During the weekend of February 11-12, 2017, Eisenhower Institute participants from Susan Eisenhower’s Strategy and Leadership in Transformational Times (SALTT) program held a conference with student counterparts from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Azerbaijan on the current challenges between the United States and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Marking the 25th anniversary of the dissolution of the USSR, the students discussed the tensions between the United States and Russia, the internal challenges facing the former Soviet republics and the United States, and the cultural stereotypes and misunderstandings that are inhibiting a constructive relationship.
The two-day conference ended with a trip to the Eisenhower Farm Historical Site, where Susan Eisenhower emphasized the visit of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to Gettysburg in 1959. The meeting between Khrushchev and Eisenhower provided an apt symbol for the students as they undertook their own conversations during another tense time between the United States and Russia.
The visiting students from the former Soviet Union were selected and led by Dr. Anton Fedyashin of American University’s Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History. The students included full-time undergraduate and graduate students from American University and students from Russian universities spending a semester abroad at American. Yulia Melnikova from MGIMO University in Moscow said of the experience: “the trip to Gettysburg has been the…most fascinating experience of mine in the USA…The fact that we could agree on certain issues and have an argument on the others; listen, understand and teach each other made me believe in feasibility of improvement of mutual relations between our countries. Since in the end, we are the same people, who have similar problems, complaints, aspirations, and dreams.”
Colleen Maher ’18 shared, “the way I perceive the news and our government's policies considering Russia has been completely changed. Our peer's feelings, opinions, and insights will continue to affect how I think about our country's relationships with other nations moving onward.” Julia Kerr ’18 added “I learned a substantial amount about our similarities, but also our differences, and ways in which we could bridge those differences through open and honest dialogue. It was such a rewarding experience to have conversations about what we think our respective countries can improve, and I believe that if our governments could have similar talks to the ones we had, there would be greater respect and understanding between the US and Russia.”
The conference was part of the SALTT program’s yearlong study of US-Russian relations and the concepts of strategic thinking. The program has specifically focused on the benefits of cross-cultural dialogue within the United States and around the world. In the fall, three SALTT participants traveled to West Point, NY for the United States Military Academy’s Student Conference on US Affairs, which discussed Global Democracy and Democratization. In January, four current and former SALTT participants attended another conference at West Point on Honorable Leadership and Ethics. In March, SALTT program participants traveled to Baku, Azerbaijan, to study that country’s post-Soviet Union trajectory and challenges in the region.