Many hundreds of thousands of Russians have fled their ever-more authoritarian country since the start of Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, joining a global exile community that had been growing for years. They include leaders of the political opposition, civil society and media who have long opposed the Kremlin, are natural allies against Russia’s war in Ukraine, and a key hope for reestablishing any future free and open Russian society.

How do they deal with the assigning of collective guilt? How can Western countries tap their human capital in the battle for liberal democracy?

The Institute of Current World Affairs, American Purpose and US Institute of Peace held the first in a series of hybrid panel discussions with leading émigrés and experts discussing their challenges at USIP on September 18. Jeffrey Gedmin, acting president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, moderated a discussion with Natalya Lunde of the Free Russia Foundation, investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov and Margarita Zavadskaya of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, on the burgeoning Russian émigré community, focused on civil society and media: Where are they, what are they doing, what are their main challenges?


Natalya Lunde is Vice President, Global Operations of the Free Russia Foundation. She previously worked at three prominent Washington DC think-tanks: as Vice President for Development and Communications at the Potomac Foundation; as Director of Public Affairs at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments; and as Assistant Director for Congress and U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.


Andrei Soldatov is a Russian investigative journalist and security services expert. Together with fellow journalist Irina Borogan, he is co-founder and editor of the Agentura.Ru website. He is the author of numerous books with Borogan, including The Compatriots: The Brutal and Chaotic History of Russia’s Exiles, Émigrés, and Agents Abroad.


Margarita Zavadskaya is a Senior Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs currently focused on the political impact of Russian emigration in receiving countries with the OutRush research project. She has also worked at the Electoral Integrity Project (Universities of Harvard and Sydney) and the European University at St. Petersburg as a researcher and lecturer. She is editor of a forthcoming book, Politics of the Pandemic: Blame Game and Governance in Russian and Central-Eastern Europe.


Jeffrey Gedmin, is on temporary assignment as acting president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He is co-founder of American Purpose, the magazine and media venture. He is former President/CEO of the London-based Legatum Institute. Gedmin previously served four years as President/CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, headquartered in Prague, prior to which he served as President/CEO of the Aspen Institute in Berlin. He is the author/editor of several books on Germany and European security.

Upcoming panels

The Russian opposition in exile
Thursday, October 5, 10 a.m.

Which are the main exile political groups and how are they trying to oppose Putin’s Kremlin from outside the country? Who are their main constituencies inside Russia?

Russian scholars in exile
Thursday, November 16, 10 a.m.

How are Russian academics abroad trying to keep teaching, researching and preserving Russia’s intellectual capital for future generations?

Post-Putinist Russia
January TBD

What are the plausible scenarios for a post-authoritarian Russia? What are the main challenges facing institutional and social reform, including decolonialization, the understanding of history and Russian identity, interests of minority regions? What roles should the US and other Western countries be playing, what lessons learned from the post-Soviet 1990s?