Russia Dolls Up Its Image with New Groups

The Russian government, upset at criticism from such foreign-funded organizations as the U.S. think tank Freedom House, is turning the tables. Moscow approved the creation of the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation, which will "study democracy and human rights in Europe and the United States." The Institute, whose funding comes from "private businesses," has offices in New York and Paris. "No country can monopolize the definition of standards of democracy and human rights," said Institute founder Anatoly Kucherena. In related news, the National Information Center will open in Moscow next month. "The center's aims include improving Russia's image abroad, promoting national projects and providing [Russian and foreign] journalists with first-hand contacts in the presidential administration," reports the Moscow Times. The Center will also be funded by business leaders, while Vasily Shestakov, "a friend and judo partner of President Vladimir Putin," has been invited to head its supervisory board.


I believe that the following information is important for understanding the context within which the ‘Institute of Democracy and Cooperation’ was established. The initial impulse for creating this institute came from Vladimir Putin’s comments made at Russia – EU conference in Portugal in October 2007. In his comments, Mr Putin referred to EU-funded advocacy of democracy in Russia as to something that should be matched by Russia’s similar activities in Europe and elsewhere. When explaining these comments, Putin’s aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky said that Mr Putin meant the European University at St. Petersburg that received a EU grant to implement a project on election monitoring in Russia. As a director of the mentioned project, the Inter-Regional Electoral Network of Assistance (IRENA), I would like to draw the attention of your readers to the following facts. Starting with June 2007, the IRENA project experienced continuous harassment from the Russian authorities. After a series of inspections that did not prove anything illegal in project-related activities, the Russian authorities attacked the recipient of the grant, the European University at St. Petersburg. In February 2008, the European University was closed by the authorities on a ridiculous pretext of ‘fire safety violations’. At about the same time, the ‘Institute of Democracy and Cooperation’ started to operate in Paris and New York.
Grigorii Golosov, Professor, European University at St. Petersburg, Russia,