Spring 2023 Fletcher Eurasia Club Lunch Seminars, Part 1

By Vishal Manve, MALD 2023 Candidate, The Fletcher School

The Fletcher Eurasia Club organized seven lunch seminars during the first half of the Spring 2023 semester with external experts, visiting scholars, alumni, and filmmakers. Moderated by club leaders, these sessions offered Fletcher and Tufts students an opportunity to engage with experts on Armenia-Azerbaijan relations, civil-military relations in Russia and Ukraine, and the Russia-Ukraine war.

The first session was with Pavel Luzin, visiting scholar at The Fletcher School, who discussed the future of the Russian military on January 24, 2023. He opened the session with an overview of the Russian armed forces through eleven months of the war. He highlighted details from his previous lunch seminar on Russia’s military spending and mobilization efforts.

He outlined how Russia’s goals so far have been to make and command efficient structures, avoid Bonapartism, and preserve generals’ loyalty, which they do by frequently shifting leadership. 

“The Kremlin is always afraid of a coup d’etat and wants to prevent it…Several days ago, Putin decided to appoint the head of general staff, Gerasimov, as head of Russian troops, and his deputy was appointed as well. The problem with Gerasimov’s appointment is that they are all of the same generation. In the 1990s, most educated officers of the Soviet Army retired. Everyone else who remained was loyal to Putin and had no opinions or independence,” Luzin explained. 

On January 31, 2023, the second session on Ukraine’s path to victory was led by visiting scholar Volodymyr Dubovyk. Dubovyk taught a course on Black Sea security in the fall and is teaching a course on Ukrainian foreign policy in the Spring 2023 semester.

Dubovyk argued, “If Ukraine stops fighting, it will cease to exist. Russians would probably advance, and we don’t know how far. Ukrainians have to continue to fight, and there are tons of problems, but people are still zealous and resilient. Ukrainians are fighting successfully, and their resilience is still strong. It might have historical or cultural roots in fighting against injustice; there was an eight-year war in Donbas.” 

On February 7, 2023, Nargis Kassenova, Director of the Central Asia Program at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, led a session on governance in Central Asia. Kassenova spoke about domestic politics in Central Asian countries, particularly the unrest in Kazakhstan in January 2022..

“[Central Asian countries] value independence, even if it’s limited…it is very important, and we do not want to go the Belarusian way. This was a red line. In May 2022, we had bloody events in Tajikistan when government forces were sent to the Pamiris region using rubber bullets and tear gas, resulting in dozens of people being killed. This was part of a year-long campaign to suppress Pamiris. It was a desperate situation, pressuring Pamiris and resulting in an overall crackdown on civil society in Tajikistan.” 

The fourth session was with Nicole Bayat Grajewski, Stanton Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow with the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, on February 14, 2023. She spoke about Russia-Iran relations, explaining that Russia was the primary supplier of military technology to Iran due to sanctions; there has never been a mutually beneficial relationship where Iran supplies technology to Russia. She stated that the Russians have played a significant role in the Iranian nuclear issue, specifically with civilian nuclear capabilities, and are currently violating it by accepting Iran’s drone technology. 

“From 2006 to 2011, Russia supported a series of sanctions on Iran, which Iranians viewed as betrayals. However, these sanctions were diluted as Russia had economic interests in Iran… The US provides a common enemy. Iran is one of the only few countries that has supported Russians with the war in Ukraine,” Grajewski concluded. 

Grajewski explained that when the Soviet Union dissolved, the previous Russia-Iran deals remained in place despite US pressure on Russia to end its partnership with Iran. She observed that during Putin’s tenure in 2011 and 2012, there was a shift in Russia-Iran relations due to the Arab Spring and domestic protests in Russia. As a result, Russia and Iran’s interests converged, and in 2015, the Russians provided military support to Assad’s army in Syria.

On February 28, 2023, Polina Beliakova spoke in a session on civil-military relations in Russia and Ukraine. Beliakova shared insights on the defense spending and procurement processes in Ukraine and Russia. She highlighted how Ukraine’s government is held accountable for military spending by civil society, investigative journalists, and the parliament. 

“This accountability has reduced secrecy in defense procurement and has led to effective defense spending. In contrast, the Russian military budget is mostly secret, with no civilian oversight of spending,” she added. 

She also spoke about Ukraine’s apolitical military, which has a streamlined command process and civilian oversight. The country has a culture of crowdfunding, which contributes to the morale of troops, access to better equipment, and international support. However, she acknowledged that Ukraine’s arms procurement faces transparency and security issues and is marred by ineffective bureaucracy.

The sixth session featured journalist and filmmaker Andriy Semenyuk and executive producer Scott Marshutz speaking about their new documentary, “Wounded Land,” and life during wartime in Ukraine.

Semenyuk explained that he and his team began working on the film four months prior to the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The film initially focused on the wine-making industry in Ukraine, but when the war broke out, they decided to use the opportunity to focus on the impact of the war on farmers. The team started filming in western Ukraine and later moved to southern Ukraine, and shows gut-wrenching scenes of destruction, trauma, and the impact of the invasion.

In a lunch seminar on March 14, 2023, international legal scholar Tim Potier discussed whether a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan is realistically possible.

The discussion centered around the failed peace negotiations last autumn and the blockading of the Lachin Corridor in December 2022. Potier mentioned the Madrid Principles as a possible solution, which, if accepted by all parties, could lead to a comprehensive settlement. However, he highlighted that Yerevan has raised concerns about the rights of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and that Azerbaijani proposals have failed to address this issue.

The next phase of the lunch seminar series will continue until the end of the semester. 


Leave a Reply