The United States and Russia are increasing people-to-people connections through education, culture, sports, media, and other professional interactions. Interaction among our nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), artists and arts groups, businesses, academics and young athletes is growing. The objective of these mutual efforts is to promote the mutual understanding required to build lasting ties between our two peoples.
In the field of cultural and public diplomacy, the “American Seasons” program in Russia continues to bring a wide spectrum of cultural offerings to the Russian public. In April, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra completed its first tour to Russia in more than two decades. Also, Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai closed out the Library of Congress series on traditional American folk-life that included gospel, bluegrass, and Zydeco and Cajun music. In May, jazz legend Herbie Hancock performed in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Later in the summer, the Eli Yasmin Blues Band will tour Russia. U.S. audiences applauded the return of the Bolshoi Ballet to the Kennedy Center in June and anticipate the Mariinsky Ballet’s visit in October. The “Russian Seasons” cultural program in America will begin this summer, including as part of the bicentennial celebration of Russian settlement at Fort Ross, California, in July.
High-profile U.S. and Russian media, educators, and business professionals will continue their discussion on the evolving practice of journalism in October in Washington, D.C. Our NGO partners, the International Center for Journalists and the Moscow Union of Journalists, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, are working to launch a new exchange later this year to place young journalists from Russia in American news rooms and vice-versa.
In the education arena, we are working with Russia to promote educational exchanges at all levels. In February 2012, U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul and then-Russian Minister of Education Andrei Fursenko signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Educational Cooperation between our two countries. This MOU has laid the groundwork for discussions on expanding and co-funding the Fulbright Program. Similarly, the American Association of Universities and the Association of Leading Russian Universities are partnering to place Russian science-and-technology students at U.S. universities. The Fulbright program will offer two summer schools in Russia: “Sustainable Development and Public Administration” at the Higher School of Economics and “Green Technology” at Kazan Federal University. In 2011, more than 4,600 Russians studied in the United States, many with the help of academic exchange programs like the Edmund Muskie Graduate Fellowship. There is also increasing demand among U.S. students to study in Russia, and nearly 2,000 American students are now doing so annually.
The U.S.-Russia Virtual Science Challenge for youth was launched this year, and will link online U.S. and Russian high-school students in bi-national teams to investigate real-world solutions for the management and storage of nuclear waste. In another new youth program, the Iowa Writer’s Program will invite ten of Russia’s best young authors for an exchange with young American writers. Bilateral youth sports exchanges will continue in 2012, with American swimmers traveling to St. Petersburg and Russian beach volleyball players traveling to California in July. American ice hockey players plan to travel to Moscow for a sports exchange in the fall.
Following ratification by the Russian Duma, we look forward to the bilateral adoptions agreement entering into force. This agreement will establish safeguards to better protect prospective adoptive children, provide greater transparency into the adoption process for prospective parents, and foster additional family links between U.S. and Russian citizens.
People-to-people exchanges are the foundation of U.S.-Russian efforts to build those bridges of understanding that enable the dialogue and cooperation needed to address global problems.