The Russians Take Manhattan

479dbda087438 Andranik Migranyan.jpgTucked into a piece of prime midtown Manhattan real estate is the mysterious Russian think tank, the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation. If the name sounds like a spoof by Stanley Kubrick, the institute’s director, Andranik Migranyan, an Armenian-born political scientist and former adviser to Boris Yeltsin, has news for you: it’s not. Mostly not, anyhow. As Radio Free Europe explains, the project, which is founded by Moscow lawyer and Public Chamber member Anatoly Kucherena, “is evidence of the Kremlin’s growing interest in ‘soft power’ — using Western media, PR, and think-tank models to advance its own interests in abroad.”

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Migranyan says the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation is not financed with Kremlin money, and that Kucherena depends on support from private sponsors. Nevertheless, the institute’s views rarely diverge from that of the Kremlin’s. Neither does one of its key stated goals — studying Western democracy and ‘offering recommendations for its improvement.’ Founder Kucherena has argued that no country can monopolize the definition of democracy and human rights.

But if the institute eschews a unilateral definition of democracy, it seems pretty unequivocal when it comes to a central issue on its radar: the Georgia question.

“If there hadn’t been such anti-Russiahysteria in Georgia, and if Saakashvili hadn’t had such a maniacalobsession with NATO membership and bringing Russia into a head-to-headconfrontation with Brussels and Washington, then of course Russia wouldhave been much more restrained with regard to South Ossetia andAbkhazia. Russia hasn’t recognized either Transdniester orNagorno-Karabakh, correct?” Migranyan says. “That means that SouthOssetia and Abkhazia were not decisions based on principle, butdecisions born out of a coincidence of factors in this particularsituation.”