U.S.-Russia Foreign Relations Strategies, Challenges Focus of Lawrence University International Series Presentation

APPLETON, WIS. — What lessons has history provided regarding the most productive way the United States and other Western nations can successfully deal with Russia? Peter Blitstein, associate professor of history at Lawrence University, explores that question in the address “Russian-American Relations and the Obama Administration” Wednesday, April 29 at 4:30 p.m. in Science Hall 102.

The presentation, which is free and open to the public, is the third installment of Lawrence’s four-part 2009 Povolny Lecture Series in International Studies: “What Should Obama Do?”

A political historian specializing in the Russian empire, Blitstein will review three strategies Western countries have utilized in dealing with Russia, explain why only one of those approaches is viable and examine four current diplomatic challenges facing U.S.-Russian relations.

One approach historically employed by Western nations in dealing with Russia was the notion that, with help, Russia could become “Westernized.” A second approach treated Russia essentially as an alien civilization that could not be fully trusted, that it posed a threat and as such had to be “contained.” But Blitstein argues a third strategy — the understanding that Russia is not Western, it has its own distinct interests and that relations with it must conducted on the basis of mutual interests — is the only one that has resulted in good relations between Russia and the West.

Blitstein’s talk will support the mutual respect viewpoint by examining four moments in recent U.S.-Russia foreign relations: the start of the Cold War, the era of détente, the era of perestroika and the era of “transition.”

He also will discuss the role “mutual interest” will play in resolving four current international challenges facing the Obama administration and the Russian leadership, specifically the issues of Iran, energy policy and “pipeline politics,” missile defense and Russia’s own relations with its former Soviet Union-era neighbors.

A member of the Lawrence faculty since 2001, Blitstein has written numerous published articles on Soviet policies toward its ethnic nationalities and is working on the book “Stalin’s Nations: Soviet Nationality Policy between Planning and Primordialism, 1936-1953.” He has conducted extensive research in the state archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow and has taught a seminar course that examines the Cold War through the lens of intelligence and espionage.

Juan Carlos Romero Hicks, director general of Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology and former governor of Guanajuato, Mexico, concludes the series Tuesday, May 12 with the address “Mexico and the U.S” at 4:30 p.m. in the Wriston Art Center auditorium.

The “What Should Obama Do” lecture series is sponsored by the Mojmir Povolny Lectureship in International Studies. Named in honor of long-time Lawrence government professor Mojmir Povolny, the lectureship promotes interest and discussion on issues of moral significance and ethical dimensions.