War and Peace: The View from Moscow

Vladimir Putin
Photo by Mikhail KlimentyevTASS via Getty
Julia Ioffe
February 10, 2022

I first met Dr. Andrey Sushentsov in Moscow back in 2017. It was slushy and gray outside, one of those days when you can’t tell if it’s February or December, when spring seems like an impossible dream because it feels like it has only ever been winter. Sushentsov invited me to meet with him in a sleek co-working space in a renovated neoclassical building sandwiched between Lubyanka Square, where the FSB has its headquarters, and the neighborhood just outside the Red Square where all kinds of government ministries and departments have their offices—the corner of Moscow that is most like Washington, D.C. 

We sat on velvet couches, drinking hot tea and talking about Russia’s place in the world order, and the kinds of classes that Sushentsov teaches at MGIMO, the elite university affiliated with the Russian Foreign Ministry that trains future Russian diplomats. Sushentsov, himself a graduate of the school, was different from most people I’d ever interviewed about Russian foreign policy. Compared to them, he was quite young—my age, I later realized—and quite reasonable. Unlike the foreign policy discussion on Russian state television, there was no yelling, no cursing, no insanely inappropriate analogies. Sushentsov was clear and precise in explaining the Kremlin’s geopolitical strategy, and even the nationalism woven through his views seemed as understandable as the American nationalism I heard back in Washington. Sushentsov represented the new generation of Russian foreign policy thinkers and practitioners. Young, modern, globally-minded, and far more elegantly dressed than their Washington counterparts. 

In the years since we first met, Sushentsov has quickly risen through the ranks of Russia’s insular world of foreign policy. Today, he is the Dean of the prestigious School of International Relations at MGIMO and program director at the Valdai Club, the exclusive foreign policy conference where Vladimir Putin has often made news talking to interlocutors from abroad. I have frequently disagreed with Sushentsov’s point of view—I don’t, for example, agree that Ukraine has to justify its independence or that the United States and Russia have the right to carve up Europe into spheres of influence again—but have always appreciated his willingness to clearly and candidly articulate the perspective of the Kremlin as it views the West, as opposed to the often myopic, orientalist rhetoric that passes for smart analysis on American cable news.