Publication and Teaching Notes
By Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies
This Task Force report is a very useful instrument for introducing or concluding a course. Not only does it outline several important trends in Russia’s internal and international developments, but its recommendations may serve as a starting point for discussion. After reading the report, students should be able to give an informed view on several of the most important topics in the U.S.-Russian relationship, as well as describe the periods of cooperation and tension in recent years. These notes offer some suggestions for using the task force report for the following types of courses:
- Courses on international affairs and U.S. international relations.
- Courses on Russian history and politics.
- Courses on politics in the Russian Federation and the Eurasian states.
COURSES ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
I. How would you characterize the change in U.S.-Russian relations after 9/11 to the present? What issues show the greatest disagreement between the United States and the Russian Federation?
- Which side is more responsible for the shift: Washington, Moscow, or perhaps another force in international politics?
- Does Russia pose a serious threat of forming an anti-American alliance?
- What tools does the United States have to enforce compliance with Russia, and when—or should—it use them?
- What are the potential negative or positive consequences to willfully ignoring human rights violations in exchange for promoting other interests?
II. The Task Force report describes three categories of issues, based on Russia and America’s interests. How do problems in the international sphere—Iran, non-proliferation, energy security, etc.—fit into these categories?
- Should the United States abandon the hope for a “strategic partnership” with Russia? What are the limitations and benefits of establishing broad “partnerships” in bilateral relations?
- What role do America and Russia’s allies play in these issues? How can other players from the international community promote cooperation in the U.S.-Russian relationship?
COURSES ON POLITICS IN RUSSIA AND EURASIA
I. Describe the current developments in Russia’s domestic sphere. How have political and social trends changed?
- What has been the role of President Putin and his administration in these changes? How have social and economic changes in Russia’s domestic scene influenced political developments, and vice versa?
- Do Russia’s internal politics and social trends impact international relations? If so, are Russia’s relations with its neighbors affected more by these internal trends than its relations with Europe and the United States?
- Of all the tools the United States can use in promoting its interests and values in Russia, which is the most effective?
II. What trends highlighted in the Task Force report pose a threat to democratization in neighboring countries, especially those in Russia’s “near abroad?”
III. How sustainable is Russia’s economic growth?
- In what branches of the national economy is this growth mostly taking place, and can it spread to other economic spheres?
- How important is democratization and transparency to economic growth? Is Putin’s “stability” good for domestic and foreign investment in Russia?
IV. How would you describe Russia’s foreign policy today? What are its main goals, and how does Moscow try to achieve these goals? What role does Russia’s economic revival have in its foreign policy?
1. Memorandum to the president.
Assign your students to write a memorandum to the president. Students may choose or be given an issue contained in the Task Force report. The memorandum should give an overview of the situation, lay out the pros and cons of each policy option, and recommend a course of action.
Assign your students to write an op-ed on Russia’s role in global warming. The standard to meet is importance of the topic, clarity in presenting a specific point of view, and brevity (650-750 words). Because the op-ed is short, it requires different writing skills from a conventional term paper—the point must be made within the first or second paragraph, the writing style is usually more argumentative than in term papers, and the writing must be simple even as the ideas advanced are sophisticated. These guidelines will help in focusing the argument—which is best done before writing—because most students choose arguments that are either too sprawling or esoteric for good op-eds.
3. Task Force consensus piece
In this project, students should form small groups to construct their own task forces. The groups, if the size of the class permits, should be significantly large enough so that the participants must deal with a wide range of views. The main task should be to write a short, 2 to 3 page consensus piece on an issue covered in Russia’s Wrong Direction, with additional room at the end for individuals’ dissenting views. This project should require several meetings outside of the classroom.
4. Rebuttal to Task Force Reports
Students should create a short rebuttal (4 to 6 pages) from the perspective of the Russian government on the main themes covered in Russia’s Wrong Direction. There have been several editorials and articles in the Russian and English language press that took issue with some or all of the task force’s findings; these are particularly useful for this assignment. In addition, students should be encouraged to examine the additional and dissenting views at the end of the task force. The basis for the rebuttal, however, should be actual documents or statements made by Russian officials in its defense against the typical accusations made against it by the international community.
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