At a time when dialogue between American and Russian diplomats is reduced to a bare minimum and when empathy and civility fall short of diplomacy between major powers, we are pleased to introduce The Ambassadorial Series. It is a compilation of conversations with eight outstanding American diplomats who served at various points of time as U.S. ambassadors to the Soviet Union and, after its dissolution, to the Russian Federation.
The Series provides nuanced analyses of crucial aspects of the U.S.-Russia relationship, such as the transition from the Soviet Union to contemporary Russia and the evolution of Putin’s presidency. It does so through the personal reflections of the ambassadors. As Ambassador Alexander Vershbow observes, “[t]he Ambassadorial Series is a reminder that U.S. relations with Putin’s Russia began on a hopeful note, before falling victim to the values gap.” At its heart, this project is conceived as a service to scholars and students of American diplomacy vis-à-vis Russia. The interviews, released today as videos, podcasts, and a transcript, form a unique resource for those who want to better understand the evolving relationship between the two countries.
In eight, hour-long videos, the ambassadors recall their experiences in strikingly personal terms. They share private photos, insights from high-stakes negotiations, and reflections on the challenges and dangers they sometimes faced. The ambassadors discuss a range of geopolitical issues from their decades of experience, including the Soviet Union’s breakup and the tense months that preceded it, the 1991 attempted coup, President Yeltsin’s 1993 standoff, the early years of President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. The ambassadors also discuss nuclear, cyber, and economic cooperation, the impact of sanctions, and how social media and other technology changed their ability to communicate with the Russian people, among much else.
The videos are hosted by Jill Dougherty, former CNN Moscow bureau chief, and include:
- Amb. Jack F. Matlock (1987-1991)
- Amb. Thomas R. Pickering (1993-1996)
- Amb. James F. Collins (1997-2001)
- Amb. Alexander Vershbow (2001-2005)
- Amb. John Beyrle (2008-2012)
- Amb. Michael McFaul (2012-2014)
- Amb. John F. Tefft (2014-2017)
- Amb. Jon Huntsman Jr. (2017-2019)
“Never has there been a chance to see and hear the reminiscences of U.S. ambassadors to Russia, who served, one after the other, during one of Russia’s most historic transformations,” said Robert Legvold, political scientist and post-Soviet specialist at Columbia University. “Their service began before the collapse of the Soviet Union and spanned the emergence of a new Russia through the painful years of the country’s economic and political reinvention to the current sad impasse in Russia’s relations with the West. Each of the interviews provides not only the insights of deeply seasoned diplomats into a constantly changing environment but an intimate sense of what it felt like to be there.”
“As the highest political representatives of one nation to another, ambassadors are critical players in making, interpreting, and explaining foreign policy decisions,” said Deana Arsenian, vice president of Carnegie Corporation of New York’s international program, a major supporter of the project. “Through their personal accounts in this video series, the U.S. ambassadors to Russia offer an invaluable glimpse into the evolution of U.S.-Russia relations. Their perspectives on the past moments of dangers and opportunities offer lessons learned for the future of this consequential relationship.”
Please visit the Monterey Initiative in Russian Studies webpage for videos and transcripts. Please see our page on Anchor.fm for the podcast version of each interview. The Ambassadorial Series interviews will also be featured on the website of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Carnegie Corporation of New York website.