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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

Interview

Sestanovich: Russia's Attitude toward Iran Seen Decisive in Measuring Policy

Stephen Sestanovich interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman

The project director of the Council on Foreign Relations' Independent Task Force report on U.S. policy toward Russia says a major test of Moscow's relations with the West will be how it handles the talks on Iran's nuclear program. Stephen Sestanovich says although the United States and Europe have so far backed the Russian initiative on enriching uranium for Iran, the major question will arise if Iran firmly rejects the Russian offer.

See more in Russian Federation; Iran; Proliferation

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

NY Conference Call: Russia's Ruble Crisis

Speakers: Willem H. Buiter, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; Global Chief Economist, Citigroup, Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: Michael A. Levi, David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment, and Director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
December 19, 2014 10:00–11:00 a.m. - Conference Call

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen

A Conversation With Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Speaker: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Founder, Open Russia
Presider: 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.

Read ListenWatch

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
Presider: 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.

Read ListenWatch

Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama

Speaker: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: 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

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
Presider: 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.

Read ListenWatch

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

Speaker: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Moderator: 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

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), 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
Presider: 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

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

Speaker: Anne Applebaum, Columnist, Washington Post and Slate
Presider: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
November 27, 2012

This meeting is on the record.

Listen

Russia Update

Panelists: Masha Gessen, Author, The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin , Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: Drew J. Guff, Managing 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.

Read ListenWatch

Russia: Politics, Protests, and the Presidential Election

Speakers: Leon Aron, Resident Scholar and Director of Russian Studies, American Enterprise Institute, Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr., Member, Federal Council, Solidarity Democratic Movement (Russia); Former Duma Candidate, Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: Fred Hiatt, Editorial 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.

Read ListenWatch

Russia's Upcoming Election

Speaker: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
February 22, 2012 12:00–1:00 p.m. - (ET)

This meeting is not for attribution.

Listen

Why the Russian Protests Matter

Speaker: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Moderator: Anya Schmemann, Director, Task Force Program, Council on Foreign Relations
December 14, 2011 10:30–11:30 a.m. - Conference Call

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen

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

Speakers: Ivan Krastev, Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, Victoria Nuland, National Defense University, Konstantin Remchukov, Nezavisimaya Gazeta Newspaper
Moderator: Stephen Sestanovich, Council on Foreign Relations
February 26, 2009 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

This meeting is not for attribution.

Read ListenWatch

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

Speakers: Fedor Lukyanov, Editor in Chief, Russia in Global Affairs, Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: Celeste A. Wallander, Professor, School of International Service, American University
January 22, 2009

This meeting is not for attribution.

Read ListenWatch

G8 Summit

Speakers: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Steven Simon, Hasib. J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, David G. Victor, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Science and Technology, Council on Foreign Relations
July 7, 2006

This meeting is on the record.

Read

Negotiating Iran from the European and Russian Perspectives

Speakers: Charles A. Kupchan, Senior Fellow and Director for Europe Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
May 25, 2006

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen

U.S. Policy Toward Russia

Speakers: John Edwards, Former U.S. Senator, Vice Presidential Candidate and Task Force Co-Chair, Jack Kemp, Founder and Chairman, Kemp Partners and Task Force Co-Chair, Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations and Task Force Project Director
Presider: David Remnick, Editor, The New Yorker
March 7, 2006

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch

President Bush’s Trip to Europe

Speakers: James M. Goldgeier, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Europe Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Alliance Relations, Council on Foreign Relations
February 17, 2005

This meeting is not for attribution.

Read

Does Russian Democracy Have a Future?

Speaker: Garry Kasparov, World Chess Champion; Chairman, Committee 2008: Free Choice
Presider: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
February 11, 2004

This meeting is not for attribution.

Read

A Conversation with Simon Kukes

Speaker: Simon Kukes, Chief Executive Officer, Yukos Oil
Presider: Stephen Sestanovich, Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
February 9, 2004

This meeting is not for attribution.

Read

A Close Look at Ukraine

Speaker: Carlos B. Pascual, U.S. Department of State
Presider: Stephen Sestanovich
November 3, 2003

This meeting is not for attribution.

Read

The Domestic Politics of Russia's Foreign Economic Policy

Panelist: Robert H. Legvold, Columbia University
Presider: Stephen Sestanovich
April 14, 2003

This meeting is not for attribution.

Read

Russia Update

Speakers: Strobe Talbott, President, The Brookings Institution, William Taubman, Bertrand Snell Professor of Political Science, Amherst College; Author, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era.
Presider: Stephen Sestanovich, Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
March 4, 2003

This meeting is not for attribution.

Read

Press/Panels