Talking Russia: Opposing Viewpoints on Russia-U.S. Relations

Ben Cardin (D-MD) Photo Courtesy of Scott Zimmerman

Two distinguished lecturers visited St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) over the past week. The Center for the Study of Democracy brought Professor Tatiana A. Shakeleina and Senator Ben Cardin (MD-D) to campus in order to discuss the ongoing debate over U.S. and Russian relations. Professor Shakleina gave her perspective on the debate on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 subsequently Senator Ben Cardin spoke on Friday, March 4, 2017.

Professor Shakeleina is a Political Science professor and the Head of the Department of Applied Research of International Problems at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Russian Federation (MGIMO). Professor Shakleina told The Point News in an interview that she became acquainted with SMCM due to her friendship with Executive Director of The Center for The Study of Democracy Dr. Maija Harkonen. The two scholars met in 1995, and since have “not seen eye to eye on many things” according to Shakleina. Yet, she spoke fondly of dialogue in the face of opposing viewpoints. “I always have great respect for people who are open to new knowledge […] even if they don’t accept everything.”

Shakleina started her career in the field of American studies at the Institute of U.S. and Canada studies where she worked until 2007. She now teaches courses in American foreign policy and Russian international relations among other topics. She told The Point News, “My main profession is American Studies.”

Shakleina offered SMCM the Russian conservative perspective on U.S.-Russian relations, while Senator Cardin offered the mainstream United State Democratic party consensus. For more background perspective on the debate, please read the Senator Ben Cardin Article in our features section.

Shakleina stated that the misconceptions which the American mass media portrays of Russia are vast, yet differ between various outlets. Specifically she said there are issues with the coverage of Russian “security, domestic life, and freedom of the press.” Dr. Shakleina continued to say that the main trouble is that mass media is only giving negative information about Russia “as if it is complete darkness.” She credited this misinformation to many of the negative attitudes Americans have towards Russia, and claimed that due to the bilingual nature of Russian academia their students are able to get a larger international perspective by reading newspaper from a variety of nations.

One American who has negative attitudes towards Russia is Senator Ben Cardin. The Senator attributes American attitudes towards Russia to the cyber attacks during the 2016 presidential election. Cardin says that Russia aimed to discredit American media organizations by contributing to the spread of “Fake News,” compromising the geographic integrity of democratic sovereignty, attacking humanitarian convoys, and committing war crimes. Cardin exclaimed “Russia is not our friend [..] friends don’t interfere with friends elections.”

Professor Shakleina’s statements indicated that she may disagree with some of Senator Cardin’s accusations. She blamed the United States for portraying Russia as a global spoiler, and claimed that the USA and China are the centers of power in the world. Shakleina claimed that Russia does not use military force directly, and that the Syrian government asked them to intervene, so their actions were justified.

Shakleina stated that Russia and the United States should have a respectful and accommodating relationship, but noted that we do not currently. Senator Cardin, however, supports increasing sanctions in order to voice the United States’ displeasure with Russia over “its interference in the United States election, in addition to its role in the Syrian war and the conflict in Ukraine” according to The Hill.

Another point of opposition between the two experts was in regard to Russia’s media. Professor Shakleina claimed that Russia had free media, but then it got out of control and there was pornography on the televisions. Therefore, the Russian government had to implement regulations, yet their press is still “as free as any other country.”

Senator Cardin, however, painted a more bleak picture of media relations in Russia. He claims that there have been attacks on the free press and those who disagree with Russian President  Vladimir Putin have been harshly punished sometimes even killed. Cardin continued to call out the economic corruption of Putin stating that may be the wealthiest person in the world despite working in public service his whole life.

There was not much common ground between Cardin and Shakleina in their views nor hopes for future relations between the United States and Russia. Without speculating there is no telling how these two speakers may have interacted with one another, yet their two differing ideas show that their are always two sides to an argument, possibly with varying levels of legitimacy, even between experts.