This seminar was supported by UACES and was held at the Aleksanteri Institute, the Russian and Eastern European Studies centre of excellence at the University of Helsinki. The event was also supported with funding from the Aleksanteri Institute and The Finnish Centre of Excellence in Russian Studies.
Presentations were given in two roundtables. In the first roundtable, on ‘Influence’, Christopher Browning (University of Warwick) discussed ontological security and European geopolitics, Natalia Morozova (Higher School of Economics, Nizhny Novgorod) analysed Russian discourses on humanitarianism in the post-Soviet space, Iain Ferguson (Russian Presidential Academy, St Petersburg) located the origins of Russia’s new sphere of influence in its relationship with the European Union, Fillippo Costa-Buranelli (Kings College London) traced the history of the idea of spheres of influence and Adrian Pabst (University of Kent) theorised about spheres of influence as a form of international association.
The second roundtable, on ‘Spheres’, included presentations by Stephanie Ortmann (University of Sussex) on Russia’s sphere of influence in Kyrgyzstan, Joanna Szostek (Royal Holloway, University of London) on Russian mass media and influence in Belarus and Ukraine, Mikhail Suslov (Uppsala University) looked at the ‘Russian World’ as an idea of a new sphere of influence, and finally Susanna Hast (University of Helsinki) reflected on the representation of spheres of influence in the Netflix drama, ‘House of Cards’.
Between the two roundtables, the Director of the Aleksanteri Institute gave a short talk on the research conducted by the Finnish Centre of Excellence in Russian Studies, and how this workshop fitted into the Centre’s focus on Russian foreign policy vis-à-vis its neighbours.
The whole seminar was broadcast live through Periscope. So far it has been watched by over 120 people online. Susanna Hast and Iain Ferguson, two of the co-organisers, also used social media (Twitter and Facebook) before and during the event to raise awareness about the topics discussed and promote the event.
The event was also attended in person by a small group of policy experts, postgraduate students and senior researchers from as far afield as St. Andrews in Scotland.
The intimate and focussed discussion led to an intense debate on the usefulness of the notion of ‘spheres of influence’ as an analytical tool, and the many political uses of the concept.
All those involved commented on how productive the event was. The papers delivered at the event are being submitted for a special issue of the journal Geopolitics in 2017-18.
The organisers would like to thank UACES for the financial contribution which enabled the organisation of this seminar.
Joanna Szostek, Royal Holloway, University of London
This event took place at the University of Helsinki on 10 June 2016 and was supported by a UACES Small Events Grant.