PODCAST | Matteo Fumagalli on Stateness, Contested Nationhood & Imperiled Sovereignty in Kyrgyzstan

Matteo Fumagalli, an associate professor in the Department of International Relations at Budapest’s Central European University, came to the Ellison Center for Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies at the University of Washington in spring 2016 to discuss Kyrgyzstan and the idea of “frozen conflicts.” Kyrgyzstan’s post-Soviet political history has been marked by dramatic swings, ranging from descents into violence to swift returns to stability, which represent a trans-national dimension of conflict in the Former Soviet Union. Dr. Fumagalli directed specific attention to the events in and around the city of Osh in 2010 and the role of external actors in these and other events in Kyrgyzstan. To hear a complete recording of his UW lecture, please click on the Ellison Center’s podcast of the talk below.

This and other podcasts are also available on the Ellison Center SoundCloud and iTunes channels. Please check us out!

By |April 28th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

PODCAST | Lucan Way on “Pluralism by Default: Weak Autocrats and the Rise of Competitive Politics in Ukraine, Russia, and Elsewhere in the Former Soviet Union”

On April 26, University of Toronto Associate Professor of Political Science Lucan Way visited the University of Washington to give a public lecture on his new book, Pluralism by Default: Weak Autocrats and the Rise of Competitive Politics.

As part of his talk, Dr. Way outlined his theory about the perhaps surprising rise of pluralism in countries which lack democratic histories. It is not, in fact, the presence of civil society, democratic leadership, well-designed institutions, or democratic culture that facilitates pluralism, he asserted. Rather, pluralism emerges from authoritarian weakness, which he defined as the existence of an inter-developed ruling party, a weak authoritarian state, and a divided national identity.

During his visit, Professor Way met with graduate students conducting research on Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, including political scientists, historians, and sociologists.

“It was great to have such a prominent scholar of political regimes and the former Soviet Union on campus,” said Nora Williams, a PhD student in Political Science. “I particularly appreciated his willingness to meet and chat with graduate students about his research and the field.”

Please find a link to this and the Ellison Center’s many other podcasts here.


By |April 26th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Back to Georgia: A Fulbright Fellow Returns to Georgia for a Summer at the US Embassy in Tbilisi

Greta Starrett is a second year MA student in the REECAS program at UW. She completed an internship in summer 2015 for the U.S. Department of State at the embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia.

I was back on Georgian soil. It was hard to believe: I had only left a little over a year earlier at the conclusion of my Fulbright fellowship and although I had expected to one day return, I had not expected it to be so soon. As I sat on the rooftop of a Tbilisi hostel, sipping tea and utterly exhausted from over 30 hours of travel, dawn broke. I heard the familiar, chaotic din of traffic and loud voices selling fresh produce from the streets below. Everything felt so familiar and I sat there wondering if I ever left.

I have long desired to work in diplomacy and now I was getting the chance to have a firsthand look at how foreign policy is conducted. During the winter and spring of 2015, I prepared for my return abroad: I did some research about what my job would be like, I began to make preliminary travel plans, and I went through the painstaking process of getting a security clearance, which I would not receive until the very last second at the end of June.


Life as a State Department Intern

It was hard to know what to expect starting work as an intern at the US Embassy in Georgia. In point of fact, I did not really know what I would be doing, if I was going to be able to carry out the duties of an actual Foreign Service Officer or if I would, as the now former U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Norland, so aptly put […]

By |April 21st, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Trump-Putin: A Dangerous Liaison

By Carol J. Williams

It’s easy to see what it is about Vladimir Putin that impresses Donald Trump.

The Russian president has made more than a slogan of his aim to make his country great again. He’s grabbed territory in Ukraine and Georgia that was lost in the Soviet Union’s collapse. He’s sent warships and bombers to Syria to rescue his key Middle East ally, President Bashar Assad, from imminent defeat by Islamic State extremists and U.S.-backed rebels. And Putin defiantly brushes off the international censure and sanctions that have followed his aggressions, casting the reprimands as little more than pin pricks by adversaries who are intent on turning Russia’s natural allies against him.

