Obituary: Jeremy R. Azrael Was Convener of Leaders Who Shaped Post-Communist Russian Economy

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Friday
March 20, 2009

Jeremy R. Azrael, a leading expert on the Russian economy and a longtime political scientist at the RAND Corporation, died March 19 at his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He was 73.

Azrael was best known for establishing and leading a semi-annual economic forum following the end of the Soviet Union to bring together Russian, European and American executives and political leaders for regular exchanges in Moscow and New York.

“Jeremy Azrael did what probably no other person could have done at a critical time in the development of the Russian economy -- he brought together emerging leaders from Russia who would shape the new economy of that nation, and introduced them to one another and to executives from the United States and Europe in a forum that fostered cooperation and understanding,” said James A. Thomson, president and CEO of RAND. “His leadership and friendship will be missed not only by RAND, but by many in the business and government arenas in Russia and the United States.”

Azrael, then a student at Harvard University, was among the first American graduate students admitted to study in the Soviet Union under the first exchange agreement signed in 1958. Azrael began building a network within the Soviet Union during this period, and was at one time declared “persona non grata” by Soviet authorities.

Azrael became a researcher, teacher and U.S. government advisor on Soviet issues, returning to the Soviet Union following the end of communism and picking up relationships with the families he had befriended as a student. Those connections helped provide the basis of the RAND Business Leaders Forum as Azrael became the frequent visitor, friend and confidant to the principal players in the Russian economic reform movement of the 1990s.

“His knowledge of Russia was profound,” said Arnold Horelick, the founding director of the RAND Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. “His interest and involvement in Russian affairs peaked after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the advent of the new Russian Federation. He witnessed many of the great events that have marked the history and politics of Russia since 1991, and knew many of the participants.”

Azrael and Horelick were together in Moscow during the grim days of October 1993 when the standoff between Boris Yeltsin and the Communist-dominated Supreme Soviet ended with a tank attack on the insurgents who had occupied the Russian White House, the seat of the Russian government.

Azrael first joined the RAND Corporation in 1974, left a short time later for a series of government posts and rejoined RAND in 1985. Azrael served as the director of the RAND Center for Russia and Eurasia since 1993 and also the RAND/Russia Initiative, since 1991. He was a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School from 1985 to 1990.

Before the end of the Cold War, Azrael’s research focused on the political challenges faced by Soviet leaders, especially the problem of managing the numerous different nationalities within it. Azrael argued that these posed a fundamental challenge to the Soviet state.

Since 1996, he had been executive director of the RAND Business Leaders Forum. He was awarded the first RAND Medal for Excellence, RAND’s highest staff honor, in 1998 for his work to create the forum. The forum will continue under new leadership and build upon Azrael’s legacy, according to RAND officials.

Azrael’s government roles included serving as a member of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Council for the U.S. Department of State from 1982 to 1985, and being senior advisor for Soviet Affairs, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs for the Department of State from 1981 to 1982.

Azrael also worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, serving as a National Intelligence Officer At-Large from 1981 to 1982, as an assistant national intelligence officer for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe from 1980 to 1981, and as a scholar-in-residence from 1978 to 1980.

He taught political science at the University of Chicago from 1961 to 1980 and served there as chairman of the Committee on Slavic Area Studies.

He is survived by his wife, Julia Holm, and son, David Azrael, of Sherman Oaks. He also is survived by three daughters and three grandchildren from his previous marriage to Gabriella Gray. His daughters are Deborah Azrael and her husband, Tom Stoddard, and their daughter, Nellka, of Cambridge, Mass; Ruth Azrael and her husband, Don Burnham, and their sons, Ben and Zachary, of Burbank; and Abigail Azrael of Boston.

Azrael was born in Baltimore in 1935. He earned bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees in government form Harvard University. He battled lymphoma prior to his death.

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