As an academic specialising in Russian politics, I’m often asked ‘why Russia?’. My answer is that when I chose my first degree in 1985, it seemed obvious that to understand the world, I had to understand the Soviet system. I gained a BA Russian Studies at Sheffield, then came to CREES in 1989 to do my Masters degree. Communism was already collapsing. By the time I completed my Masters in 1991, my initial rationale for studying Russia had collapsed along with the Soviet Union.
I remember well the excitement of the August coup of 1991, sitting with fellow students in one of the segments of the disorientatingly circular Baykov library (during its Ashley Building incarnation), listening to members of CREES staff on national radio, sometimes by phone from offices only feet away. CREES was the ‘go to’ place for the national media.
Not that the disappearance of the Soviet Union put me off Russia.
After a three years away from CREES, during which I wrote my first book and worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I came back to CREES as lecturer, then senior lecturer, in Russian politics. My years in this role were some of the most satisfying of my career – memorable not least because of the camaraderie of colleagues and students alike. It’s a source of immense professional satisfaction to me that at CREES I was able to supervise the PhDs of three scholars of such talent that they went on to Russian politics lectureships at leading institutions – Luke March at Edinburgh, Bettina Renz at Nottingham, and David White, who succeeded me at CREES when I finally moved on to Birkbeck, University of London in 2005.