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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

From Putin, a New Tune on Ukraine?

Author: Stephen Sestanovich
Wall Street Journal

Vladimir Putin’s annual call-in show is not where I usually look for important statements of Russian policy. Most of the four-hour event is devoted to semi-comical political pandering (Mr. Putin presenting himself as the friend of struggling dairy farmers, for example). Still, last week’s extravaganza contained unmistakable hints of a new line on Ukraine.

See more in Ukraine; Russian Federation; Presidents and Chiefs of State; Conflict Assessment

Op-Ed

Is Netanyahu Right About How to Bargain?

Author: Stephen Sestanovich
Wall Street Journal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress last week was described here and there as “maximalist”—meaning, he insisted on the best imaginable terms for any agreement with Iran about its nuclear program. Because “Maximalist” is the title of my book on U.S. foreign policy since World War II, people have asked me whether Bibi’s approach isn’t the one the United States used for its own tough negotiations.

See more in Israel; Presidents and Chiefs of State

Op-Ed

Will Voters Choose the ‘Nixon’ Candidate in 2016?

Author: Stephen Sestanovich
Wall Street Journal

With Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee about to enter the 2016 presidential race, I’m reminded of a friend’s joking prediction that next time around the American people may be looking for Richard Nixon. He meant that after a fling with more interesting leaders, the voters could decide on someone seasoned, predictable, and reliable–even someone they don’t feel too good about. That was Nixon in 1968–a political figure long out of office, associated with a distant administration, his career seemingly over but able to make a comeback in hard times.

See more in United States; Elections

Op-Ed

3 Things to Watch for in Putin’s State of the Union Speech

Author: Stephen Sestanovich
Wall Street Journal

Senior Fellow Stephen Sestanovich argues that to understand where Vladimir Putin will lead Russia, viewers should look to three things in his state of the union address: how he defines the country’s present problems, what he proposes as solutions to them, and how he sets out his long-term vision for Russia.

See more in 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

Conference Call

NY Conference Call: Russia's Ruble Crisis

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen

General Meeting ⁄ New York

A Conversation With Mikhail Khodorkovsky

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch

General Meeting ⁄ Washington

What to Do About Russia and Ukraine

This meeting is on the record.

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Guest Event ⁄ Washington

Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama

This meeting is on the record.

ListenWatch

General Meeting ⁄ New York

Does U.S. Leadership Have a Future?

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch

General Meeting ⁄ New York

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

This meeting is on the record.

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Roundtable Meeting

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

This meeting is on the record.

Listen

General Meeting ⁄ New York

Russia Update

This meeting is on the record.

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General Meeting ⁄ Washington

Russia: Politics, Protests, and the Presidential Election

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch

Academic Conference Call

Russia's Upcoming Election

This meeting is not for attribution.

Listen

Corporate Meeting

Why the Russian Protests Matter

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen

Conference Panel Session

CFR Symposium on NATO at 60, Panel Two: NATO, Russia, and the Near Abroad

This meeting is not for attribution.

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Symposium

Symposium on Russian-American Relations, Session Two: Russian Foreign Policy

This meeting is not for attribution.

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Press Briefing ⁄ New York

G8 Summit

This meeting is on the record.

Read

General Meeting ⁄ Washington

Negotiating Iran from the European and Russian Perspectives

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen

General Meeting ⁄ New York

U.S. Policy Toward Russia

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch

Press Briefing ⁄ Washington

President Bush’s Trip to Europe

This meeting is not for attribution.

Read

General Meeting

Does Russian Democracy Have a Future?

This meeting is not for attribution.

Read

General Meeting

A Conversation with Simon Kukes

This meeting is not for attribution.

Read

Roundtable Meeting

A Close Look at Ukraine

This meeting is not for attribution.

Read

Roundtable Meeting

The Domestic Politics of Russia's Foreign Economic Policy

This meeting is not for attribution.

Read

General Meeting

Russia Update

This meeting is not for attribution.

Read

Press/Panels