Putin has rolled back Russian media from the feisty watchdogs of political power that emerged after the demise of communist-era censorship, allowing Kremlin spin doctors to portray the current economic crisis as a necessary cost of resisting U.S. encroachment into Russia’s rightful sphere of influence. The government-controlled narrative, not beholden to truth or reality, heralds a resurgent Russia that is recovering its clout in the world as well as its lost territory. Trump, who rejects unflattering media accounts as deliberate lies for which journalists should be sued, has to be envious of the Kremlin leader’s freedom from the pesky restraints of a First Amendment and fact-checking post-mortems on his public statements.

The Kremlin leader has exercised broad power to contain the Islamic insurgency that has roiled the southern Caucasus region since the post-Soviet easing of religious suppression. Where Trump faces accusations of racism and disregard for constitutional and human rights over his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, Putin’s imposition of a virtual police state to restrict the movements of […]

By |April 18th, 2016|Features|0 Comments

People of Georgia – A Photo Essay by Greta Starrett

Two years ago, I was a Fulbright Scholar in the Republic of Georgia. I taught English to primary and secondary school students for a year in the small mountain town of Keda, in the country’s southwest semi-autonomous region of Adjara. The experience inspired me to go to graduate school so that I could deepen my knowledge of the region. I dreamed of the day I would return to the land and people with whom I had fallen in love. When I was able to return last summer as an intern with the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, I was ecstatic.

Photography has always been a passion of mine. One of the reasons I love to travel is because I am always looking to photograph something new. When I was a Fulbright Scholar, I traveled around the country taking pictures, mostly of the wild scenery and ancient cities, some of which you can see here. This time, however, I wanted to be able to capture the people that make up this beautiful country – to convey their stories and their lives to the world.


Greta Starrett, REECAS MA student, photographer

By |April 7th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Academic Panel Explores Russia’s Motives for Its Syrian Campaign

On Tuesday, January 19, 2016 the Ellison Center hosted a panel discussion on Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict. Chaired by Ellison Center Director Dr. Scott Radnitz, the panel of expert political scientists also included Dr. Chris Jones (University of Washington), Dr. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen (University of Washington, Rice University), and Dr. Bradley Murg (Seattle Pacific University).
Rising domestic and international reasons for Russia’s intervention in Syria
Scott Radnitz, Director of the Ellison Center and Associate Professor at the Jackson School of International Studies at UW, opened the panel with an overview of the current situation in Syria, posing arguments as to why Russia had entered the conflict and what its motives were for becoming involved. He speculated on the domestic reasons, including Vladimir Putin’s need to retain his high approval numbers and maintain a sense of mobilization among the Russian people. Radnitz also observed that there is strong reason to believe that Putin wants to set a precedent against overthrowing the leaders of authoritarian states. Putin had advocated against the removal of Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, Radnitz noted. Perhaps fearful of the potential for regime change in Russia itself, Putin is drawing a line in the sand for multiple audiences by intervening in Syria to prop up Bashar al-Assad.

Radnitz also noted several important strategic concerns contributing to Russia’s intervention in Syria. First, he observed, Syria is a long-time Soviet ally and now Russia is trying to reassure the Assad regime of its support. Second and more important, perhaps, is that Russia continues to maintain a naval base in Tartus, Syria, and does not want to have it fall into enemy hands. Third, with the United States and several countries of […]

By |February 23rd, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Belarus – Europe’s Secret Country

by Matt Thompson
Quirky and a bit mysterious, Belarus offers visitors a rich history, friendly people, and a complicated political situation.
The first thing you notice are the sidewalks. They are spotless. No cigarette butts. No candy wrappers. No plastic bags floating in the wind. The same goes for the underground walkways, mopped and swept to perfection, that stretch out below the wide boulevards in perfect symmetry looking like something from a Stanley Kubrick film.

