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Countering Authoritarianism

Andrei Sakharov’s Message to Democracies Threatened By War: How It Can Help Empower Them Today

18:00 - 19:30 CET / 2:00 - 3:30 KST+1

Online event

The 3rd Summit for Democracy is taking place in a far more perilous context than did the previous two: the Kremlin’s barbaric aggression against Ukraine continues with no end in sight; the ‘war fatigue’ engulfing Western societies and partisan polarization in the U.S. Congress that has blocked further aid to Ukraine are creating a strategically favorable environment for the Putin regime. Meanwhile, political and military leaders in Europe have been speaking about the possibility of a war with Russia. This situation presents grave risks for the stability of democratic societies.

At this critical moment, it is worthwhile to consider the most recent precedents to the current crisis and to revisit the analysis and recommendations that proved successful in helping democracies prevail against their opposite numbers. Our panel drew upon the works and ideas of Andrei Sakharov, mainly dating back to the period of the last major Cold War-era confrontation that followed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the breakdown of arms control negotiations (1979-1985). Some of the defining issues of East-West relations at the time and of Sakharov’s writings about them – such as the use of sanctions; nuclear saber-rattling; diverging responses of Americans and Western Europeans to the Soviet threat, as well as divisions within their societies; and, of course, Soviet crackdown on dissent – are broadly comparable to those we are facing now. In other ways, the U.S., Western Europe, and Russia, have changed beyond recognition.

Yet Sakharov’s work, owing to his systemic approach to international affairs and his universalist vision, has enduring significance for dealing both with the continuities and the novel aspects of the Kremlin’s ideological and military challenge to democracies. His encouragement to them to stand united and firm in response to the Soviet military threat, to draw strength from their fundamental values, and to promote differentiation within Soviet leadership proved to be a recipe for success at that particular moment. Our panel built upon Sakharov’s analysis and recommendations of 40 years ago as a starting point to discuss its implications and strategic value for democracies today.


Sergey Lukashevsky, Editor-in-Chief, Radio Sakharov

Dr. Benjamin Nathans, Associate Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania

Tatiana Yankelevich, Co-Chair of the Board of the American Russian-speaking Association for Civil & Human Rights (ARA); Associate, Davis Center for Russian & Eurasian Studies, Harvard University

Arkady Ostrovsky, Russia Editor, The Economist

Alexey Semyonov, President, The Andrei Sakharov Foundation

Moderator: Dr. Dmitri Glinski, Managing Director, American Russian-speaking Association for Civil & Human Rights (ARA)


  • American Russian-speaking Association for Civil & Human Rights
  • Radio Sakharov
  • The Andrei Sakharov Foundation