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NH International Seminar lecture highlights US government’s views on Ukrainian crisis

By Olivia Marple, Contributing Writer

On Nov. 9, 1989, most of the undergraduate students currently roaming the University of New Hampshire’s campus were not yet born. They did not witness on television the fall of the Berlin Wall or watch as the citizens of East Berlin regained their ability to move freely across their city and country.

In fact, the 25th anniversary of this historic event on Nov. 9 could have gone by unnoticed for many students if not for the NH International Seminar for this semester, called “Russia and the West: 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.” The series of three lectures held over the semester helped to shed light on that day and exemplified the relevance of the Cold War issues and politics surrounding the Berlin Wall in current European conflicts.

The last talk in the series, “U.S.-Russia Relations: One crisis. Two narratives,” was given on Thursday, Nov. 20 by two officials from the federal government: Brian Greaney, deputy director of the Office of Russian Affairs in the U.S. Department of State, and Col. Scott Dullea, director of Russia for the U.S. National Security Council. The lecture focused on the crisis in Ukraine.

Greaney and Dullea detailed the events that led up to the crisis and showed how U.S. and Russian narratives surrounding the conflict differ.   

Siddharth Nigam, a junior mechanical engineering and international affairs dual major with an applied math minor, went to the lecture that Thursday in MUB II. He decided to go because he wanted to gain a better understanding of the United States’ response to the conflict.

“I felt like there are a lot of different theories on the Internet [about the conflict],” Nigam said, “but when I actually sat in the lecture and heard them talk, I think a lot of things seemed clearer to me. It was eye-opening to actually see what the thinking of the United States government is behind some of the actions that were taken.”

Nigam was struck most by Dullea’s ideas about the effects of this conflict.

“I thought it was really interesting when Scott mentioned how influential each little action can be,” Nigam said. “That really stuck with me.”

Greaney also made clear that the actions taken in this conflict create lasting impacts when at the end of his presentation he showed a photograph taken in Ukraine. In the foreground stood an elderly woman in the street, her face twisted in agony, her hands held up to her face as if she was in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”

Behind her lay a body in the middle of the road.

A white sheet lay on top of it.

Only the feet were seen sticking out from underneath. 

Greaney concluded his presentation with this image because he wanted to emphasize for those who might not know too much about the issue that there is more to this conflict than “just a different border on the map.”

“When we talk about international affairs, we talk on a grand scale about maps and concepts,” Greaney said in a conversation after the lecture. “But at the end of the day what we’re talking about is decisions that impact real people.”

Dullea added that not only does this conflict touch the lives of those in Ukraine but also the whole international community, and this is why he believes UNH students should pay attention to the crisis.

“I hope that the UNH students recognize that the actions that Russia has taken in Ukraine are destabilizing to the international rules that we’ve worked hard to establish since the end of World War II,” Dullea said. “We’ve been making great strides toward a Europe whole, free and at peace, and the Kremlin didn’t want to play by those rules, and that’s what we’re seeing in Ukraine.”

Greaney agreed with Dullea about the international impacts of this conflict.

“Challenges to the international system inevitably have consequences for the American people,” he said, “whether that’s in economic issues or peace and stability issues.”

Greaney was asked to come to UNH by Gregg Orifici, assistant director of the Center for International Education (CIE). Orifici was looking for a variety of perspectives for CIE’s lecture series on Russia and the West, and, after consulting with Evyenia Sidereas, the diplomat in residence for New England at the time, he decided to ask Greaney to come speak.

“We wanted to bring somebody in that really had their pulse on the current decision making,” Orifici said, “and how [the U.S. government] responds to everything from nuclear non-proliferation to the key issue we’re looking at that is the crisis in Ukraine. We wanted UNH students to understand how our foreign policy is not only made, but how it’s implemented and what it looks like behind the scenes.”

As deputy director of the Office of Russian Affairs, Greaney actively supports this decision making process. He manages the team that focuses on Russian affairs for the state department, and his team supports Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomacy with and on Russia.

Greaney also supports Dullea’s coordination of Russian policy. Dullea’s role as director for Russia for the National Security Council is to give advice and the most accurate information possible to the president so that he can make decisions about Russian affairs.

In addition, Dullea is an alumnus of UNH, which is why he decided to come with Greaney and contribute to this lecture.

“Somehow during these high-level meetings [between the Office of Russian Affairs and the National Security Council] UNH must have come up and Brian Greaney’s planned trip to come talk with us,” Orifici said. “And that’s when Scott Dullea [must have] said, ‘UNH? Hey, I’m a Wildcat. I want to go, too.’ So it really came about from him finding out about it accidentally and wanting to see how he could contribute.”

While Dullea also talked about the crisis in Ukraine in his part of the lecture, he wanted to share with UNH students a “window to decision-making in Washington that people don’t often understand.”

“I hope that [the UNH students] saw that the decision making process is an interagency one where all departments of the U.S. government have a chance to provide input when the president makes decisions,” Dullea said.

Greaney also wanted to show through his presentation that he is “a big believer in transparency in government.”

Aside from making students aware of governmental workings, Greaney wanted to make students aware of careers like his at the U.S. Department of State and encouraged students to go explore job opportunities on their website.

“We would be very interested in having the best and brightest from UNH join the Foreign Service and come do what we do,” Greaney said.

As an international affairs major, Nigam said he could see himself working in a position similar to Greaney’s. However, he is an international student and a citizen of India, which he believes would limit his ability to get such a job here in the U.S.

“If I was an American citizen, I would definitely be a lot more interested now that I see a new perspective on people who are working [in the Foreign Service] and what their day-to-day lives are like,” Nigam said. 

Ultimately, though, Orifici wanted to bring Greaney and Dullea here so that they could give UNH students their understanding of Russian affairs, and this served as a conclusion to this semester’s N.H. International Seminar. The two previous lectures were entitled “Turbulent Times for East and West: a U.S. Ambassador’s Perspective,” which was given by Ambassador to the Former Soviet Union Jack Matlock, and “Pipeline Politics: The Energy Dimensions of U.S.-Russian-European Relations,” which was given by Professor and Director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies Michael Klare. 

For Orifici, this semester’s theme of the commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall is important for students to recognize because the wall crumbling sent “a clear message that the people of Eastern Europe starting with the German Democratic Republic were going to have freedom, and that the division of the Iron Curtain was changing.” 

Dullea sees the wall exemplifying what is at stake with this current crisis in Ukraine.     

“One of the things the fall of the Berlin Wall represented is that the people, initially in East Berlin and East Germany but eventually in the whole former Soviet Union, had an opportunity to choose their own future,” Dullea said. “And that’s what we want to happen in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis as well, for the people of Ukraine to be able to choose their own future , and that’s what we’re working towards.”

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