FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND FIVE CENT CIGAR NEWSPAPER
Political science professor offers insight on foreign relations during online discussion
Kathleen McKiernanIssue date: 2/27/09:
As part of a new online public forum for foreign policy discussion, the University of Denver’s Center for New Politics and Policy sought out the insights of University of Rhode Island political science professor Nicolai Petro on U.S.-Russian relations.
Senior policy fellow at the CNPP, Webster Brooks III, comments regularly on international affairs, and produces the “Brooks Sunday Global Review,” which is broadcast nationwide every Sunday at 8 p.m. through XM Sirius satellite radio.
Originally organized as the University of Denver’s African-American studies center, the center is now expanding its agenda to focus on new opportunities that arise in American politics from the election of the country’s first African-American president, Barack Obama.
An expert on Russian politics, and a former attaché to the U.S. embassy in Moscow, Petro discussed political development in Russia, and how the U.S. should respond to Russia’s foreign policy during his interview with Brooks on Sunday.
He offered counterarguments to Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., who had spoken on the same topic the previous week, as part of Brooks’ two-part series on Russia. While Cohen argued that Russia views America as a Cold War adversary, Petro sees a chance to improve relations between America and Russia.
“There are interesting new opportunities for improving US-Russian relations, but it would have to begin with a reassessment of Russian initiatives by the U.S. because, if the current administration uses the same assessment as the Bush, there will be no improvement. The [U.S.] can’t keep lecturing at Russia. We need to start treating each other as equals,” Petro said.
Petro refers to the air base in Manas which NATO used as a key supply facility for troops in Afghanistan, and which Kyrgyzstan decided to close Feb. 20.
Petro says it may be harder to change relations between America and Russia because of the media’s influence on American attitudes and assumptions toward Russia.
“The mainstream media does a bad job of explaining what’s happening in Russia, so people think of it as an abnormal country,” Petro said. “It’s harder to just be friends with Russia because of the negative tone taken by the mainstream media. That’s where I come in. Through education we can show where the media is missing the story. That’s what I try to do when I teach about Russia.”
Since many media correspondents come from a similar background and education, they think alike and that “makes it hard to recognize things that are not expected,” Petro said.
“Our assumptions about what’s possible leads to omission of a great deal of information. Because it’s missing, people can’t go back and say the story is incomplete, because to them it’s the full story. It’s a big problem, the assumptions we have going into discussions with [Russia] have fed a persistent ‘intelligence gap.,'” says Petro, that may take more than a generation to overcome.