The Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) have developed a relationship, sending scholars of international relations to each other’s campus. Most recently, SMCM’s executive director of the Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD), Maija Harkonen, traveled to Russia to instruct a class in U.S. foreign policy at MGIMO.
MGIMO is operated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. “MGIMO is one of the best universities in Russia and in the east of Europe in general,” according to one of Harkonen’s students Arnaud Coinchelin. The exchanges of expertise between MGIMO and SMCM is primarily based off of the professional relationship between Professor Tatiana Shaklenia and Dr. Harkonen. Shaklenia, the chair of the department of applied analysis of international issues at MGIMO, has visited SMCM two times, once in 2015 and another in 2016, to give lectures explicating the Russian perspective on U.S.-Russian relations. Shaklenia’s department invited Harkonen to stay in Moscow for a three-week course doing the reverse.
On her first day in Russia, Harkonen says she “bumped into” former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a shopping center. “That was a good start for the trip; I met somebody who has been in the news for various reasons,” Harkonen explained to The Point News. Kislyak has been in the news mainly due to investigations into Russian interferences into the 2016 U.S. elections.
Per Vox, “When it comes to Donald Trump’s Russia scandals, one man has been squarely at the center of them all … Sergey Kislyak.”
On the supposed interference, Harkonen explained that “many Russians just shrugged their shoulders and say ‘well that’s what superpowers have been doing all along.’” She added that the level of influence may have come as a surprise to many of the people of Russia, saying that “I don’t think the Russians understood the power of social media.” According to Harkonen, a minority of people feel that election inference is a problem out of fear that they will be next in the hacking.
The influence of international superpowers is something most of Harkonen’s students spend a majority of their time contemplating. They were mostly masters-level students pursuing careers in foreign service. Her class of 47 students came from the likes of Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Canada and many other countries. “The course is designed to encourage students to discuss competing views of the United States’ role in world affairs and explore challenges the United States and Russia face today,” according to the syllabus. It was focused on how the United States functions on the world stage. It was taught in English.
According to CSD, Dominik Urak, a Ukrainian, was one of Harkonen’s students interested in furthering his understanding of interactions between the superpowers the course focused on, Russia and the U.S. “It was just fascinating to be there … and discover in [their] minds how did they see the world, how did they see the United States,” Harkonen says. Students in her class were interested to know if the United States was “going to be the guardians of democracy?” Big questions came up in her class, such as, if the United States is not the going to be the leading superpower who would take its place? “Would it be China? Would it be Russia?”
“It is important for us not to forget that Russia is a nuclear power, it is an influential power,” Harkonen wished to remind the community. Russia “can be a force for both good and bad. It is part of one’s general education to know about … other superpowers.”
Correction: A previous version of this article used an incorrect acronym for The Moscow State Institute of International Relations. It should be abbreviated as “MGIMO” not “MIGMO.” References to MGIMO have been corrected throughout the article.