(Jeff Watts/American University)
Ahead of negotiations between their countries’ heads of state, former Rep. James W. Symington, D-Mo., and Sergei N. Khrushchev, son of the late Soviet leader, provided some context on the Cold War and the relationship between the United States and Russia.
President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week scheduled two rounds of talks for September, hoping to thaw relations between the two increasingly distant nations.
Those discussions are likely to center on the range of issues separating U.S. and Russian policy, including human rights concerns, missile defense systems and the crises in Syria and North Korea.
The April 13 conversation between the former congressman and the son of the man who succeeded Joseph Stalin as the Soviet premier was as much a walk down memory lane as a detailed policy discussion.
“There are many anecdotes about Soviet life and it shows the difference between the democracy, where you have the rule of law, and the authoritarian state where you have the rule of personality,” the younger Khrushchev said in an interview at the symposium.
“My father — Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union at the time, he wanted to be recognized as equal, and you know that the United States doesn’t want to recognize anyone as equal,” he said during his remarks. “And if you are not recognized as equal, you are challenged at opposite sides.”
“We have to understand that the Cold War is a natural transition in the global history from the period where we resolve our problem between superpowers,” he said.
Symington, an old foreign policy hand, presented a slide show of photographs from time he spent as a youth traveling in Soviet Russia. “There I am, standing around, looking important,” he said to laughter from the audience.
“The youngsters I met at Moscow University and others, they were ready to go. And they were curious about America,” he told HOH. “They were a downtrodden bunch of folks, but full of spirit.”
American University’s Initiative for Russian Culture hosted the symposium in honor of John F. Kennedy’s 1963 commencement address in which he called for peace between the superpowers.
An ice sculpture and Russian and American music from the 1960s welcomed attendees as they entered the Katzen Art Center, where the university hosted a reception after the panel. Caterers served hors d’oeuvres inspired by Russian cuisine, such as non-alcoholic Moscow mules, pickled vegetables two different types of pirozhki.