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First U.S. conference on Ukraine-U.S. relationships to be May 1
STANFORD -- When Stanford University hosts a May 1 conference on Ukraine's foreign policy, it will be the first on that topic in the United States - a country just beginning to grasp how little it knows about the parts of the former Soviet Union.
The dearth of expertise prompted Stanford's Center for Russian and East European Studies to host the public conference on Ukraine, said History Professor Alexander Dallin who directs the center.
"If there has been one thing wrong with our whole training and research program at Stanford, it has been that we haven't been training people to produce a better understanding of the non-Russian areas of the old Soviet Union, and other universities haven't either.
"If the United States needed somebody to go to Kazakhstan, Ukraine or Moldova, where are we going to find a specialist?" Dallin asks. "The news media doesn't have correspondents in most of these 15 new countries, and most Americans are hardly aware of the geography."
The Stanford center began to expand its focus this year, beginning with courses on Ukraine. With a population similar to that of France and a large industrial and agricultural base, Ukraine is the second largest republic of the former Soviet Union. It also is heir to a large number of Soviet nuclear weapons.
"For all we know, the ICBMs on Ukrainian soil are targeted on American targets," Dallin said. "Initially, Ukrainian leaders said they would get rid of them, but they've discovered they are a terrific bargaining chip."
Boris Tarasyuk, Ukraine's deputy foreign minister and chair of the country's commission on nuclear weapons, will speak on his country's evolving foreign policy toward its neighbors at the conference.
Frank Sysyn, acting director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta, who is teaching Stanford's first courses on Ukraine as a visiting professor this year, will give an overview of the history and legend of Ukraine. Canada has more expertise on Ukraine, Dallin said, partly because Ukrainians are the third largest ethnic group in that country.
Lilia Shevtsova, a visiting Russian scholar at the University of California-Berkeley, will give another point of view. "Where possible, Berkeley and Stanford are teaming up to bring experts to our campuses," Dallin said.
Other conference speakers include Adrian Karatnyckyi, a Ukrainian- East European specialist of the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., and Andrei Kortunov, department head at the Institute of USA and Canada Studies in Moscow.
"We've all thought of Russia as the successor state to the Soviet Union and paid far too little attention to how countries like Ukraine will develop," said Stanford Political Science Professor David Holloway, who will present his views at the conference of what U.S. policy should be.
"Ukraine is significant not only because of its nuclear weapons, and I think it's a bad mistake for us to send signals to them that they are only important to us as long as they have weapons," he said.
The American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies is "alerting American education institutions that they need to broaden their research and teaching" on the independent former Soviet republics, said Dorothy Atkinson, who directs that association.
"Our organization did a survey on language competence of American scholars of the former Soviet Union and we were appalled," she said. "These are the people who train others, and most of them don't know the languages or cultures of the non-Russian people. As a result, the United States doesn't have the expertise to handle the growth we can anticipate in business or diplomatic relationships with these new countries. There aren't enough experts even on Russia."
It is difficult for colleges and universities to add courses because of budget cuts, she said.
The Ukrainian conference, which is free to the public, is from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in Oak West Lounge of Tresidder Memorial Union on the Stanford campus. For schedule updates, contact the Center for Russian and East European Studies at (415) 725-2592.
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