Fletcher and MGIMO Students Reflect on Joint Policy Workshop

As part of the inaugural spring break study trip to Russia, sponsored by the newly launched Russia and Eurasia Program, 15 students of The Fletcher School and 15 students of MGIMO University participated together in a policy workshop focusing on the issues of cyber and information security and North Korea’s nuclear weapons. We hear from our students what it was like to participate in negotiations with their counterparts. After all the hard work, our students presented their recommendations to officials at the Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the U.S. Embassy Moscow, including U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman.


Cyber and Information Security Workshop

This workshop has been a highly valuable experience in various ways. First and foremost, it was interesting and very useful to learn about the American vision on the issue of cyber security, to compare it with the Russian one and to try figure out a way for both countries to come to a consensus. Furthermore, in the process of discussing the issues, we have come up with joint definitions, which reflect both states’ view. We also elaborated recommendations, which culminated our workshop week and constituted a great experience of negotiation. I think that in our work we can really see how people-to-people diplomacy functions. As a group, together with Fletcher students, we managed to find common ground, listen to each other and actually hear each other, which I think was one of the most interesting experiences. It has been a pleasure to work with our extremely talented colleagues from Fletcher school, and we hope we get to do it again.

Dasha Kim, Master’s Candidate 2019, MGIMO University


Flicking through morning news on the Internet, scrutinizing manuals or listening to high-ranking officials in person, we perpetually run into the cliche “to build bridges”. In today’s world of information abundance, post-truth and cliches, and if we consider US-Russia relations, of systemic confrontation, one would hardly believe in the power of bridges, whatever the academic institution is. Yet,  MGIMO-Fletcher module proved that we, students, can and have to build the bridges burnt due to many developments of objective and subjective nature. Having said this, we need to recognize that both delegations went through heated discussions, conceptual clashes and practical contradictions, as well as faced a challenge of adapting to one another’s cultural, psychological and political backgrounds. At the end of the day, we managed to produce two documents – one on the North Korea problem and the other on security in the field of ICTs – that carry practical importance and are likely to pave the way for further constructive discussions and/or decision-making between the US and Russia.

The very idea of bringing together the best and brightest students from the US and Russia when bilateral relations are at their historic low, deserves to be further promoted and supported, both financially and academically, for our relations to thrive. To me, the week spent with the Fletcher delegation proved quite effective in terms of the results achieved and insufficient as far as timing is concerned.  Seeing behind the mainstream story repeated in the media and official sources, personal interest and motivation, the will to make a change for the better let us make a difference. Apart from tangible proof of our performance, which is policy papers, there were also important personal breakthroughs.

I remain highly grateful to those who inspired, supported and made possible the whole program, because there is more to it than regular academic exchange. I hope for the MGIMO-Fletcher format to gain momentum and bring the quality of US-Russia relations to a higher level.

Daria Svistunova, Master’s Candidate 2019, MGIMO University


I expected our workshop with our MGIMO colleagues to be a microcosm of US-Russian foreign policy negotiations. In some ways it was. For example, we spent two long days discovering that our disagreements mainly hinged upon different understandings of the same words. We found out later that the UN spent a week on the same issue.

In one way, in particular, our workshop-bubble was profoundly different from reality: We were able to leave aside the history of mistrust between the US and Russia. Thus, our policy recommendations were unusual given the current state of US-Russia bilateral relations. They reflected assurance; they reflected confidence in the transparent motives of our colleagues. Our team was able to silo our common goals from competing political distractions and conflicts, and achieve meaningful results.

Most importantly, this policy workshop produced lasting friendships between US, Russian, Korean, Georgian and Abkhaz nationals. Working side-by-side set a foundation of trust in the intentions of these future leaders of our respective countries. I hope the current US and Russian foreign policy teams are able to follow our example, but if not, we will soon be ready to assume the mantle and build from this memorable opportunity.  

Hilary Adams, Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy Candidate 2018, The Fletcher School


It took 3 hours (25% of assigned time for policy workshop) to finalize sub-agendas as per cybersecurity. It is indicative that how two nations approach cybersecurity (or information security) differently. As much as it took for U.S. side to persuade Russian side that cyber-nuclear entanglement is in the interest of both nations, so did it take for Russian side an endless effort to persuade U.S. side that Russian information security is the key concept in cybersecurity.

The fascinating part of U.S.-Russian discussion on cyber/information security comes from diverse point of view not only from respective nation but also from disagreement among each team. For example, the U.S. team spent some time to come up with consensus on U.S. position in regards to critical infrastructure, while Russian team spent some time to solidify Russian position over cyber-nuclear entanglement. It is a candid reflection of policy making process, which often is not without discord among policy makers from different bureaucratic organizations.

