Oberlin College and Conservatory

Why Do We Get Russia Wrong? A Conversation Between Three Russia Specialists

Thursday, September 27, 2018 at 7:00pm to 8:30pm

Nancy Schrom Dye Lecture Hall, Science Center
119 Woodland Street, Oberlin, OH 44074

In the almost three decades since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States’ track record in dealing with Russia has been mixed at best. Why is America so consistently obtuse about its longtime rival and sometime nemesis? Why do we as a nation pay so astonishingly little attention to Russia, even as Russians study us carefully?

This forum features a panel of three distinguished specialists , who come at the subject from different angles but who each combine extensive policy background with a deep understanding of Russian history and culture. They will discuss the state of American expertise about Russia in light of current events and current policy.

Panelists will include Keith Gessen, Michael Kimmage ’95, and Olga Oliker

Journalist, novelist, and translator Keith Gessen was born in Russia and moved with his family to the United States at age six. He was educated at Harvard and Syracuse. He is a founding editor of the literary magazine n+1 and teaches at the Columbia University School of Journalism. Gessen has written about Russia for the New Yorker, the London Review of Books, the Atlantic, the New York Review of Books, and the New York Times (most recently on U.S. "Russia Hands"). He has published translations from Russian of works by Ludmila Petrushevskaya and Nobel prize-winner Svetlana Alexievich, and is the author of several books about contemporary America, and several novels, including the newly released A Terrible Country, a wistfully comic portrait of the land of his birth. His sister is the well-known journalist Masha Gessen.

Alumnus Michael Kimmage is professor and chair of history at Catholic University in Washington, DC. He specializes in 20th-century American intellectual history and U.S. policy toward Russia. He was educated at Oberlin, Oxford (as a Marshall fellow), and Harvard. A prolific and wide-ranging scholar, he has published dozens of articles in both academic and journalistic venues (including the New Republic and the Washington Post) on American history, international affairs, and Soviet and Russian politics. He is author of books on American conservatism in the 1950s and on the writer Philip Roth. His book The Decline of the West: An American Story is forthcoming next year with Basic Books. From 2014 to 2017, he served in the State Department as a policy advisor on Russia to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Olga Oliker is a senior adviser and director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). She was educated at Emory University, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and MIT. Oliker’s research interests center on the foreign and security policies of Russia, Ukraine, and the Central Asian and Caucasian successor states to the Soviet Union, domestic politics in these countries, and U.S. policy toward the region. At CSIS, in addition to her own research and program leadership, Oliker implements several Track II initiatives, convenes a variety of events and conferences, heads the Russian Military Capabilities Working Group, and hosts the Russian Roulette podcast. Before coming to CSIS, she held senior posts at the RAND Corporation and served at the U.S. Department of Defense.

Sponsored by Department of Russian Language, Literature, and Culture; the Clowes Lecture Fund; the Department of Politics; and the Office of Alumni Relations.


Event Type



Academic, Russian, Language, Literature and Culture, Politics, Administrative, Office of Alumni Relations, History


Free and open to the public

Contact Person

Tom Newlin, Russian Department Chair

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