The Santa Fe World Affairs Forum aims to broaden and deepen understanding of world affairs through small, interactive, professionally led sessions on international issues for a membership of informed individuals.

Past Program

  • Russia and Ukraine’s Tangled Relationship

Russia and Ukraine’s Tangled Relationship

March 2, 2020

Dr. James West and Krista Peterson

The Russia-Ukraine relationship begins in the 9th century with the establishment of Kievan-Rus, a trading center established on the banks of the Dnipro River as a loose confederation of Slavic, Nordic and Finnish tribes under the leadership of the Viking King Rurik.  It lasted until the 13th century. Kievan-Rus adopted Christian Orthodoxy in 988 AD and over time became dominated by Slavs, in particular Russians.  Over the intervening centuries, multiple myths and stories bolstering territorial claims and counter-claims arose, the capital was moved to Moscow after the 13th century Mongol invasions and a single Christian Orthodox church divided along linguistic lines.  Although the Russians long claimed Ukraine its own and still consider Ukrainians their “little brothers,” in reality much of the territory was later ruled by a succession of European powers.Ukraine first established a short-lived independent state in 1917 but was then incorporated into the Soviet Union.  The Republic became independent in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union but its sovereignty continues to be challenged time and again by Moscow.  What are the myths that haunt this entangled relationship, why is Ukraine still so important to Moscow and what role does the US play in protecting Ukrainian independence?

Please note:  this program will be divided into two parts with buffet lunch served between.  It will begin with a 40 minute talk by Professor and Russian historian James West on the history and myths which envelope the Russian view of Ukraine. Post-lunch will consist of a panel and discussion with Dr. West and Krista Peterson on the weight of history on Ukraine today, its geopolitical significance and Ukraine’s importance not just to Russia but also the US and Europe.

Dr. James L. West, a specialist in pre-revolutionary Russian society, holds a PhD in history from Princeton University. He taught at the European University in St Petersburg, Russia from 2015-17, the sole remaining private university in the Russian Federation which was closed in 2017 by the Russian government in its drive to eliminate western liberal thought in the country.

He was a professor of history and humanities at Middlebury College (1995-2011) and professor of history at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut (1971-1995). During his academic career, he was the recipient of several prestigious US government grants to conduct and publish research in and on the Soviet Union which resulted in: Between Tsar and People (1991) and, Merchant Moscow, (1998) Princeton University Press and republished in Russia in 2008 which he edited.

In addition to Russian history, West has taught courses on the interplay of culture, society, intellectual thought and politics in Russia and Central Europe. He spoke at SFWAF’s first symposium “A Window on Russia” in 2006 on “Old Merchants and New Modernism: Moscow, Modern and Post-Modern 1905-2005 and at our 2019 symposium on “The Fascist Temptation” and our 2018 symposium on “Up Off Our Knees:  The Search for a Usable Past for Russia’s Resurgence.”

Krista Peterson received a degree in


Postponed from April 2020

Dates to be determined

 “The Warming World:  Rising Temperatures, Rising Tides, Rising Turbulence”


The Warming World: Rising Temperatures, Rising Tides, Rising Turbulence


Dates to be determined

Scientific study after study demonstrates the enormity of the impact of climate change on earth’s biosphere.  These changes range from the Arctic’s melting icecap and the desertification of parts of Africa to rising sea levels submerging Pacific islands and parts of populous countries like Bangladesh.  The increase and intensity of typhoons in Asia and hurricanes in the Caribbean, wildfires in California and Indonesia as well as melting ice, changing trade routes and new security threats in the Arctic are all part of this manmade phenomenon.

Some of this story plays out in 24/7 news – but much more does not.  What do we know about the national security impact of climate change and how US military planners are attempting to prepare for it?  What about its relationship to the increasing flows of migrants uprooting and risking their lives to cross continents, borders, rivers and seas in search of safe havens often to be met by hostility, indifference and uncertain futures?  What about the spread of disease and the possibility of pandemics we have yet to discover?  How can we address technological impediments to climate change mitigation?  Finally, why are even the governments of countries which have been on the forefront of climate mitigation, unable to move to a new economy based on alternative energy?

