, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States before a packed room in downtown Seattle last week.  I had the opportunity to moderate the session with the Ambassador, who was forthcoming about Ukraine’s challenges – both domestic and international – over the next several months.  This conversation took place with the backdrop of Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, an act that provoked an unusually unified response from the U.S. and its European allies in the form of sanctions against Russia.  Russia also has started an ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine that has left 10,000 Ukrainians dead and over a million more displaced from their homes.

Given that Ukraine is facing enormous economic hardship and financial crisis in the midst of the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the Ambassador was particularly appreciative of recent, high-level meetings that he had held with U.S. officials in Washington, DC about Ukraine as well as Russia.  Russia has played an aggressive, destabilizing role in current Ukraine affairs, apart from its role in bringing in arms and mercenaries to push for a separatist movement in Eastern Ukraine and the seizure of Crimea.  “Ukraine was faced with the choice of two partners when it became independent from the USSR.  Now the choice is only one – the United States.  Russia no longer provides an opportunity for partnership,” the Ambassador said.

roomAmbassador Chaly expressed his gratitude to the U.S. for its standing by Ukraine during this period, although he felt that the U.S. “did not have a vision as to where Ukraine fits within its foreign policy moving forward.”  This perhaps reflects the complex relationship with Russia and the West, and the role Moscow can still play in negotiations with Syria in particular.

Ambassador Chaly was optimistic when talking about the eventual decisions faced by European Union countries as to whether or not to continue sanctions against Russia.  “The Europeans continue to be supportive of Ukraine and I fully expect them to vote to keep the sanctions in place,” he predicted, in response to a question which noted that some European leaders have seemed anxious to resolve the sanctions issue for their own economic and political benefit.  “The European Union is also a critical partner to Ukraine at this moment,” he said.

The conversation also touched on the recent resignation of Ukraine’s finance minister, who specifically called out what he saw as the corruption endemic to the political and economic circles at the highest levels in Ukraine.  “It is not about a single person, whether he resigns or not,” Ambassador Chaly contended, noting that Ukraine has established a new anti-corruption bureau in recent days.  While European and U.S. observers are alarmed over this new development, wondering what to make of Ukraine’s commitment to reform, the Ambassador was unruffled.  “We have long-term goals and a long-term struggle,” he concluded.

He noted that he had come to Seattle in part to meet with Boeing and Microsoft executives, and also, as a reflection of the more than 60,000 Ukrainian immigrants who currently reside in the state.   In meetings with the Seattle Mayor, a possible sister-to-sister relationship with Lviv, Ukraine and Seattle was even discussed.  The interest in Ukraine was reflected in the intense audience questions which followed the formal conversation.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

 

 

 

Sanctions and Russia: Europe and the U.S. Take Stock

“Vladimir Putin is not the man we hoped he would be or we thought he would be.”  David J. Riley, 1st Secretary, foreign and security policy, British Embassy to the U.S., made this remark on a fascinating panel discussion in Seattle about Russian sanctions and the future of the U.S.-EU and Russia relationship convened by the Jackson Foundation, in partnership with the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle, in early October.  William Pomeranz, deputy director of the Washington, DC-based Kennan Institute, and Nelson Dong, partner, Dorsey & Whitney, head of its National Security Law Group, also joined the panel.  I moderated the discussion, which veered toward the pessimistic, particularly in light of the very recent Russia move into the Syrian conflict.

Shot with DxO ONE
Panelists David Riley and Nelson Dong

There was considerable speculation about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s motives, both in seizing Crimea and moving into Eastern Ukraine, and in the Syrian situation.  “Putin wants to show that Russia is a major international player,” Pomeranz said, and Riley agreed, adding “Putin’s isolation [due to Western sanctions] has hurt him the most.  He wants to remind everyone that he matters.”

Nelson Dong confirmed that in his assessment of the business sector, sanctions have hurt Russia considerably and noted that the policy was deliberately crafted to hit certain areas:  “The sanctions against Russia are unlike those in the past against Cuba and Iran.  The Russian sanctions are extraordinarily targeted.” His conclusion:  “Sanctions, along with reduced oil prices, have resulted in a recession in Russia.”

