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Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)


As part of our alumni outreach programme, we ask one of our POLIS alumni per term for their memories of Cambridge, as well as an update on what they are doing now. Our alumnus for Lent 2015 is Ian Pryde...


 NAME: Ian Pryde

DEGREE OBTAINED: MPhil International Relations, 1984

COLLEGE: Trinity Hall

CURRENT ROLE: Founder & Chairman, Eurasia Strategy & Communications, Moscow


"What can one say about Cambridge that hasn't been said already? It was all very enjoyable, as well as intellectually stimulating, and of course the city is magnificent. The course was relatively small- only about 40 students, and the staff were friendly and accessible. I was in the first cohort that had to take exams on the MPhil course, rather than 'just write a thesis', but the courses I took in Strategic Studies, International Relations Theory and International Law have proved invaluable ever since.

Funnily enough, Cambridge and my dissertation also enabled me to satisfy my increasing interest in languages. My dissertation looked at German foreign policy in the 1870s and my supervisor, Jonathan Steinberg (who is now Professor of Modern History at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of a recent acclaimed biography of Bismarck) directed me to the wonderful primary sources in the University Library. So I spent a year reading what Mark Twain called the "Awful German Language" with its long sentences and subordinate clauses in the old Gothic script, which fortunately I'd learned at school. When I went back to Germany on a German government scholarship, I found that without realising it, my vocabulary had expanded enormously and reading the simpler twentieth century German of the broadsheets had become much easier.

I also attended an extra-curricular Russian course briefly, which set me up nicely for when I studied the language properly in Germany. I was lucky that at Tit Hall I became friendly with several other postgraduates who had done various languages for their first degrees. 

This last year has also refreshed memories of Cambridge, where I first heard about the ideas of Halford Mackinder and Alfred Mahan. In many ways, Russia and its neighbours are still locked into the same geopolitics, but while Germany in particular has moved on, Russia's thinking about security has hardly changed compared to the 1870s. Some Russian analysts are fond of quoting statements by Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright to prove that the US does indeed want to control the heartland and its huge resources. More sensible Russians are far more worried about China and militant Islam to the south.

As to the future, I am working on a book which expands the ideas in our article 'Putin's Prism: Russia's Problems Cannot Be Solved By Policy Tinkering' and places developments in a wider global context. We take particular issue with Moscow's official view that the Ukraine crisis is the fault of the West, in particular 'CIA Intervention' and 'NATO/EU expansion'. Western analysis of the issue is of course all over the board, creating policy confusion at official government, corporate and public levels.

My co-author Suzanne Stafford and I are also in conversation with prospective investors to establish a global TV channel with in-depth coverage of politics and international relations from a new perspective.

The need for such an effort was echoed by Lord Tugendhat, Chairman of the EU Committee of the House of Lords, when he claimed on 20 February 2015 that "the lack of robust analytical capacity, in both the UK and the EU effectively led to a catastrophic misreading of the mood in the run-up to the [Ukraine] crisis." The Committee's report also suggested that Foreign Office expertise relating to Russia had diminished significantly with a loss of deep political and cultural knowledge- including language skills- as well as a shrinking ability to think strategically.

Our global TV channel has a gap to fill. In 2015 real experts are often rendered inaudible amid the general cacophony of misinformation in the mass media and 'false expertise'. It is no wonder that the West- and the world- have been caught off guard, leading to confusion on how to anticipate and counter threats.

The West does not appreciate for example that Russia itself also lacks "robust analytical capacity" on Ukraine, the West, the Middle East and China: as noted in our article linked above, Moscow was equally guilty of a 'catastrophic misreading' and was therefore taken aback by serious resistance from Ukraine and significant Western sanctions, while at the same time placing astonishingly naive hopes in the prospect of raising money from Asia, in particular China.

We hope our TV channel will differ fundamentally from all other traditional and new media news organisations due to a business plan combining top quality analysis with a highly successful commercial operation. The $250m Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid for The Washington Post in 2013, and the same amount invested by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just a few months later to set up his investigative journalism project, First Look Media with Glenn Greenwald, reflect the desire for quality journalism. Our TV channel would provide more accurate information and analysis which would facilitate diplomacy, reduce risk in economic policy, ensure more reliable financial decision making- and educate the general public.