Think Tank Atlas: Russian Studies Abroad

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Rethinking Russia is honored to present the findings of its latest research project “Think Tank Atlas: Russian Studies Abroad.” This report that is based on a unique database of research institutes whose sphere of interest is Russia sheds light on the current position of Russian Studies in different corners of the world.

The Cold War period witnessed a great interest of Western experts in the Soviet Union. That laid the groundwork for the emergence and development of Soviet and Communist studies as a specific interdisciplinary field which focused on the Soviet Union, its socio-political regime, economy and culture.

Whereas due to the background of the closed character of the Soviet system sovietologists lacked access to information, which had an adverse effect on research potential, nowadays experts on Russian studies have a wide range of instruments at their disposal.

Paradoxically, in the 1990s and the 2000s the Western interest in Russia as a successor of the USSR, which collapsed in the early 1990s, started to wane. The end-of-history effect, illusions about the effectiveness of the unipolar world order, as well as the myopic exclusion of Russia from the ranks of key international players, polarized the academic community: the demand for specialists on Communist Studies fell considerably, and young and prospective scholars decided to choose other regions as their area studies.
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Over the recent 25 years three serious problems related to the above mentioned trends have been brought to the fore. Firstly, “old school” sovietologists have lost stimuli to advance their skills and sustain their research potential. Today most of them are more cognizant of Moscow’s internal and external policies in comparison with foreign journalists, trying to look at Russia through the prism of stereotypes and clichés. Secondly, amid the absence of young specialists the yawning gap between scientific generations has become much more evident. There is a lack of relatively young specialists on Russia whose career took off in the 1990s and 2000s.

Thirdly, it is inevitable to highlight that the crisis of this discipline has had a tremendous impact on the development of international relation, especially, among key powers. It has manifested itself in a lower quality of expertise in decision-making in the realm of foreign policy, undermining human potential of think tanks, governmental bodies, the mass media etc. In other words, the causes of current differences are also linked with less understanding the interests of each other.

However, the growing confrontation in the world has prepared the ground for the revival of the interest in Russia, which has been evident during last 3 or 4 years. Nowadays the desire of Western elites to understand Russia, as well as its socioeconomic development and decision-making, is rather clear. Yet this aspiration is not always underpinned by research and expert resources, competent people and effective cooperation with Russian academic circles. In the context of the globalization in education, science and expertise the last element plays a seminal role in reestablishing the positions of Russian studies abroad. Only the constructive dialogue on the international state and the constant expert opinion exchange will enable us to face a higher level of understanding between countries, ruling elites and research communities.

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