Will Pomeranz and Panelists
Left to Right:  Lara Iglitzin, Will Pomeranz, David Riley, and Nelson Dong

Will Pomeranz agreed that Russia has suffered internally due to its aggressive foreign policy and tied Putin’s latest moves in Syria to the worsening economic situation in Russia: “With the growing economic recession, there is a need to distract public attention away from that issue.  On television, the government is showing all Syria, all the time” in a deliberate policy to change the conversation.

Pomeranz and Riley, when asked about the possibility of a split between the EU and the U.S. on Russia policy, agreed that, as Pomeranz said, “Putin is the great unifier – he has unified the EU in their actions to undertake sanctions against Russia; he has unified what is left of the Ukraine against him.  Even in the halls of Congress Putin has caused unity!”

There was a clear consensus that Putin had caused the West to rethink its relationship with Russia, moving from a view of Moscow as a strategic partner to that of a “strategic competitor,” in Riley’s words.  The increasing crackdown on civil society in Russia, something that the Jackson Foundation has been closely monitoring in the human rights and NGO sector there, provides the backdrop for the uptick in tensions between the U.S., Europe and Russia moving forward.

This will be one of several events this year that the Jackson Foundation will convene in Seattle relating to heightened concerns about Russia’s behavior at home and abroad.

Lara Iglitzin

Executive Director

 

Supporting Russian Civil Society

Lara Iglitzin
Lara Iglitzin

I recently had the opportunity to be part of an invitation-only discussion on supporting civil society in Russia.  The small conference under the auspices of the European Union Civil Society Forum was held in London, and featured European foundations and a few larger U.S. foundations.  The Jackson Foundation was invited given its 30 year role funding in Russia and promoting concerns of U.S.-Russian relations and rule of law.  It was very interesting to hear the European perspective on the ongoing civil society crisis in Russia – after all, they are next door to the Russian bear – and to share the thoughts of the Jackson Foundation with colleagues.

Given the crackdown on civil society in Russia under President Vladimir Putin, worsening since 2012, there is a dramatically smaller space for civil society in Russia today.  Funders discussed why they should keep funding in Russia, and how best to do it, given the risks to NGOs and the barriers placed on foreign funds.  Many of us felt that one goal of giving money to Russian NGOs has to be to try to retain and bolster that civic space to ensure it doesn’t shrink any further.  Yet with the Russian government’s demonizing of Western countries – especially the U.S., and particularly of Western money flowing to NGOs, how can a foundation do that effectively? The obstacles placed by the Russian government in terms of regulations, laws, and the threat of NGOs being labeled “foreign agents” – and faced with fines and organizational closure – has put a damper on the ability of Western foundations to be strategic and effective with their dollars.

"Foreign Agent"
“Foreign Agent” label on NGO building

Given the stakes, some reaffirmed their belief in “core support” for NGOs – i.e., basic, institutional grants given with the aim of paying salaries and rent and allowing work to continue.  Yet foundation staff are hearing from disillusioned Board members who wonder if the resources are being used strategically.  Donor fatigue and burnout, given the trajectory of Putin’s Russia, is impacting the field.

Smaller foundations such as the Jackson Foundation have to utilize different strategies to be effective in this climate, given the much reduced resources available for grants and programs.  I was heartened to see that some of the tactics we have used in the last several years were seen as useful, both by the Russian NGOs and by foundations with significantly more resources.  Specifically, we have been:

  • Supporting delegations of Russian civil society activists on study tours to the U.S., with in-depth training and peer-to-peer consultations. Last year we brought a delegation to the U.S. to learn from colleagues in U.S. nongovernmental organizations. Every person who has had an opportunity to experience a study tour returns and briefs others with what she has learned. It is hard to overstate the person-to-person value of such programs; and
  • Raising awareness through programs in Washington, DC and Seattle about what is going on in Russia today in domestic and foreign policy, the impact on U.S.-Russian relations, the state of civil society and the NGO community, the development of the next generation of civil sector leaders, and the like.  We plan more in the years ahead.
Seattle International Fountain
2014 Russian NGO Delegation