Dong-hyeon Kim, Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy Candidate 2018, The Fletcher School


North Korea Policy Workshop

T stands for trust. It is what is much needed to restore dialogue between Russia and the US. In the light of the deterioration of the US-Russia relations, frankly speaking, I thought that our mission is hardly possible: I had low expectations that we, even though students, not senior officials, could come to agreement on one of the stumbling blocks to the maintenance of the non-proliferation regime – the Korean nuclear program problem. I was wrong, and I am happy to admit it.

Both MGIMO and Fletcher delegations demonstrated an extremely high level of expertise on the issue, we were pragmatic and realistic, but we were on the same page; we did manage to listen to each other and understand what our colleagues placed a premium on. A great lesson for all us – only by putting aside political/ideological confrontation and realizing that a certain issue poses a threat to the international peace and security could the two parties settle this issue.

The fruit of our 4-day hard work – the recommendations – was presented to Russia’s MFA and the American Embassy. It is not an exaggeration to say that we have participated in a Track II Diplomacy initiative. Our recommendations were not groundbreaking, but were endorsed by Russia’s MFA and the American Embassy, respectively.

I would like to thank the MGIMO University and the Fletcher School for this wonderful opportunity. This joint module has given me an insight into the US position and motives and provided an opportunity – by negotiating with our Fletcher colleagues – to look at the issue through the US lens. What is also important, the module has produced solid friendships between Russians and Americans, which makes me believe that there is a way out from a labyrinth of the US-Russia relations.

Dmitry Chikurov, Master’s Candidate 2019, MGIMO University


Today, our world faces new threats and challenges in old paradigms. It’s no secret that the DPRK issue has been at the center of international attention for decades now, but with no tangible results thus far. On the contrary, the situation seems to have deteriorated further.

Before going into the MGIMO-Fletcher negotiations (aka Russia-U.S. Track II talks), I asked myself whether joint recommendations would be achievable, given the current direction of our countries’ bilateral relations. But after a week of intense teamwork, I can say there is no better place for discussing such controversial issues.

You might rightfully ask, “Why?” Answering this question in full will, unfortunately, require much more space than this post allows. But what I am trying to say here is that the MGIMO-Fletcher project created a unique atmosphere of empowerment. It led all of us to the remarkable realization that we can, in fact, change things for the better. For that week, we felt that the destiny of that part of the world was in our hands, and we worked in earnest. As future diplomats, the future will depend on how prepared we are to meet such challenges.

The MGIMO-Fletcher exchange was definitely a unique project and I am grateful to all those who were responsible for bringing this outstanding group together. I do hope that this project will only continue to grow in the future, so that many more Russian and American students will come to understand—as we did during the week—that changing this world for the better is within our grasp. All we need to do is reach out and talk with each other—directly, frankly, and sincerely.

Mike Polyanskiy, Master’s Candidate 2019, MGIMO University


The challenges of an international crisis can facilitate opportunities for cooperation and innovation in ways that would otherwise be dismissed as impossible and/or politically unviable. In the North Korean working group, the Fletcher and MGIMO delegations came to the realization that the North Korean nuclear weapons crisis presents an exceptional opportunity not only for resolving the DPRK crisis,

but also for bilateral cooperation at a high level between the United States and Russia at a critical moment. Day by day in our negotiations, our teams built up trust, identified mutual interests and sticking points, and discussed key issues in depth. That Friday, we made joint presentations at both the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the American Embassy, respectively, where our recommendations were praised as timely and reasonable.  

The opportunity to work side by side with MGIMO students allowed us to challenge each other’s perceptions and walk away with a more comprehensive understanding of each other’s countries. I also walked away with the hope that we are indeed the generation that can get the United States and Russia from opposite sides of the negotiation table to the same side of the negotiation table. More work is needed. We’re ready!

Mia Adamowsky, Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy Candidate 2018, The Fletcher School


Not only does North Korea present a security challenge to the Asia-Pacific region and the globe: it is also an intellectual challenge to every IR student, policymaker and diplomat. To be clear, we are dealing with the regime that defied all the odds, survived the famine, dictated the rules of engagement to friends and foes, and acquired a formidable nuclear weapons program all the while maintaining the worst human rights record in history. In fact, Donald Greg calls North Korea “the longest running intelligence failure.” So it was incredibly rewarding to tackle this intellectual task with a group of bright and talented students from MGIMO over our spring break in Moscow. Fletcher and MGIMO students worked together on bringing this “uniquely unique” state to the negotiation table, given its political, economic, and strategic environment. Although our views and positions often didn’t align, we still were able to agree on concrete steps and recommendations for American and Russian policymakers that could start the process of North Korea’s denuclearization. It will be tough to build the U.S.-Russia cooperation on a crisis like North Korea, but what Fletcher and MGIMO students agreed upon was that we do need to start somewhere. And if it takes Kim Jong Un to bring the United States and Russia together, so be it.

Alex Shykov, Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy Candidate 2018, The Fletcher School

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