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The Russian Perspective

Sergey Kislyak, ambassador to the United States, speaks tonight

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President Obama (left) meets with Sergey Lavrov (right), Russia’s foreign minister, and Sergey Kislyak (second from right), Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

Amid Western concerns of a Russian backslide towards autocracy and international strong-arming, Russia’s ambassador to the United States makes his country’s case at BU tonight.

Sergey I. Kislyak will discuss the nation’s historic transition over the past quarter-century and its stand on international issues. All BU students are invited to the event, arranged by the International Students Consortium.

The talk comes as the Obama administration struggles, in the metaphor of one official, to learn to dance with Russia again after each stepped on the other’s feet. The alliance forged by the end of the Cold War gave way to new disagreements: what the U.S. calls Russia’s increasingly repressive domestic policy; the 2008 Russian war with American ally Georgia; Russian objections to a proposed U.S. antimissile program; and stalled Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) talks to reduce nuclear stockpiles.

“The most pressing item on the U.S.-Russian agenda is the START talks,” says Russia expert Igor Lukes, a professor of international relations in the College of Arts & Sciences. Asked what question he’d like to ask Kislyak, Lukes says, “START ran out in December. Is this an indication of a return to the ’70s and ’80s, when arms-control negotiations degenerated into a game?”

“BU, about as international a university as one can imagine, is a very appropriate venue” for this conversation, says Walter Connor, a CAS professor and chair of the political science department, another Russia specialist. He and Lukes, as well as student leaders, University President Robert A. Brown, and other administrators and faculty, will dine with Kislyak Wednesday evening.

Signs of a spring revival in U.S.-Russian relations seem evident. The Russians recently permitted troop-laden American planes bound for Afghanistan to fly through their airspace. U.S. and Russian officials suggest that a START deal is within reach. And the New York Times reports that Russia may finally support tough U.N. sanctions against Iran because of its uranium-enrichment drive.

The International Students Consortium sought a foreign diplomat as speaker in keeping with its purpose: bringing global perspectives to campus, says group president Can Gokcen (SMG’11). “We focused on Russia,” he says, “because of its strategic alliance with the United States against nuclear weapons and its constantly developing government from earlier socialist roots.”

A simple letter to the ambassador secured his agreement to speak, Gokcen adds.

Many students of Russian ancestry hope to attend. “Especially important is the transition for Russian immigrants to American life, which many of our members have faced,” says Russian American Cultural Club president Yevgeniy Maksimenko (CAS’10, GRS’10), who would like to quiz the ambassador on whether travel restrictions between the two countries can be relaxed.

Kislyak, appointed ambassador to the United States in July 2008, graduated from the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute and the USSR Academy of Foreign Trade. A diplomat since 1977, he speaks English and French and has served as the Russian Federation’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, ambassador to Belgium, NATO representative, and director of security affairs and disarmament, among other posts. He held various positions in the former USSR’s diplomatic service.

Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak’s talk begins at 6 p.m. tonight, Wednesday, March 17, in the Trustees Ballroom, One Silber Way, ninth floor. He will take questions after the talk. Seating capacity is 300; reserve a seat here.

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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