Dr. Bruce Blair made opening remarks, introducing CGI and its President Dr. Nikolai Zlobin, who “speaks his mind and tells truth to power.” Blair explained that the organization will channel Washington, D.C.’s pool of expertise into timely reports and nimble task forces that can “offer pragmatic ways for parties to cooperate in identifying common interests, particularly in U.S.-Russian relations.” He emphasized that CGI’s work will receive consideration at the highest levels of government and will play an influential role “in helping to promote understanding and shape policy” while building a commitment to the next generation of thinkers on a wide range of issues.
Dr. Nikolai Zlobin, Founder and President of CGI, talked about this “new adventure” in his life. He emphasized that there is a market for a new kind of Washington think tank that breaks free from Cold War thinking to overcome stereotypes, particularly between the U.S. and Russia. While CGI will focus on global issues, Zlobin said he is particularly interested in the U.S.-Russia relationship, stressing that Russia remains an important country yet day-to-day politics and “irritations” with U.S. counterparts continue to derail a constructive agenda between the two countries. CGI’s ultimate goal is to help policymakers overcome this tendency and make global thinking much more strategic, rather than improvisational and predictable. He noted that CGI is “small but brave,” independent above all, and extremely open to cooperation as the organization seeks to overcome our collective “intellectual dead-end.”
Mr. Mark Medish, head of CGI’s expert task force on the Russian Presidency of the G20, commented that “it takes courage, vision, and a bit of craziness to open a new think tank in a town of think tanks.” He congratulated the organization for deciding to take a “long view” of the U.S.-Russia relationship during this challenging period. He explained that he decided to become involved with CGI because it’s “tremendously important for all countries to devote greater attention to collective efforts and problem solving,” especially as problems become increasingly complicated across a range of issues and nation-states continue to cling to their sovereignty.
Ambassador Tom Pickering expressed his hope that Dr. Zlobin would “do a little bit of rat killing for the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Russia” by clearing away old ideas and making room for new ones. He emphasized that U.S.-Russian relations have a strong cyclical nature that often parallel election periods, and encouraged CGI to work to expand the up-cycles and contract the down-cycles. According to the ambassador, an institution like CGI will be critically important in pulling U.S.-Russian relations out of Cold War mindsets and “public hangovers” from the Soviet period.
Ambassador Richard Burt emphasized that although Washington, D.C. is already crowded with think tanks, CGI is not a typical institution. By making an effort to think long-term in analyzing U.S.-Russia relations, CGI is avoiding a common error – looking at the bilateral relationship in isolation from broader global trends. He noted that we are going through a “fundamental international transformation,” and how the two countries adapt to those changes will be critical in how the relationship evolves. This issue constitutes both the challenge and the opportunity for CGI as it moves forward.
Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who was an honorary attendee, also made an impromptu speaking appearance. He discussed his experience as Ambassador of Russia to the United States, pointing out that while the Russian Federation and the U.S. have their differences, the two countries are working toward solutions. He also noted that “we need to focus on the things that are important to both countries, and strategic analysis is essential for the realization of this goal.” Ambassador Kislyak also reinforced the need to overcome Cold War stereotypes and bolster the foreign policy agenda.