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Russian Elite Creates Glut of Think Tanks

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Economist Alexei Vedev saw disaster coming in 1991. The Soviet Union was crumbling. Foresight told him state subsidies would dry up - and with them his job.

So he decided to form his own think tank.

While many academics found themselves driving taxis or cleaning people's homes, others like Mr. Vedev have done well thanks to a touch of free-market chutzpah.

Vedev built up an influential client base of contacts he had cultivated at the state-run Academy of Sciences. In time, he developed his own unit of researchers and analysts specializing in the emerging capitalism. Now he runs a respected economic analysis center in Moscow linked to DialogBank, a commercial bank. "Creating my own think tank was the only way to survive," he says.

Vedev didn't know it, but he was in the vanguard of a new growth industry springing out of the ruins of the Soviet Union. Independent research institutes and think tanks have sprouted like mushrooms in the 1990s.

At least 300 political-science organizations are based in Moscow alone, many of them operating without state support. Some are headed by scientists turned financial analysts. Businessmen and politicians also have set up policy centers to influence public opinion. Even former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has joined the bandwagon, setting up his Gorbachev Foundation in 1992 after his retirement.

Observers say such a phenomenon could only come in a country that boasts one of the world's highest standards of education. During Communist times, the government bankrolled thousands of academics, scientists, intellectuals, experts, and specialists in various fields. Once the Soviet state shriveled away, however, so did publicly funded research centers.

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