NATO v. Russia: Can more defense mean less security?

The NATO allies have delivered a one-two punch this month at perceived dangers emanating from Russia by activating a missile shield in Romania and announcing plans to deploy 4,000 soldiers and their weaponry in nervous member states bordering Russia in the Baltic region [...] Alliance officials have attempted to reassure the Kremlin that the moves are not intended as a threat to Russia. Rather, the Western defense chiefs insist, the Romanian installation is meant to protect against a missile strike from a “rogue nation” and the troop deployments are merely a rotational exercise to reassure Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that NATO is ready to defend them should they come under attack.

By |May 17th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

2016 Fulbright Enrichment Seminar | Democracy in Action: U.S. Politics and Elections

Every year, the Department of State and Institute of International Education (IIE) organize special enrichment seminars for first-year Fulbright Foreign Students studying at universities across the United States.

From May 4 through May 9, 2016, IIE organized a “democracy in action” seminar in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to acquaint visiting Fulbrighters from more than 100 different countries with U.S. politics and elections. As a U.S. Fulbright alum, I was invited to participate and facilitate the conference, and to provide mentorship to the visiting Fulbright students. This conference, in particular, is only done every four years to coincide with the U.S. presidential election. This year provided the participants a fascinating look into how the media and changing demographics are influencing the race. The keynote speaker was Susan Milligan of U.S. News and World Report who spoke about how America’s racial, ethnic, and religious minorities are influencing the election and changing the face of the nation.

Other speakers included Tom Healy, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2011 to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, who talked about the history of the Fulbright Program and the significance of international educational exchange in forging relationships between countries.  William Rosenberg, professor of political science at Drexel University led a panel discussion with author Gary Woodward and reporter Bruce Gordon about the role of media in presenting information related to elections and the responsibility they have in shaping public opinion and political discourse. The visiting Fulbrighters who attended the conference were able to engage with the speakers and asked thoughtful questions, allowing everyone in the room – myself included – insight into how the rest of the world perceived the state of the presidential race in the United States.

On Friday evening, all the visiting […]

By |May 11th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

REECAS NW Conference 2016 | Breakdown or Breakout: Perils and Opportunities for the REECAS Region

On Saturday, April 30 the University of Washington’s Ellison Center for Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies (REECAS) and the University of Puget Sound (UPS) partnered to hold the twenty-second annual REECAS NW conference. Students and scholars came together from the University of Victoria, Stanford University, Seattle Pacific University, UPS and UW to present on issues facing the REECAS region, exploring such topics as identity, democracy, culture, and diplomacy.

The wide variety of panels throughout the day was enough to engage the interests of anyone who attended the conference. University of Puget Sound Professor Ben Tromley and University of Victoria graduate student Matthew Miskulin opened the conference with papers on the Russian exile community in mid-20th century Europe, a topic that was further explored for the 21st century by UW Information School visiting scientist Oot Toomet, who gave a paper analyzing Russians and ethnic segregation in modern Estonia using cell phone data.  Simultaneously, another panel addressed the Balkans and the larger implications this region has for the West and for Russia. The panelists presented on Kosovo-Serbia reconciliation, similarities and differences between independent Kosovo’s emergence from Serbia and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the cultural and political currents that run in the Balkan region. It proved thought-provoking, with a lively question and answer session that engaged members of the audience.

Following the morning panels, conference organizers held a special screening of “Oleg’s Choice,” a documentary film about the fighting that broke out in eastern Ukraine in early 2014. The film explores how two young Russian men were driven by propaganda and adventure to fight in the Donbass region and in addition were able to give perspective on what this war meant to them. The film was followed by an animated […]

By |May 3rd, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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

Expert 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