THOMAS GRAHAM: Russia's Strategic Challenges: 7:30PM, Friday, March 21, 2014 Housatonic Valley Regional High School

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“Since he rose to power over a decade ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin has striven to assert Russia as a great power,” Thomas Graham says. “His recent initiative on Syria has put it back on center stage, at least in the Middle East. But Russia’s slowing economic growth and a range of foreign policy challenges raise questions about its future as a great power. What does Putin’s Russia need to do domestically and abroad to fulfill its great-power ambitions? and can it succeed.?” he asks.

Thomas Graham is managing director at Kissinger Associates, Inc. where he focuses on Russian and Eurasian affairs. He was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russia on the National Security Council staff from 2004 to 2007. He was a foreign service officer from 1984 to 1998 including two tours of duty at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Between tours in Moscow he worked on Russian and Soviet affairs on the Policy Planning Staff of the Department of State. From 1998 to 2001 Graham was a senior associate in the Russia/Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“To be sure Russia often takes positions contrary to those of the United States and that makes the Kremlin an easy target for criticism,” he says. He cites Putin’s pugnacious style, his evident glee at poking the United States in the eye, along with his mounting appeals to xenophobic sentiments to shore up his domestic position as all rubbing Americans the wrong way. But he questions what real challenge Russia poses on the world stage.

Dr. Graham discusses how the end of the Cold War still affects our current tensions with Moscow both in Russia and in the United States where the generation of political, military and journalist leaders still dwell on the Soviet threat of a time gone by. He suggests American frustration with actions taken by the Kremlin is more a reflection of the political dysfunction in Washington and ineptitude of U.S. foreign policy than the real impact of Russia’s behavior.