On April 2, the first annual Graduate Student Mid-Atlantic Conference for Eurasian Studies, organized in part by MAERES ’16 candidates Peter Sattler and Bryan Furman, came to fruition on the campus of George Washington University. Sponsored by George Washington’s IERES and Georgetown’s CERES, the conference aimed to provide a platform for rising experts in Eurasian studies to present their research, advance discourse on the region and connect with students at other universities. Aligned with this year’s theme, “Transnational Flows in the Eurasian Space,” participants explored how cross-border flows of people, wealth and ideas are shaping contemporary Eurasia.
To open the conference, the Honorable John Herbst, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and Uzbekistan, delivered a keynote address on the historical importance of Eurasia. Invoking Halford John Mackinder’s Heartland theory, Ambassador Herbst emphasized Eurasia’s historical role as the site of pivotal developments. While interest in the region waned following Europe’s Age of Discovery, Ambassador Herbst noted a contemporary renaissance of interest in Central Asia, observing that we are “suddenly awash in all kinds of Silk Roads.” Highlighting Central Asia’s strategically vulnerable position—powerless but surrounded by great and regional powers—Ambassador Herbst expressed concern that Central Asia could become a site of future conflict, underscoring the importance of developing expertise in Eurasian history and politics.
During breakout sessions, two CERES master’s candidates presented the results of their research for MAERES capstone projects and other coursework. As part of a panel on state and non-state responses to emerging security threats, Leslie Martin, MAERES ‘16, delivered a paper entitled “A Double-Edged Sword: An Examination of Ukraine’s Volunteer Battalions.” Using the Azov Battalion as a case study, she assessed volunteer battalions as a civil-military issue in Ukraine. Facing no real security threat until the outbreak of conflict in 2014, the Ukrainian government was never required to reform its bloated, corrupt officer corps, forcing it to allow for battalions to combat insurgents in its East. However, the government remains so far unable to regain a monopoly on the use of force in its territory, representing a security challenge that will only increase as battalion members begin to move into politics.
Renee Slawsky, MAERES ’16, presented a paper entitled “The European Union’s Supranational Ambitions Meet Russia’s State-Actor Ambitions in the Arctic: Theory, Practice, and the Future” as part of a panel on the dynamics of Western influence in the region. Slawsky explored the EU’s efforts to assert itself as a leading actor in Arctic policy, noting conflicts not only between the EU and Russia’s aims in the Arctic, but also between EU member countries with Arctic territory—Sweden, Denmark, and Finland—and the EU as a whole. While Russia does not deem the EU a legitimate actor in the Arctic, repeatedly rejecting its application for permanent observer status in the Arctic Council, Arctic EU countries are also largely opposed to the EU emerging as a supranational actor in the Arctic.
To conclude the day’s proceedings, Dr. Trevor Gunn, Vice President for International Relations at Medtronic and adjunct professor at CERES, highlighted the importance of area studies and language skills in the private sector. Noting that industry leaders consistently rate the post-Soviet space as one of the hardest areas in which to conduct business, Dr. Gunn stressed that area studies knowledge and competency in regional languages are invaluable for facilitating increased trade and economic ties between Eurasian and Western firms.