Russian academics Ekaterina Koldunova and Dr Victor Sumsky, from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations University (MGIMO), were recently in Phnom Penh to discuss the possibility of training Cambodian officials in diplomacy. Sonny Inbaraj Krishnan spoke to the academics and discussed MGIMO’s role, not only in Cambodia but also in Asean.
KT: The former Soviet Union was instrumental in building up the skills base of the Kingdom, then rising up from the ashes of the brutal Khmer Rouge. Is technical assistance on par now, especially in diplomacy training, as compared to that period? How is Russia helping build up capacity in diplomacy and international relations?
Ms Koldunova: The Moscow State Institute of International Relations University, or MGIMO, has close ties with Cambodia’s National Institute of Diplomacy and International Relations (NIDIR), which was recently set up under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Cambodia wanted this institution to be built to help train diplomats and this move by the ministry is very timely. Because of the dynamic nature of things in the world at the present moment, even established diplomatic training institutions have challenges when it comes to training and building capacity. For Cambodia, with our university’s history and understanding of different political landscapes, we make a good fit to help with this new initiative.
MGIMO was established in the final years of World War II when the Soviet Union had to train the new generation of diplomats to achieve national interests while maintaining good relationships with countries worldwide. I see similarities of the then Soviet Union’s need for training diplomats after a massive war and Cambodia’s needs in a similar situation. To have a special system for training diplomats is a good move by Cambodia.
KT: Is your university exchanging a curriculum with NIDIR?
Ms Koldunova: We can share our experience of constructing the teaching programmes. Professional development will come first but we can share our experience with teaching analysis. We will cooperate not only in the technical phase but also in the exchange of opinions, expert and academic communication. It’s a two-way process – MGIMO working with NIDIR, in this capacity also will benefit our university with new ideas and perspectives.
Dr Sumsky: I share similar sentiments to what Ms Koldunova has said. The diplomatic landscape is changing. Unfortunately, what you see in the news or what’s being talked about in a public platform is more about intelligence than diplomacy. The world seems to be on the brink of something much worse. I think the only hope now is to know how to lessen this risk of that happening. It is important to understand these changes and how to initiate dialogue among nations to continue the healthy development of international relations. This is what we’re doing with Cambodian professionals in NIDIR. We’re getting them together to share ideas in a bid to help solve some of these larger issues. There is a double value in this: the first is educational and the other is strategic analysis. This will help develop an understanding of what is happening now in terms of diplomacy and international relations and finding a way out of a possible conundrum.
KT: Are you helping NIDIR in both track one and track two diplomacy?
Dr Sumsky: This has yet to happen right now. We’re at the issues stage where it is very important to understand our mutual needs and intentions. In our next project, we can develop a better interaction between our foreign ministers. In my opinion, we’re on a 1.5 track dialogue where we are talking as academics and our strategic analysis and assessments can be shared with foreign policymakers.
KT: How do you see diplomacy between Asean and Russia?
Ms Koldunova: Last August, Russia opened a Permanent Mission to Asean in Jakarta. But the Asean Centre in MGIMO has been in operation since June 2010. MGIMO’s rector Professor Anatoly Torkunov is behind Asean at least 150 percent. This is a sign that Russia takes Asean very seriously. Now we have an additional channel of communication and this is a sign that our relations are progressing in the right direction. A lot goes into understanding all the 10 Asean countries, not just one or two.
MGIMO’s Asean Centre enhances to produce analyses and enhance people-to-people cooperation. The centre also allows us to engage the expertise in Asean countries, and this is important after the collapse of the bipolar global system, where everything seems to be globalised. Though it might seem universalist in a certain way, it is not really so. We need to approach Asean countries differently, than for instance approaching China or India.
The importance of enhancing the quality and dynamics of Asean-Russia economic cooperation motivates MGIMO’s Asean Centre to work more consistently for greater connectivity between the dialogue partners.
Dr Sumsky: Let me also bring up the essentials of Russia-Asean relations. If you look back to the 1990s when Russia was very introspective and most concentrated on its domestic issues, Asean demonstrated its willingness to engage our country in security issues, trade etc. Eventually, Russia became one of Asean’s dialogue partners, and this is important for creating a new security and cooperation architecture in East Asia.
KT: Does MGIMO’s Asean Centre have any ties with the region’s universities?
Dr Sumsky: Definitely. We have partnerships with many institutes in Asean. We have lectured in Chulalongkorn University and also Thammasart University in Thailand and also in Vietnam and Indonesia. Of course, this list can be expanded to many other countries in the region.
KT: How can Russia help Asean from falling victim to outside forces that could lead to its unravelling? Asean operates on consensus, and all Asean members having a common understanding on issues is important.
Dr Sumsky: Russia does not over involve itself with misunderstandings between the different Asean countries. But let me stress that Asean’s centrality is crucial for economic stability, which is an important part of the world. The establishment of the Permanent Mission to Asean in Jakarta shows Russia’s support for the region’s centrality. We don’t think that anybody really wants to go back to the Cold War past where an unmanageable divide existed. Asean’s success in going forward is its cohesiveness.