Event Recap: Chat & Chowder with Dr. Angela Stent

    Author: Rozey Hill, Wellesley College Student

    Dr. Angela Stent is Director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies and Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University, a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and previously served in the Office of Policy Planning in the U.S. Department of State. While writing her most recent book, Dr. Stent drew on her experience in the Office of Policy Planning as well as the National Intelligence Council. In those aforementioned roles, Dr. Stent said that it was unimaginable that Russia would attain the power and prestige it currently holds.

    Putin’s World: Russia Against the West and with the Rest touches on Russia’s rise to global power status following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and Vladimir Putin’s role in the current Russia. The book also dives into Russia’s interests in and relations to global regions like the Middle East, most recently Syria, and China, as well as the future of Russia, specifically in its relations to the foreign policy of the United States. Essentially, the book asks three questions:

    1. Why was the West so wrong in assuming Russia would want to acculturate towards Western ideals?

    2. How did Putin's Russia arise?

    3. What can we do about this?

    To the first question, Dr. Stent elucidates that the West thought that Russia would not acclimate to Western ideals because of Communism but instead it lies in the Russia identity. Russia is such a richly unique country and Dr. Stent stresses that "Putin espouses this unique Russianness," and in doing so, he sows differences between Russia and the West. One major difference sowed is the ideology surrounding the reasons the Soviet Union collapsed---Putin espouses a belief that Russia did not have to collapse, but instead collapsed over economic interests, specifically surrounding oil. These differences would've been much easier to remedy than deeper and wholly ideological differences. The West also didn't take into consideration the geographic location and force of Russia. Dr. Stent states that in Russia there is no precedent for giving up Russian territory as the Russian belief is that expanding territory helps to keep the nation secure; "For Russians, their identity expands to the Soviet borders."

    To the second question, Dr. Stent stresses that "Russia played a weak hand so well." In shaping this point, Dr. Stent provided a statistic that was even surprising to me--the fact that Russia has the same GDP as Italy ("Or as Rick Perry said, the same size as Texas") , a nation which is nearly 57 times bigger than in area. Given this, again, we ask how did Russia become such a dominant force, with much of the world regarding it as legitimate? In answering this question, Dr. Stent expresses that Putin's main goal was to restore a strong statehood to Russia and return it to its rightful place in the world as a great power--"He had a plan." Alongside this, Putin takes advantage of a divided West, as exemplified in the post-2016 United States and his associations with President Donald Trump. Putin has had many foreign policy successes as seen in the improvement of the Chino-Russian relations with continuous hints that the two countries are moving towards an alliance. China allowed a "lifeline" for Russia as Europe and the United States tried to alienate Russia after the annexation of Crimea. Another foreign policy venture can be seen in Russia's return to the Middle East within Syria. In regards to Syria, Putin asserts that the United States illegitimately entered Syria on their own whereas the Russians were invited in by President Assad. Dr. Stent brings awareness to Secretary Colin Powell's statement of "You break it, you own it" and the fact that Russia must deal with the ramifications of its Syrian operations.

    To Russia's relationship with the West, Dr. Stent first elucidated upon European-Russian relations. Specifically with Angela Merkel of Germany, who knows Russia for she is from Eastern Germany, Putin's relations with her have been rocky, as exemplified in Putin's once bringing his dog to sit on Merkel's lap whilst knowing her childhood-rooted fears of dogs. With other European nations, the relationship is also rocky because more Soviet Union countries are under the influence of Russia than ever before. In Russia's relationship with the United States, there is tension beyond the term. This is seen in Russia most recently trying to create bots to help Tulsi Gabbard which, as Dr. Stent pointed out, is a direct reflection of their involvement in the election of 2016. This has immensely worsened the public's opinion and view towards Russia, but Trump has his own separate policy towards Russia; "Trump agrees with Russian intelligence in terms of election interference over the intelligence of the United States." Also in this administration, we have left the Intermediate-rang Nuclear Force (INF) and stated that the United States may not renew the S.T.A.R.T. Treaty started during Nixon and Gorbachev. Thus, as Dr. Stent warns, we have no track to see what the Russians are doing in terms of their nuclear arms which encourages the proliferation of nuclear arms--this could lead to another arms race.

    During the question-and-answer segment of Dr. Stent's Chat and Chowder, when asked what Putin is doing to transform the economy into one that is more stable, Dr. Stent frankly said "not much." It's just the lure of oil, military hardware, and gas within the nation. The country must develop a manufacturing economy, but there are no prospects for economic reform anytime in the approaching horizon. Another member of WorldBoston inquired about alliances between Eastern European countries alongside Russia. To this, Dr. Stent elaborated on the seeped culture: former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries are seen by the European Union as second-class members of the organization and there lies Russia, presumably far more accepting. Thus, whilst being rejected by Brussels and still having economically-close ties to Russia, there seems only one option for an alliance. Another question that was raised, that is directly in-line with Dr. Stent's point on Russian relations with the Middle East, was can Russia truly facilitate the rebuilding of Syria? To this, Dr. Stent answered "absolutely not,” they need the United States and the United Kingdom for financial contributions to rebuild Syria.

    The discussion surrounding Putin’s World: Russia Against the West and with the Rest was incredibly eye-opening for both myself and my friend whom I brought along, who is taking a class on Russian-United States relations and did not for a second stop nodding her head throughout the talk. The day after this talk, Dr. Stent spoke at my university and to see my peers so engaged, like the attendees at the WorldBoston Chat & Chowder, with these issues, the historical context surrounding Russia, and it's relations with the world was inspiring. Beyond this chat, I cannot wait to dive into Dr. Stent’s book and attend more events by WorldBoston in the future!

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