| by Sierra Abukins

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Co-directors and two students who assisted in executing the Trialogue
From left, two Middlebury Institute students, Karina Nechaeva and Isabelle Boutaev, assisted the codirectors of the Monterey Trialogue initiative, Dr. Peter Slezkine and Professor Anna Vassilieva, to execute the recent gathering in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.


There has never been a greater need for constructive conversation between experts from the United States, Russia, and China—nor fewer spaces or opportunities for it.


The Monterey Trialogue initiative has launched to fill that void, holding its inaugural meeting in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, November 15–18, 2023. The codirectors of the program, Anna Vassilieva and Peter Slezkine, convened approximately 30 academics and ex-officials from seven countries: the United States, Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Participants discussed the U.S.-Russia-China trilateral relationship, the three countries’ interactions with the peoples and governments of Central Asia, and areas of potential cooperation and conflict in the region. 

“I want to witness the time in international relations when diplomats, experts, and students of China, Russia, and the United States can meet regularly and routinely to responsibly address humanity’s shared interests and challenges,” said Vassilieva. “This program paves the way toward the pragmatic and constructive trialogue on a variety of levels and subjects, and I am delighted that the Middlebury Institute at Monterey is the host and the driving force of this initiative.”

Among other topics, participants discussed the future of Afghanistan, potential connections between Ukraine and Taiwan, and different visions of regional and global order. The group also met with the U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan, Jonathan Henick, and two former foreign ministers of Uzbekistan, Vladimir Norov and Sodiq Safoyev.

“Your dialogue is extraordinary. Nothing else like it out there … and so important,” said Karl Eikenberry, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Army. “I am struck by how you managed to recruit such a diverse group, put such substantive topics on the agenda, but still moderate a frank but respectful dialogue.”

Your dialogue is extraordinary. Nothing else like it out there … and so important.
— Karl Eikenberry, Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan

Two Institute students played key roles as conference coordinators, both ahead of the event and in Tashkent: Isabelle Boutaev, who is studying nonproliferation and terrorism, and Karina Nechaeva, who is completing a degree in Russian translation and interpretation.

“It was a privilege to get to learn more about power dynamics and regional nuances impacting Central Asia and a unique opportunity to get to hear discussions of wider geopolitical realities and conflicts from the Russian, U.S., and Chinese perspectives,” said Boutaev. “It definitely allowed me to come back to MIIS with a fresh perspective on class content.”

“The participants wanted to understand each other’s points of view better,” said Nechaeva. “I think that it is what makes this and future trialogue events so meaningful, the ability for people to come together, talk, and truly try to understand each other’s position, motivations, and challenges in a calm, empathetic, and respectful manner. 

“We are taught that the more interpreter knows, the better job they do. It was an invaluable experience for me to learn so much during the conference.” 

The next meeting of the Monterey Trialogue will be held in Belgrade, Serbia, in May/June and will examine the intersecting interests of the United States, Russia, and China in the Arctic, with a particular focus on the environment, trade, and security. 

This year’s program was partially funded with a grant from the Kathryn Wasserman Davis Collaborative in Conflict Transformation.

Dr. Slezkine
Dr. Peter Slezkine is one of the two codirectors of the Monterey Trialogue initiative.

Vassilieva also leads the Monterey Initiative in Russian Studies, which offers content-based programs for graduate students with advanced Russian language proficiency. This includes the annual Monterey Symposium, which will be held in Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey July 2–20, 2024. The symposium will provide serious students of Russian history, culture, and politics with a unique opportunity to get out of the classroom and off social media, and to engage colleagues and locals in real time on the major issues of the day. The deadline for applications is February 1, 2024.