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Interview with Professor Iain Ferguson

International laboratory on World Order Studies and the New Regionalism is launching the interview series with laboratory members. In these interviews they tell us about their professional experience and current and future researches.

The following is the interview with Senior Research Fellow, Professor Iain Ferguson(UK) an expert in the field of EU-Russia relations, Russian and Eurasian security.

Why did you choose Russia for your postdoctoral fellowship?

My research is about the difficult relationship between Russia and the West. Most of what I know about this relationship, I know from growing up in the UK, going to university in Britain and teaching there and in Europe.

Since I finished my PhD in 2014, I've really wanted to come to Russia to learn the Russian perspective, and, of course to improve my Russian language skills.

This makes it sound like my decision to come to Russia was very straightforward. Actually, it has not been at all easy to get a position at a top Russian university. The opportunities for international staff here are few and far between – at least there are very few positions advertised in the open market.

Why did you choose HSE among other Russian universities?

HSE is one of the best universities in Russia for the social sciences. And, in my view, it is the best for Politics and International Relations.

It has always been my number one choice.

Give us a brief overview of the research you are carrying out in the laboratory.

There are three themes to my research at the laboratory. Each is organised under a broad research question.

A) The return of spheres of influence?

Last year, with Susanna Hast [University of Helsinki], I edited a special issue of the journal Geopolitics that explores the return of this (originally 19th C) concept of world politics to the wing of contemporary Europe. To complete this project, I plan to write a piece about how this crisis of the contemporary (i.e. post-Cold War) order can best be understood. This paper will present a critique and a corrective to the main theories on region-building in international relations. It fits with the 'new regionalism' focus of the Laboratory.

B) Russia beyond realism?

I've organised a panel at the upcoming International Studies Association (ISA) meeting in Toronto, Canada to discuss what can be explained and what is left out when we look at Russian foreign policy through a realist lens.

This panel is composed of colleagues from the HSE and from the UK. A member of the Laboratory and myself have just started to sketch out a paper on this theme, which focuses on the reception of neo-realist theory in Russia. We are also talking about hosting follow up events to explore this research topic further.

C) Civilisational politics beyond the state?

I am currently finishing a paper about two competing tendencies in Russian foreign policy; two opposing ways of thinking about the purpose and scope of Russia’s ideas of ‘state civilisation ’ in world politics. I am keen to follow this up with research that explores why, in the 21st century, civilisational imaginaries and narratives have taken hold among a wide range of policymakers in ways that are changing the character of the modern state and visions of world order.

I am currently in discussions with colleagues at the Laboratory about hosting an event on this topic in Moscow later this year.

We know that you also conducted your research in the Saint-Petersburg HSE campus. Could you tell us about it and compare two campuses?

I actually continue to work on research with colleagues at the Saint Petersburg campus at HSE. I am writing my current paper on Russia's civilisational turn in foreign policy with Prof. Sergei Akopov from my old Political Science department there.

Some of my best, former students from St. Petersburg are providing me with research assistance for my next paper on realism in Russian foreign policy.

I find that both my current and former departments at HSE are very supportive of research. As I am getting to know my new colleagues in Moscow better, we are seeing more opportunities for collaboration.

It is also the case that being in Moscow means being closer to other top research institutes on international affairs. Just this morning (18th January), I completed my first opinion piece for the Valdai Discussion Club website ( http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/brexit-deal-or-no-deal/ ). This opportunity only came about because of where I am now.