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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

Article

Obama’s Focus Is on Nation-Building at Home

Author: Stephen Sestanovich
The New York Times

Every period of great exertion in American foreign policy — World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the cold war, the post-9/11 wars — has been followed by some sort of downsizing. To many, this feels like weakness; to others, mere realism. But there's no arguing with the pattern. The past few years were going to be a time of retrenchment no matter who was in charge.

See more in United States; Development

Ask CFR Experts

Will Russia’s economy keep growing along with the BRICS states or start to decline?

Asked by Ihorran Caldeira, from University of Sao Paulo

The so-called "BRICS"Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africaare a group of countries that have enjoyed relatively fast economic growth and increased political influence. Russia's economy used to occupy the middle tier of the BRICS, but today many Russians worry that it is dropping to the bottom of the group.

Read full answer

See more in Russian Federation

Testimony

Russian Civil Society and U.S. Policy

Author: Stephen Sestanovich

In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Stephen Sestanovich discusses Russia's human rights situation and how America's concern for the state of Russian democracy reflects a commitment to partnership between the two countries.

Ask CFR Experts

What can be done to improve relations between the United States and Russia, given recent problems with the “reset”?

Asked by Brian Runyon, from United States

The current nasty atmosphere between Russia and the United States goes beyond one or two disputed issues and will be difficult to improve. There have been regular spikes of tension in the U.S.-Russia relationship for the last fifteen years, and they will likely continue.

Read full answer

See more in Russian Federation; United States; Politics and Strategy

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.

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General Meeting ⁄ New York

A Conversation With Mikhail Khodorkovsky

This meeting is on the record.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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General Meeting ⁄ New York

U.S. Policy Toward Russia

This meeting is on the record.

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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