May 21, 2018
I am sorry to see the letter from a group that opposes a private dinner that we are holding with Peter Aven and Mikhail Fridman of Alfa Group.

I have the greatest of respect for this distinguished group of people, and we have more often been on the same side when it comes to campaigning on Russia, its aggressive foreign policy, abuse of human rights, and corruption.  Still, I am a bit bemused by the views they express in this statement.

They are clearly critics of Fridman and Aven and they provide the reasons for their criticism. We are happy to provide them with the means to express their views.

But they do not appear to understand how the Atlantic Council works. We believe that in order to do our work well—in this case concerning Russia—we need the best information and the best networks possible. With that in mind, meeting with Aven and Fridman in a private setting makes perfect sense. They are very well-connected people who can provide a wealth of insight. They are not under any form of sanction, and if they were, we wouldn’t be having this event. We conduct many events of this kind and usually they remain private.

This does not mean we are giving them a sweetheart platform. Our private meetings are known for their candor, possible because they are private. Not everything that an organization like ours does can be a panel event with a webstream.

It is also peculiar to single out the Atlantic Council for criticism here.  The Council’s work over the past four years has been characterized by its clear-eyed view of the Kremlin’s dangerous foreign policy and it has led the charge on sanctions policy, Kremlin disinformation, and arming Ukraine. I don’t think anyone would regard us a soft touch on Russia. 

We, of course, appreciate the work of our critics and have, in fact, hosted many of them.  We hope they can understand that informational events like this one only make us more effective. We want—we need—to maintain a dialogue on critical issues, and we think that this dinner is part of that dialogue. So, too, has been the debate with our critics. Openness to argument is part of our culture, and we hope to maintain that.

John Herbst is director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. Follow him on Twitter @JohnEdHerbst.

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