Celebrating Twenty Years of PONARS

In mid-September 2018, I had the privilege of participating in a conference to mark the 20th anniversary of The Program on New Approaches to Russian Security or PONARS Eurasia. At the conference, I presented new work on the Moscow Renovation Project, a proposal by Moscow’s city government to demolish and replace about 20 percent of the city’s residential housing. My preliminary findings show that the policy, called Renovation by the regime and Demolition by the opposition, is designed to reward the regime’s citizen-supporters and address the demand for additional housing in Moscow, while at the same time direct profitable construction contracts to economic elites. These results also underscore how Russia’s government has worked to limit growth of anti-regime protests while creating the grounds for directed responsiveness to citizens’ concerns. As is always the case at a PONARS meeting, the lively discussion was extremely helpful for shaping work in the early stages of development.

The goal of the conference was to celebrate PONARS itself. PONARS was formed two decades ago by Dr. Celeste Wallander and a handful of emerging leader-scholars to address the challenge of explaining post-Soviet international and political developments. By the mid-1990s, it was clear that making sense of the post-Cold War international system demanded that Russia experts adopt new research tools, questions, and theories to understand the sources of Russian international behavior and political development. Those changes also demanded a new conversation among scholars, policymakers, and the NGO community. The program received generous support from the MacArthur Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York to establish a critical resource for all scholars working on Russia today.

I have been a member of PONARS for the life of the organization. The PONARS network contributed to all aspects of my career, from the questions I ask to the ways that I teach. It enables me to stay current on a wide range of questions that are not in my direct research program. Great credit is due to the current co-Directors, Henry Hale and Marlene Laruelle, as well as former co-Director Cory Welt, who have led the transformation of the program in response to a rapidly changing research environment. PONARS has proven flexible and resilient over twenty years, and it remains a central resource for everyone interested in Eurasia. Membership has expanded to include young US scholars as well as colleagues in Eurasia, reinforcing collaborations and ties across international research communities. The network also extended its programming and information dissemination through a strong web presence (http://www.ponarseurasia.org/), including policy memos, syllabi on regional studies, a blog and twitter feeds, as well and information on the scholars included in the network.

PONARS Eurasia is a remarkable accomplishment and a model of the type of infrastructure that can create significant support for scholarship and innovation. PONARS also creates a strong model of scholarship that transcends traditional area studies boundaries to foster rich regionally focused research grounded in disciplinary debates and innovative research tools. Thanks to its founders, leaders, and foundational support it continues to be an important resource for our community.

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