Watching the Watchers: The State of America’s Community of Russia Experts


America’s success in dealing with Moscow depends to a great degree on our ability to understand Russia in all its complexities.  Yet the striking number of times that Washington has been surprised by Russian behavior over the past few decades suggests that American experts are struggling in this endeavor.  What is the state of our Russia-watcher cadre in government, academia, think tanks, and media?  And what might be done to elevate our public discourse on Russia? 
Center for the National Interest Vice President George Beebe moderated a discussion on October 27, 2020 to address these important topics which featured analysis from several prominent experts:

  • Keith Gessen, is the George T. Delacorte Assistant Professor of Magazine Journalism at Columbia University and author of A Terrible Country: A Novel.  His New York Times Magazine article, “The Quiet Americans Behind the U.S.-Russia Imbroglio,” explored the people, paradigms, and dynamics within America’s Russia-watcher community.
  • Michael Kimmage is a professor of history at the Catholic University of America and author of The Abandonment of the West: The History of an Idea in American Foreign Policy. From 2014 to 2016, he served on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, where he held the Russia/Ukraine portfolio. 
  • Anatol Lieven is a professor at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service – Qatar and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.  He has studied Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union as an academic, think-tanker, and journalist. His most recent book is Climate Change and the Nation State: A Case for Nationalism in a Warming World.  
  • Anna Vassilieva is head of the Russia Studies program and director of the Graduate Initiative in Russian Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.  She has taught and written widely on the ways that language, literature, culture, and history affect Russian perspectives and policies.