In my two decades at the Jackson Foundation, one of the oft-quoted phrases from those who knew Senator Jackson is his belief to “stay the course.”  The meaning is clear: when the going gets tough, you keep steady in what you believe in. In keeping with that tradition and with the Senator’s legacy of promoting democracy, Foundation will continue find strategic and effective means to make civil society in Russia a priority.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

Spotlight on Russia

This month the Jackson Foundation partnered with the World Affairs Council of Seattle on a program to focus on recent, troubling events in Russia — with a particular emphasis on the murder of Russian politician Boris Nemtsov steps away from the Kremlin.  The event, which was sold out, featured a panel including Jacqueline Miller, President and CEO of the World Affairs Council and a specialist in Russian foreign policy and U.S.-Russia relations; and Dr. Vladimir Raskin, a Seattle attorney who in the early 1990s co-founded Moscow Center for Human Rights; I joined the panel as well. Carol Vipperman, Senior Advisor to the Foundation and formerly president of the Foundation for Russian and American Economic Cooperation, moderated.

Vladimir

The mood was somber, given the recent assassination and its implications for the future of Russian society and political life.  My remarks focused on the diminishing space for civil society and NGOs and described the crackdown on the media in Russia today.  Vladimir reflected on the span of more than twenty years since the hopeful time when the USSR collapsed and civil society emerged.  That spark of energy and excitement about the possibility of a more democratic Russia has largely dissipated in the wake of this murder and all the murders, draconian laws and political aggression that has been evident in President Putin’s Russia of late.  Jackie Miller highlighted the complexity of relations between the U.S. and Russia and spoke about the impact of sanctions on the Russian domestic economy.  She underlined the uncertainty in Russia’s foreign policy in 2015.  “At least during the Cold War, we understood the rules of the game.  Now it’s anyone’s guess.”

Lara

The crowd had many questions, ranging from the prospects for Russia’s opposition politicians after Nemtsov to the rise of nationalism and what role the West should be playing.  The war in Ukraine loomed large, both in panelists’ remarks and in the questions posed.  Panelists differed as to their predictions about what Putin intended next:  where would he stop?  Were the Baltics next? Moldova?  Would he be satisfied with Crimea, or Eastern Ukraine?  The discussion reflected  Putin’s success at surprising his critics and Western observers today.

Audience

In response to a question regarding which Russia specialists to follow to best assess the situation today, Jackie pointed to an op-ed that I authored in Crosscut, the online magazine, on the murder of Nemtsov and implications for Russia’s future.

We plan to monitor events in Russia closely.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

A Russian NGO is Helping Children Breathe

With all of the negative news about Russia, it is great to have a story to share about how a Russian NGO, Vera Hospice Charity Fund, is helping children with severe neuromuscular conditions obtain individual medical ventilators.  By using Global Giving, a crowdfunding platform to raise funds,  it means that more children are able to be home with their families instead of being cared for in hospitals.

During our March NGO Counterpart Exchange, funded by the U.S. State Department’s U.S. -Russia Peer-to-Peer Dialogue Program, the Foundation organized a meeting for the delegation with Global Giving.   The Russian NGO leaders were all very interested in learning how they could use Global Giving’s platform to raise funds worldwide.  We are very pleased that Vera Hospice Charity Fund was one of the first to seize the opportunity.

Global Giving
Global Giving

Vera Hospice Charity Fund has been helping terminally ill children in Russia for many years and is well-respected for its work.  Please take a moment and look at their campaign and share it with others. It is a deserving project.

The Jackson Foundation is committed to the development of a healthy civil society in Russia.  We are pleased that a program that we initiated has successfully connected U.S. and Russian NGOs in this meaningful manner.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

Russia’s Freedoms in Retreat

Putin the Chessmaster
Putin the Chessmaster

As part of the Foundation’s work with civil society activists in Russia, I recently interviewed leading journalists, human rights advocates and civic leaders in Moscow about current trends and concerns in Russia’s civil society.  Uniformly, people are not hopeful about the direction Russia is heading.  Read my thoughts in today’s op ed piece:

Seattle Times Op Ed on Russia’s Deteriorating Civil Society

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director