100 Russian Small Business Owners in F.C., Aim to Overcome Negative Image

SOME AMONG THE RUSSIAN BUSINESSMEN’S delegation visiting the Washington, D.C., area are shown here enjoying a leisurely barbecue at a private home in  Falls Church last Saturday night. (News-Press photo)More than 100 successful small business owners and entrepreneurs visiting from Russia took time from a two-week educational and lobbying effort in Washington, D.C., last Saturday to enjoy a barbecue at the Falls Church home of former U.S. Consul General to St. Petersburg Dr. Jack Gosnell.

Hosted on their U.S. tour by the Center for Citizen Initiatives, a San Francisco-based organization “dedicated to economic reform in Russia,” the owners of businesses range from bakeries to construction companies, public relations firms, insurance companies, newspapers and more. They came to this area with the goal of changing the negative impression many in the U.S., including in the media, have toward what’s going on inside Russia.

“They are here for major meetings with officials of the National Security Council, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. Congress. They want to convey the optimism they and many in Russia are feeling, contrary to the popular perception in the U.S.,” said Sharon Tennison, president of the Center in the comments to the News-Press at Saturday’s barbecue on Little Falls St.

Volunteers from businesses in 45 U.S. states have weighed into support the efforts of the Center and the small business owners in Russia, 6,500 a year, that it helps train in business management practices. Most are located outside of Moscow or St. Petersburg and are generating jobs, building civil society, and rapidly building a middle class, Tennison said. Banks are coming after them with investment funds, but much of the capital is coming from these companies’ own reinvestment practices.

“We have found it is very difficult to get anything into the U.S. press that is positive about Russia, and these business leaders want to change that perception,” she said.

A certain view of Russia here, derived from its reluctance to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq, has been tough to shake, she said. But in reality President Vladimir Putin has been “very favorable to small and medium-sized business,” and new laws have helped secure foreign investment in the country.

The Center, which has been around since 1983, states its purpose is “to implement programs that assist Russian citizens in securing economic and political reforms and fosters cooperative partnerships and relations between the U.S. and Russia.”

Its focus has been on facilitating person-to-person interactions involving citizens of the U.S. and Russia. Over the years, it has been widely acknowledged that such “citizen diplomacy” has had an enormous impact.

Now, relations between the U.S. and Russia, on a state level, have deteriorated, especially since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Tennison said that this made even more urgent the work of the Center to convey a more accurate sense of what is really going on inside Russia that is positive from a U.S. point of view.

The businesses the Center works with have no ties to the oligarchy, and the influence of the mafias is gone, she said.

The Center’s work is described in detail at its web site,