SURFing on the Waves of Russian-American Relations
In April a group of HSE students participated in the Stanford US-Russia Forum which took place at Stanford University. Igor Tomashov, 1st-year master’s student of the HSE Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, talked to us about the event.
The HSE has been developing relations with Stanford for several years. In mid-2000s, the HSE ran a distance learning programme which allowed HSE students to participate in courses and recieve official certificates from the Stanford University (the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI Stanford) distance learning initiative). In Autumn 2009 Stanford Week took place at the HSE Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, which included intensive lecture courses for HSE students by four leading Stanford professors. In addition to this, several HSE teachers have experience of teaching at Stanford, and several HSE graduates are continuing their education there.
This recent conference was part of the Stanford US-Russia Forum (SURF) project,which is at the same time both similar to other events with Stanford in this list and different from them in its intension. The SURF organizers managed to combine such events as regular video conferences with Stanford, preparation by Russian and U.S. students of joint analytic reports, organization of a summary conference at the Stanford University into an 8-months programme.
I was selected for the programme as a result of an interview, although in the beginning I had doubts about it. Firstly, SURF was an academic ‘start-up', and was realized from scratch. Secondly, SURF was positioned as an independent student project interacting with leading Russian and U.S. universities (Higher School of Economics, Academy of National Economy under the RF Government, Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley and others), but valuing its distance from everyday interuniversity competition. Thirdly, SURF promised too many benefits:a series of lectures by prominent experts and businessmen, excursions to governmental bodies and commercial companies, financial support for the trip to the summary conference at the Stanford University.
My reservations proved not to be true, and I am glad that I was a participant of this programme. During its first stage, from November - December 2009, each of the Moscow universities participating in the project held video conferences with Stanford on various aspects of Russian-American relations. Vladimir Mau, Rector of the Academy of National Economy under the RF Government, Donald Kennedy, President Emeritus of Stanford University, Dmitriy Trenin, President of the Carnegie Moscow Center, Alexandra Johnson, Managing Director of DFJ VTB Aurora, spoke to the students.
The events of the SURF programme were held not only in the university. The students had the opportunity to visit the offices of Renaissance Capital Group in Moscow City business center, The Moscow factory of high tech company Hamilton Standard-Nauka and the Russian office of the Bank of America Merill Lynch Global. U.S. delegates met at the Hoover Institution with Sergey Kislyak, Russian Ambassador to the USA.
The second stage of the project was, so to say, the most risky:during this stage Russian and American students were supposed to form small research groups and prepare joint research reports on various aspects of U.S.-Russia relations which were due to be unveiled at the summary conference. It was a very unusual situation since the students did not know each other in person, and were divided by 10 000 kilometers and an 11-hour time difference.
In April Russian SURF delegates (20 people from 4 Moscow universities) went to the U.S. to participate in the key event of the project - a 5-day conference at Stanford University. It opened on April 14th with a speech by Arkadiy Dvorkovich, Assistant to the President of Russia and Russian Sherpa in G8. In his speech he paid special attention to the prospects for modernizing the Russian economy as well as the necessity of developing Russian-American economic cooperation.
The next two days of the conference, April 15th and 16th, were the most intensive. The conference was equally divided between panel discussion with the participation of prominent experts and businessmen, master classes by Stanford professors and presentations of the results of student research projects.
There were a total of three panel discussions on the following topics:‘Foreign policy decision making in the 21st century', ‘Energy security'and ‘The new global market'- and each of them involved a lively debate on Russian and U.S. priorities in foreign policy. As a rule, political scientists were more critical of Russia;businessmen, on the other hand, spoke about the opportunities for the country's economic development. Participants included Steven Krasner, former Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. Department of State, Tom Fingar, who was Chairman of the National Intelligence Council in 2000s, Richard Morningstar, Special Envoy of the United States Secretary of State for Eurasian Energy, Steven Buckley, Founding Partner of Innova Capital, one of the largest investment companies in Central Europe, and others.
Master classes by Stanford professors were also very interesting, where problems of the domestic and foreign policy of Iran and Ukraine were discussed in detail, but certainly the most memorable thing was a meeting with Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State, who after leaving George Bush's administration became involved in teaching. Not only was what she said interesting, but how she said it:she spoke and answered questions very politely and calmly, but at the same time firmly and clearly. Her speech was as an excellent example of the art of diplomacy.
So, the SURF project was realized. And that was not only thanks to the efforts of its organizers (key among them were Anda Ganska and Sam Stone, Stanford University;David Zohrabyan, Moscow State Institute of International Relations and Mark Manuilov, HSE), and the atmosphere of a youth event, but also because SURF, with its aim of promoting Russian-American interuniversity and student cooperation, appeared ‘in the right time and at the right place'. As a result, universities which supported their students'participation in the programme, experts and officials who welcomed the new initiative and businessman who were eager to connect all expressed their interest. The success of the first year of the programme is almost a guarantee for its future continuation.
Igor Tomashov, SURF delegate, 1st-year master's student of the HSE Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs