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Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies

Expertise

Russia and the former Soviet Union; Caucasus and Central Asia; U.S. foreign policy.

Programs

George F. Kennan Roundtable on Russia and Eurasia

Bio

Stephen Sestanovich is the George F. Kennan senior fellow for Russian and Eurasian studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis professor of international diplomacy at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. He is the author of Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama, published by Knopf in February 2014.

From 1997 to 2001, Sestanovich was the U.S. State Department's ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet Union. He has also served as vice president for Russian and Eurasian affairs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, director of Soviet and East European studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, senior director for policy development at the National Security Council, a member of the State Department’s policy planning staff, and legislative assistant to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. 

Ambassador Sestanovich received his BA summa cum laude from Cornell University and his PhD from Harvard University. He comments frequently on international issues for radio and television, and has written for Foreign AffairsNew York TimesWashington PostWall Street JournalForeign PolicyAmerican InterestNew Republic, Politico Magazine, National Interest, and other publications. He is a member of the board of directors of the National Endowment for Democracy. 

Languages:

Russian, German, and Spanish (familiar).

Putin's Russia as an Exceptional Power

In recent years, Russia has charted an increasingly solitary course, both in its foreign policy and in its internal evolution. Confrontation with Europe and the United States over Ukraine, prickly relations with other members of the "Eurasian Economic Union," the prospect of further re-nationalization of the Russian energy sector, tighter controls over social media, an anxious but assertive authoritarian discourse—all these are aspects of Russian exceptionalism. The conceptual and practical challenge is clear enough: What are the direction and dimensions of this tendency? How sustainable is it? What are its implications for Western governments that have for a quarter of a century seen Russia as, in some fashion, a "partner?" What are likely future flashpoints, and how can they be successfully handled? This analytical agenda has been taking shape for some time, but current developments give it added importance and urgency. I will continue to monitor the issue in future writings, in lectures and media appearances, and in meetings of CFR's George F. Kennan Roundtable on Russia and Eurasia.

American Foreign Policy in Recovery

Since World War II, periods of intense international exertion by the United States have always been followed by retrenchment. After the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Bush administration's campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense budgets were cut, global commitments questioned, and domestic priorities re-asserted. Yet, just as regularly, the search for a downsized, "sustainable" foreign policy itself comes under challenge. I examined this pattern in my recent book, Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama, and will do so in future writings as well. After a hiatus in the first term of the Obama presidency, a vigorous debate about American national strategy has resumed. It seems likely to continue well into the next administration. This debate will take up basic policy questions, including whether the United States remains willing and able to play an international "leadership" role, how it should manage relations with allies and other major powers, what place ideology should have in defining global aims, and the balance between force and diplomacy in advancing American interests. Answers to these questions are up for grabs in both parties, within the national-security institutions of the U.S. government, and in the public at large.

Featured Publications

All Publications

Op-Ed

How Little Do U.S. Allies in NATO Spend on Defense?

Author: Stephen Sestanovich
Wall Street Journal

When President Barack Obama sits down with the leaders of allied governments in Warsaw on Friday, there will be much talk of the revitalization of NATO. Much of it will even be justified: The alliance is making its security guarantees more meaningful by deploying more troops with better equipment to front-line Eastern European states.

See more in United States; Defense Budget; International Organizations and Alliances

Article

Do Americans Want a New ‘Grand Strategy’ or Less Overseas Engagement?

Author: Stephen Sestanovich
Wall Street Journal

Few things make professors happier than thinking that the public has finally begun to agree with them. No surprise, then, that John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard open their article in Foreign Affairs—in which they propose a new “grand strategy” for the United States—by observing that “[f]or the first time in recent memory, a large number of Americans” are saying they want the same thing.

See more in United States; Politics and Strategy

Op-Ed

An Earful for Vladimir Putin in Latest ‘Direct Line’ Call-In Show

Author: Stephen Sestanovich
Wall Street Journal

It’s easy to snicker at Vladimir Putin’s annual televised call-in extravaganza, known as “Direct Line.” The show’s campy, “Dear Leader” deference would hardly be greater if Kim Jong Un were its star. Still, Mr. Putin’s performance is a valuable political barometer. The questions allowed and the answers they generate tell us how the Kremlin views the country’s mind and mood.

See more in Russian Federation; Presidents and Chiefs of State

Op-Ed

Donald Trump vs. Barack Obama on Nuclear Weapons in East Asia

Author: Stephen Sestanovich
Wall Street Journal

Donald Trump broke a lot of foreign-policy crockery last week. President Barack Obama dressed him down for encouraging South Korea and Japan to acquire nuclear weapons. NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, has criticized him too. Academics trying to parse Mr. Trump’s statements can’t figure out which “school” of foreign-policy thinking he belongs to. (So far, my favorite scholarly comment has been: “There is no indication that Trump understands the workings of balance of power theory…” Of course, there is no indication that Mr. Trump cares about the workings of any theories—and no real danger that he subscribes to them.)

See more in United States; Elections; Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament

Article

Why Credibility Matters

Author: Stephen Sestanovich
The Atlantic

President Obama has a clear idea of what unsound foreign policy choices are, which he has real determination to avoid.  He has made such understandings and determination the organizing framework of a downsized, less expensive, more risk-averse foreign policy. For better or worse, this is his “doctrine.” It is helping him to clean the policy arena. What it may not do is sustaining the American role in the world that he himself claims to want.

 

See more in United States; Presidents and Chiefs of State

Article

Falling Oil Prices, the Saudis, and the Soviets

Author: Stephen Sestanovich
Wall Street Journal

With oil prices collapsing, Saudi Arabia is facing similar problems that the Soviet Union faced decades ago. Saudi policymakers’ economic reform strategies also echo those of  Mikhail Gorbachev. However, different from Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, Saud Arabia’s foreign policy is both confrontational and interventionist. Saudi seeks change, but hopes to keep it in bounds, and may want the world to remain a dangerous place.

See more in Saudi Arabia; Oil; Russian Federation

Op-Ed

Is Russia an ‘Existential Threat’?

Author: Stephen Sestanovich
Wall Street Journal

The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on Russia last week to address this question: How should we think about Russian actions in the Middle East and Europe? Having been invited to speak, I found that one theme of my testimony stirred up an argument—among other witnesses, senators, staff, and even (in follow-on e-mails) administration officials.

See more in Russia and Central Asia; United States; Presidents and Chiefs of State; Diplomacy and Statecraft

Op-Ed

Will Obama Look Weak If He Meets With Putin?

Author: Stephen Sestanovich
Wall Street Journal

It looks as though President Barack Obama will sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the United Nations later this month. In a New York Times report Wednesday, journalists Peter Baker and Andrew E. Kramer described the administration’s internal debate about whether to schedule the meeting.

See more in United States; Russian Federation; Presidents and Chiefs of State

Events

George F. Kennan Roundtable on Russia and Eurasia

Director: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies
October 1, 2001—Present

The Kennan Roundtable is an ongoing series of meetings that focus on the major policy questions posed by changing U.S. relationships with Russia and the former Soviet states of Eurasia. Meetings examine areas of expanding cooperation and emerging areas of discord, with topics including governance and the rule of law, social and economic issues, and nuclear weapons and nonproliferation.

CFR Events

Meeting ⁄ Washington

Russia: What to Expect From Putin

Speakers Agnia Grigas

Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council; Senior Fellow, McKinnon Center for Global Affairs, Occidental College; Author, Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire

, Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

, Julianne Smith

Senior Fellow and Director, Strategy and Statecraft Program, Center for a New American Security

, Agnia Grigas

Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council; Senior Fellow, McKinnon Center for Global Affairs, Occidental College; Author, Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire

, Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

, Julianne Smith

Senior Fellow and Director, Strategy and Statecraft Program, Center for a New American Security


Presiders Nadia Diuk

Vice President, Programs, National Endowment for Democracy

, Nadia Diuk

Vice President, Programs, National Endowment for Democracy

April 26, 2016 6:00 p.m.-7:30 p.m.


6:00 p.m.–6:30 p.m. Dinner Reception
6:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m. Meeting 

April 26, 2016

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen Watch

Meeting ⁄ New York

A Conversation With Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Speakers Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Founder, Open Russia

, Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Founder, Open Russia


Presiders Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

, Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

October 6, 2014 8:00–8:30 a.m. - Breakfast
8:30–9:30 a.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

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Meeting ⁄ Washington

What to Do About Russia and Ukraine

Speakers Karen E. Donfried

President, German Marshall Fund of the United States

, Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations

, Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

, Karen E. Donfried

President, German Marshall Fund of the United States

, Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations

, Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Presiders Richard N. Haass

President, Council on Foreign Relations

, Richard N. Haass

President, Council on Foreign Relations

June 9, 2014 6:00–6:15 p.m. - Registration
6:15–7:30 p.m. - Meeting
7:30–8:00 p.m. - Reception

This meeting is on the record.

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Meeting ⁄ Washington

Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama

Speakers Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

, Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Presiders James M. Lindsay

Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, Council on Foreign Relations

, James M. Lindsay

Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, Council on Foreign Relations

April 28, 2014 5:30–6:00 p.m. - Registration
6:00–6:45 p.m. - Meeting
6:45–7:15 p.m. - Reception and Book Signing

This meeting is on the record.

ListenWatch

Meeting ⁄ New York

Does U.S. Leadership Have a Future?

Speakers Robert Kagan

Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Project on International Strategy, Brookings Institution; Author, The World America Made

, Michael Mandelbaum

Christian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; Author, The Road to Global Prosperity

, Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies; Council on Foreign Relations; Author, Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama

, Robert Kagan

Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Project on International Strategy, Brookings Institution; Author, The World America Made

, Michael Mandelbaum

Christian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; Author, The Road to Global Prosperity

, Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies; Council on Foreign Relations; Author, Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama


Presiders Gideon Rose

Peter G. Peterson Chair and Editor, Foreign Affairs

, Gideon Rose

Peter G. Peterson Chair and Editor, Foreign Affairs

April 23, 2014 12:30–1:00 p.m. - Lunch
1:00–2:00 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

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Meeting

Overdoing or Underdoing: Why Can't American Foreign Policy Do Better?

Speakers Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

, Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Moderators Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program & Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

, Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program & Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

March 12, 2014 12:00–1:00 p.m. - (ET)

This meeting is on the record.

Listen

Meeting ⁄ New York

U.S.-Russia Relations on the Eve of the Sochi Winter Olympics

Panelists John Beyrle

Director, U.S. Russia Foundation; Former U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation (2008-12)

, Angela E. Stent

Professor and Director, Center for Eurasian, Russian and Eastern European Studies, Georgetown University; Former National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia, National Intelligence Council; Author, The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century

, Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; Former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for the former Soviet Union (1997-2001); Author, Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama

, John Beyrle

Director, U.S. Russia Foundation; Former U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation (2008-12)

, Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; Former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for the former Soviet Union (1997-2001); Author, Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama

, Angela E. Stent

Professor and Director, Center for Eurasian, Russian and Eastern European Studies, Georgetown University; Former National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia, National Intelligence Council; Author, The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century


Presiders Andrew J. Guff

Managing Director, Siguler Guff & Company L.P.

, Andrew J. Guff

Managing Director, Siguler Guff & Company L.P.

January 27, 2014 5:30–6:00 p.m. - Reception
6:00–7:00 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch

Meeting

The Iron Curtain and Beyond: Eastern Europe in the Cold War and Today

Speakers Anne ApplebaumColumnist, Washington Post and Slate, Anne ApplebaumColumnist, Washington Post and Slate
Presiders Stephen SestanovichGeorge F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Stephen SestanovichGeorge F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
November 27, 2012

This meeting is on the record.

Listen

Meeting ⁄ New York

Russia Update

Panelists Masha GessenAuthor, The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin , Stephen SestanovichGeorge F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Masha GessenAuthor, The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin , Stephen SestanovichGeorge F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presiders Drew J. GuffManaging Director, Siguler Guff & Company L.P., Drew J. GuffManaging Director, Siguler Guff & Company L.P.
March 2, 2012 1:00–1:30 p.m. - Lunch
1:30–2:30 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

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Meeting ⁄ Washington

Russia: Politics, Protests, and the Presidential Election

Speakers Leon AronResident Scholar and Director of Russian Studies, American Enterprise Institute, Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr.Member, Federal Council, Solidarity Democratic Movement (Russia); Former Duma Candidate, Stephen SestanovichGeorge F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Leon AronResident Scholar and Director of Russian Studies, American Enterprise Institute, Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr.Member, Federal Council, Solidarity Democratic Movement (Russia); Former Duma Candidate, Stephen SestanovichGeorge F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presiders Fred HiattEditorial Page Editor, Washington Post, Fred HiattEditorial Page Editor, Washington Post
February 29, 2012 12:00–12:30 p.m. - Lunch Reception
12:30–1:30 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

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Meeting

Why the Russian Protests Matter

Speakers Stephen SestanovichGeorge F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Stephen SestanovichGeorge F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Moderators Anya SchmemannDirector, Task Force Program, Council on Foreign Relations, Anya SchmemannDirector, Task Force Program, Council on Foreign Relations
December 14, 2011 10:30–11:30 a.m. - Conference Call

This meeting is on the record.

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Meeting ⁄ Washington

Negotiating Iran from the European and Russian Perspectives

Speakers Charles A. KupchanSenior Fellow and Director for Europe Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Stephen SestanovichGeorge F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Charles A. KupchanSenior Fellow and Director for Europe Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Stephen SestanovichGeorge F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presiders Ray TakeyhSenior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Ray TakeyhSenior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
May 25, 2006

This meeting is on the record.

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Meeting ⁄ New York

U.S. Policy Toward Russia

Speakers John EdwardsFormer U.S. Senator, Vice Presidential Candidate and Task Force Co-Chair, Jack KempFounder and Chairman, Kemp Partners and Task Force Co-Chair, Stephen SestanovichGeorge F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations and Task Force Project Director, John EdwardsFormer U.S. Senator, Vice Presidential Candidate and Task Force Co-Chair, Jack KempFounder and Chairman, Kemp Partners and Task Force Co-Chair, Stephen SestanovichGeorge F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations and Task Force Project Director
Presiders David RemnickEditor, The New Yorker, David RemnickEditor, The New Yorker
March 7, 2006

This meeting is on the record.

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Press/Panels