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“Our disagreement with leadership’s pro-Kremlin tendencies ignored”: Ukrainian scholars on closure of Kennan Institute Kyiv office

Kateryna Smagliy, former director of Kennan Institute Kyiv, speaks during an Institute event on 26 February 2018. Photo:
“Our disagreement with leadership’s pro-Kremlin tendencies ignored”: Ukrainian scholars on closure of Kennan Institute Kyiv office
Article by: Ukrainian scholars
Euromaidan Press is publishing a joint letter of Ukrainian intellectuals regarding the decision of the Wilson Center to close the Kennan Institute office in Kyiv, which happened after a scandal erupted in Ukraine following the Center’s decision to fire Kyiv office Director Kateryna Smagliy and appoint Mikhail Minakov as Principle Investigator on Ukraine. This letter is also available in Ukrainian.

On 1 March 2018, Director of the Wilson Center Jane Harman decided to close the Kennan Institute’s office in Kyiv, which had promoted the US-Ukraine academic dialogue over the last 20 years. This decision was taken after an absolute majority of Ukrainian Kennan Alumni Association members sent a letter to the Institute’s Advisory Council, protesting against the pro-Kremlin line of the Kennan Institute leadership and the groundless decision to dismiss its Kyiv office director, Dr. Kateryna Smagliy.

The haste with which the US think-tank executives decided to close the active and successfully operating institution in Ukraine is a sad testimony to the absence of an open, professional and honest dialogue about worrisome tendencies in the work of the Kennan Institute. We received no reaction to our disagreement with appalling facts of its leadership’s open flirtation with pro-Kremlin circles, undermining the Kennan Institute’s reputation and repelling its former colleagues and partners.

Instead of addressing our criticism of Kennan policies, the Wilson Center’s statement touched upon supposed “threats to the safety” of its employees and associates but offered no evidence to prove their validity. This unsupported statement was an openly unfriendly gesture that caused reputational damage to Ukraine by presenting it as a country where intellectuals cannot feel safe.

We welcome the 20 March 2018 decision of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine that draws the attention of the US Congress to the Kennan Institute’s unbalanced policies and its links to Russian oligarchs under US government sanctions. It is regretful, however, that certain Western scholars, who should have been the first to sound the alarm about the Kennan Institute’s degradation into an instrument of Russian influence in the middle of Washington DC, also ignored our key arguments and criticized us for questioning the professional integrity of Mikhail Minakov – the Kennan Institute’s newly appointed Principle Investigator on Ukraine.

We take this opportunity to underscore that our letter only aimed to express disagreement with the Kennan Institute’s policies and to urge its administration to follow democratic procedures, respect the opinion of its Ukrainian alumni and adhere to standards of quality academic research. In no part of our letter did we deny scholars and experts the right to express opinions and political views. The reference to Mikhail Minakov was only made in the context of our criticism of the Kennan Institute’s pro-Russian slant and as part of our proposal to transfer Ukrainian studies under the auspices of the Wilson Center’s Global Europe Program.

We regret that some Western scholars neglected to delve into the details of our criticism and rushed to protect one person’s intellectual freedoms from alleged threats. No views – liberal or conservative, left or right – can serve as an indulgence against academic distortion and manipulation. Liberalism is not the right to ignore or misinterpret some facts in order to defend one’s own biases, just as nationalism is not synonymous with demands to draw objective and balanced conclusions about a country that is responding to foreign aggression as it fights for its democratic future.

It is regrettable that Western scholars sometimes resort to orientalism in their perceptions of Ukrainian reality and prove unable to differentiate scholarship from propaganda, as well as sham liberal biases and opportunism from a genuine intellectual discourse.

Signed by members of the Ukrainian Association of Kennan Institute Alumni and representatives of the Ukrainian intellectual community

  1. Antonina Kolodii
  2. Volodymyr Kulyk
  3. Mykola Riabchuk
  4. Serhiy Kvit
  5. Pavlo Kirpenko
  6. Oleksandr Potiekhin
  7. Mykhailo Kirsenko
  8. Iryna Bekeshkina
  9. Ella Lamakh
  10. Olexiy Haran
  11. Serhiy Fedunyak
  12. Yuriy Matsiyevsky
  13. Olexiy Pozniak
  14. Nazar Kholod
  15. Roman Kalytchak
  16. Valentyna Kharkhun
  17. Oleh Lystopad
  18. Viktor Zablotsky
  19. Viktor Susak
  20. Gregory Shamborovskyi
  21. Yuri Kalyukh
  22. Vitaliy Zhuhay
  23. Lyudmyla Pavlyuk
  24. Andrij Morkousov
  25. Vira Vallee
  26. Galyna Zelenko
  27. Oleg Khoma
  28. Myroslava Lendel
  29. Galina Yavorska
  30. Yuri Temirov
  31. Oleksiy Panych
  32. Leonid Polyakov
  33. Igor Semyvolos
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