American U Program Inspired by a Russian Ambassador

November 8, 2019

Critics question whether a program at American University that celebrates Russian culture paints too rosy a view of Russia, The New York Times reported.

The idea for the American University program was conceived over breakfast at the residence of the former ambassador to the U.S. Sergey I. Kislyak, according to notes of a conversation between Kislyak and Maria Butina, a former graduate student at American who was arrested in 2017 on charges of acting as a foreign agent. (The notes, which were kept by Butina, were found by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.)

American University has defended the program, the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History, and its focus on cultural appreciation to the exclusion of contemporary politics.

“The worse the relationship is in politics, the more important it is to see the other side of the enemy,” Eric Lohr, a history professor who directs the institute, told the Times.

Lohr said, “We are not screening documentaries about Pussy Riot,” the Russian feminist punk rock group that is critical of President Vladimir Putin. “But we are not screening encomiums to Putin.”

The person who created the program, Susan Carmel, previously acknowledged that she was inspired to create the program following discussions with Kislyak, a former honorary co-chairman for the institute. Asked by the Times to comment on Butina's account, she said the program "was formed following multiple meetings at American University."

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