Russia Direct is pleased to introduce our readers to Peter Marzalik, the winner of our fourth Student Essay Competition. Find out what he thinks could put the U.S. and Russia on a path to greater international cooperation.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) is welcomed by Russian President Vladimir Putin at the presidential residence of Bocharov Ruchei in Sochi, on May 12. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky / Ria Novosti

When Russia Direct launched our fourth Student Essay Competition in April, the editorial team was hoping to find a guest contributor with new ideas and new perspectives on the U.S.-Russian relationship. In order to encourage maximum creativity on this issue, we asked our essay participants to consider the U.S.-Russian relationship from the perspective of one of President Obama’s chief policy advisers on Russia.

Our winner, Peter Marzalik, a graduate student at George Washington University in Washington, DC, focused on the importance of a new multilateral summit led by the U.S. to resolve U.S.-Russian differences over Ukraine. Such a step might lead to further bilateral collaboration on other important global security issues. At a time when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appears to have opened the door to greater U.S.-Russian dialogue on Ukraine as well as Syria and Iran, this idea struck the RD editorial team as particularly relevant.

In this Q&A, find out more about our talented young winner, who combines a sophisticated knowledge of Russian affairs and security issues with first-hand experience traveling in Russia and interacting with Russian policymakers within the United States. He’s even set up his own blog on U.S.-Russian foreign policy issues and hopes one day to work for the U.S. State Department.

Peter MarzalikRussia Direct: In your essay, you highlighted some of the global issues requiring U.S.-Russia strategic cooperation. Which of these issues do you think has the most potential to bring the U.S. and Russia closer together?

Peter Marzalik: In my opinion, the United States and Russia are already cooperating closely via the P5+1 negotiations to reach a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program. Joint counterterrorism efforts against ISIS represent another avenue for greater cooperation. However, as the Arctic develops into the next geopolitical hotspot, the Arctic Council may offer the most potential to restore more substantive and consistent U.S.-Russia dialogue. 

RD: Tell us a little about your Security Policy Studies program at George Washington University. What are your plans after graduation?

P.M.: My graduate school program has been a whirlwind experience so far full of interactive assignments, networking opportunities, and experiential learning with top academics and practitioners in the field of international affairs. I fully anticipate the skills acquired during my time at George Washington University will propel me toward a successful career in public service, hopefully with the U.S. State Department.

RD: You recently traveled to Bashkortostan and Tatarstan on a U.S. State Department scholarship. What was the most eye-opening or unexpected thing you found out about this region during your trip?

P.M.: Before my study abroad, I had envisioned Russia chiefly as a European civilization. My travels through Bashkortostan and Tatarstan revealed the Eurasian side, which solidified my understanding of Russia as a country that straddles both the East and the West.

RD: That’s interesting, especially because you’ve also had the experience of participating in an exchange program that involved Russian public officials coming to Ohio to learn about American governance. Can you tell us more?

P.M.: During my internship at Columbus International Program, I assisted in the development of a training program for a U.S. Congress Open World delegation from Volgograd. The group met with government and business officials across Ohio to learn about best practices of accountable governance in the United States. Additionally, my family hosted two delegates, which gave me a phenomenal opportunity to practice my Russian interpreting skills. The project was a powerful cultural experience for me, my family and for the city of Columbus.

RD: Which person or event most inspired you to pursue your interest in Russia and Russian Studies?

P.M.: With pierogi and golumpki as common staples at family dinner, I credit my father with keeping alive our Polish heritage and encouraging me to explore my Slavic background personally and professionally. Like many students before me, reading Fyodor Dostoevsky's “Crime and Punishment” in high school ultimately spurred my interest in Russian Studies. 

RD: Anything else about your personal life you'd like to mention to Russia Direct's readers?

P.M.: Over the last year, I have become an avid freelance writer devoted to accurately and objectively covering issues relevant to global security. A fellow GWU student and I recently launched The Elicitor, a blog-style news and opinion website dedicated to eliciting the truth about U.S.-Russian relations to boost bilateral cooperation and mutual understanding. We greatly appreciate your support for our new personal and professional endeavor!