The Valdai Discussion Club is a Moscow-based think tank, established in 2004. It is named after Lake Valdai, which is located close to Veliky Novgorod, where the Club’s first meeting took place.
The Valdai conference is closely linked with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has met with the participants of the Valdai Club’s annual meetings every year since its founding. Among many other Kremlin officials attending Valdai meetings are Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister; Sergei Ivanov, Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office; Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Sergei Shoigu, Defense Minister and others.
Daniel W. Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, describes Valdai as “a swanky high-level conference put on by the Russian elite.” Drezner describes Valdai as “the highest-profile Russian equivalent to Davos” and writes that the chief value to attendees is the ability to determine the official line of the Russian government, although attendance also risks “greater legitimacy on a government that has been accused of some less-than-legitimate activities as of late.” Nikolat Petrov of the Carnegie Moscow Center identified Valdai as “a project used as blatant propaganda by the Kremlin” while Russian sociologist Lilia Shevtsova criticized the Valdai conferences in an article entitled “Putin’s Useful Idiots.” Marcel H. Van Herpen identifies Valdai as a soft power effort by the Kremlin in service of Russian foreign policy goals, with Russian leadership using the conference in a bid to (1) gain goodwill among Western intellectuals, (2) create networking opportunities between Russian and Western elites, and (3) “create a testing ground for the Kremlin’s foreign policy initiatives.” Angus Roxburgh notes that RIA Novosti was important to the establishment of Valdai during Putin’s second term, and that the conference plays a key role in the Russian government’s effort to burnish Putin’s image and influence outsiders.
Professors and scholars from major world universities and think tanks participate in Valdai. The Valdai Club also operates regional programmes Asian, Mid-Eastern and Euro-Atlantic Dialogues. The Club also holds a special session at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.