If we’ve known for years about the warming world, why hasn’t more been done to try to slow or deter its worst effects?  Many people now understand that climate change is, foremost, driven by rising carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas levels from human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas and current agricultural practices like raising livestock and clearing land resulting in changes in our atmosphere leading to warming of the planet.  But are major impediments exclusively from oil and coal companies trying to preserve the bottom-line?  Are infrastructure and unemployment fears also holding us back? Are new technologies available or on the horizon to help mitigate the worst effects of the earth’s rapid warming?

The impact of global warming is not just an issue for scientific researchers, for military planners confronting the next national security threat or for energy company executives preserving short term profits.  It is more critically an issue that directly affects our lives and the future of our children.

Dealing with the New Normal:  Climate change is global.  Rising temperatures respect no national boundaries.  This is the new (ab)normal. As such it presents complex transnational problems.  It is an ever shifting calculus. It requires involvement from all levels of government, international organizations, large corporations, local city councils, small startups, researchers, teachers, students and all citizens of planet earth to begin to cope with this heretofore silent crisis.

This symposium will explore the interrelated issues of coping with the warming world from the vantage points of national security, economic viability, health and human


Thursday April 11 and Friday April 12, 2019


Rising Authoritarianism: Can Democracy Meet the Challenge?

This year’s symposium on April 11 and 12 will address an issue of especially vital concern to us all: “Rising Authoritarianism: Can Democracy Meet the Challenge?” Taking place on the campus of Santa Fe Community College, the Symposium will bring together six specialists who will speak individually, introducing a global overview of the underlying causes of authoritarianism and of countervailing measures against its rise, followed by sessions focusing on the specific circumstances in Europe, Latin America, and the U.S.

Also included will be a student panel of foreign and dual-national students studying at colleges and universities here in New Mexico. As in the past the Symposium will offer all attendees ample opportunity for questions, discussions, and informal exchanges with speakers.

For more than two centuries, America has advocated for democratic principles starting with its Founding Fathers who proclaimed our nation to be created by and for the people, to joining with the liberal world to fight for our beliefs in two world wars. Following those wars, the United States was in the forefront of international efforts to create global institutions dedicated to peace, prosperity and justice. Our leaders have sometimes badly faltered or made poor decisions in seeking to preserve American leadership and universal values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. But we have for the most part tried to move forward towards such aspirational goals throughout our history. Other nations have not always agreed with our individual policies, but no one doubted the American example of strong democratic institutions, a robust civil society and a desire to build a world based on common values and interests.

Now, as a new era of international strongmen emerges, are America’s traditions and institutions capable of ensuring that democratic principles continue to push back on the tyranny that has threatened every generation? The symposium examines this moment with open eyes, asking tough questions about the global authoritarian threat, its underlying causes, and how it can be, and is being, countered.

When strong democratic institutions and civil society perform their essential functions, society enjoys a good faith debate about the best way to advance global and national interests. However, when rule of law is eroded, nationalism politicized, alliances strained, the press demonized and society fractured by rising hate crimes and attacks on electoral integrity, the norms that promote and preserve a resilient democratic society become frayed. International institutions based on shared democratic values can also be undermined and weakened when the U.S. government appears to question their continuing relevance.

Can the U.S. continue to be a leader that holds others to account when we ourselves falter in meeting these challenges? What causes the authoritarian impulse to break out of the democratic norm, and why do so many here and abroad find these demagogic appeals so attractive? Has a decline in American global leadership inadvertently given other nations permission to erode their own democratic institutions? Will a fractured and divided America be able, or willing, to work with other democracies holding others accountable when we fail to do so at home?

Focusing on Europe, Latin America and the US, the symposium will examine these questions in order to better understand not only the causes and symptoms that bring us to this moment, but just as importantly, to explore what can be done to meet these authoritarian challenges to democracy.

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