I never really saw anyone sweeping the sidewalks during my three-week stay in Minsk. Every day the city magically appeared the same — clean, orderly, and quiet. This was just one of the many mysteries I encountered in Belarus, an often ignored eastern European country of nine million people that is located between Poland and Russia. None of my well-traveled friends and colleagues had ever been there, or certainly not in the last 25 years since the fall of the Soviet Union.

I had always wanted to travel to Belarus, so when the U.S. State Department offered me a temporary assignment to serve as the acting Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk this summer, I jumped at the opportunity. Unsure of what to expect from this unknown place, I found a beautiful, modern, and friendly country. However, that sentence should include an asterisk. Belarus is not a free country and political oppression has been the norm there for years. The state-controlled, Soviet-style economy is the least reformed in Europe and Belarusians are struggling to make ends meet under crippling inflation and stagnating wages.

The three-week visit gave me a brief, behind-the-curtains look at a country that few get a chance to see.

I flew to Belarus on a small Belavia Airlines flight from Riga, […]

By |January 13th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Teacher Workshop Explores U.S.-Russia Relations

At a recent workshop at Seattle Preparatory School, high school teachers had a rare opportunity to step back from the fray of headlines about Russia and engage its history, politics and culture with the help of a panel of experts. The workshop, put on by the World Affairs Council’s Global Classroom and sponsored by the Ellison Center and the Center for Global Studies, attracted more than 35 attendees, including 23 teachers and educators.
Post-Soviet political systems and sources of Putin’s popularity
To set the stage, Scott Radnitz, Director of the Ellison Center and Associate Professor at the Jackson School of International Studies at UW, stressed that while Russia isn’t a democracy, that hardly makes it the exception. Fewer than half the countries in the world today have the rare confluence of factors required to make democracy happen, he explained.

Radnitz described Russia’s opaque power structure as a pyramid of elites with Putin at the top. The country’s institutions, from the courts and police to education and healthcare, remain corrupt. Society likewise continues to operate informally and often on the basis of corruption, a legacy of the Soviet era when people had to help each other survive. Distrust in strangers remains pervasive in Russia, as does heightened trust in close family networks.

When Russia was emerging from its Soviet past in the 1990s, chaos reigned, Radnitz observed. There was inflation, violence and homelessness, and Putin eventually emerged as a symbol of recovery in the early 2000s. Today Putin continues to act in what he perceives as Russia’s best interest. He wants Russia to be respected on the international stage and so do Russians. Thus, despite sanctions on Russia and even accounting for biases in polling numbers, Putin remains widely popular.
Russia as […]

By |January 11th, 2016|Features, Educators|0 Comments

Sanctions and the Future: David Riley and Will Pomeranz on Russia and Ukraine

The week of October 5th brought two fascinating and high profile visits from the world of foreign affairs policy in Washington D.C. to the halls of the University of Washington. William Pomeranz, Deputy Director of the Kennan Institute and expert in Russian trade law delivered a thorough explanation of the economic situation in Russia and the near east since the conflict in Ukraine began. David James Riley, First Secretary of Foreign Affairs at the British Embassy, reviewed the stages of increasing tension between the EU and UK and Russia in regards to Ukraine. Their talks, although related in subject, provided different perspectives on the same issue, exposing various dimensions of a complex international situation. You can hear their talks in full by subscribing to Ellison Center podcasts.

By |November 19th, 2015|Academic Spotlight, Career Spotlight|0 Comments

Havana, Cuba – April 2015: Just in Time | Glennys Young

But this was not a country “frozen in time,” as I realized only hours after I arrived in Havana. Time is never, by its very nature, frozen. And if the cliché can be taken to mean that traveling to Cuba is like being transported backwards in time, nor was that my experience. So, what were the different ways time felt like over the three weeks I was there to conduct research on my book project, a substantial part of which examines the military and civilian advisors who were Spanish Civil War exiles in the USSR before arriving in Cuba beginning in 1960?

By |September 29th, 2015|Faculty Spotlight|0 Comments