Taking the Temperature of U.S.-Russia Relations

Evan Sparling
Date: October 29, 2012

You’ve heard the news: Non-governmental organizations in Russia that receive funding from abroad must now register as “foreign agents.” An American presidential candidate considers Russia to be America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”

The Cold War may be over, but U.S.-Russian rivalries are alive and well.

On November 15, I will participate in a livestream discussion hosted by legendary American and Russian journalists Phil Donahue and Vladimir Pozner who moderated the groundbreaking U.S.-Soviet “Spacebridge” discussions in the mid-1980s.

Watch the English livestream discussion at 10:00-11:30 EST on Thursday, November 15, here:


Watch the Russian livestream discussion at 10:00-11:30 EST on Thursday, November 15, here:


Connecting audiences in Seattle and what was then Leningrad via satellite, these “Spacebridge” TV summits were an early form of U.S.-Soviet citizen diplomacy utilizing the latest available technology. Now, at a time when relations between the United States and Russia are once again getting chilly, trailblazers Donahue and Pozner are reuniting for a discussion of the current state of U.S.-Russia relations.

Together with other colleagues from Russian and U.S. civil society organizations we will discuss how to maintain and strengthen cooperation between individuals and organizations despite renewed national tensions.

Undoubtedly, Donahue and Pozner will ask hard-hitting questions about the deteriorating prospects for U.S-Russian political cooperation, including Russia’s recent decision to eject USAID, an organization that helped build meaningful connections between the two nations; or the future of the Obama administration’s 2009 “reset” initiative, which sought to overcome old rivalries and improve tense relations with Russia.

My colleagues and I won’t have all the answers, but it will be an interesting discussion because all the guests, me included, are part of the U.S.-Russia Civil Society Partnership Program, an initiative of Eurasia and New Eurasia foundations. The program brings together activists from both nations who address issues like gender equality, corruption, public health, education, and, of course, environmental conservation to tackle shared problems between the United States and Russia.

Fortunately, there is a long history of cooperation between the nations’ people, even in chillier times than this. Since the 1970’s, non-governmental organizations, business associations, and science research institutes have been establishing bilateral connections that are strong today and will likely survive this challenging political climate.

While I’m excited for the talk show, I’m also looking forward to leaving all rhetoric behind afterward, when I’ll be joining my colleagues for two days of intensive work sessions where we will try to come up with actual solutions to the pressing issues faced by ordinary Russians and Americans.

Russians, when confronted with international conflict, like to remind everyone that “we are all people.” And indeed this November, as politicians from both countries are scoring easy political points by carping at each other, the “people” of Russia and the United States will be hard at work solving their countries’ problems.