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Russia as Maker and Breaker of International Law: A Roundtable Discussion

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In both Europe and the US, the common modus operandi is to eagerly frame Russia as a state ‘outside’ international law.  But when we examine the evolution of international law since 1800, we see that the Russian empire and Soviet Union were both innovators and the objects of many international juridical innovations. The 1899 Hague Convention on the Laws of War was initiated by Nicholas II and his ministers, while émigré Russians were central to the evolution of legal doctrines regarding statelessness after 1918.  At the same time, refugees from the Soviet Union were the object of the first attempts at an international passport system in the interwar period. Soviet lawyers and diplomats consistently engaged with international law after 1945, helping to shape crucial articles in the Nuremberg Charter and proposing influential formulations of economic and social rights in the United Nations.

This roundtable discussion, organised by Pushkin House and UCL SSEES with the support of the British Academy, brings together early career researchers from the UK, US and Russia who take an innovative, humanities-based approach to the history of Russia and international law. The participants will discuss and debate the role of Russia in international law's history, asking: was there a distinctive imperial Russian or Soviet approach to international law?  If so, how did it change over the past two hundred years and how might this help us to understand the engagement of Russia with the world today?

Participants: 

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Gregory Afinogenov is Assistant Professor of History at Georgetown University, specialising in the history of Russia and the  international social and political consequences of knowledge-making.  His current book project, Spies and Scholars: Clandestine Encounters between Russia, China, and the West, focuses on Russian espionage in China during the long eighteenth century and its global reverberations. He has also written for the London Review of Books, n+1 and Jacobin. 


Tatiana Borisova is Associate Professor of History at the Higher School of Economics in St Petersburg. She researches the entanglements of international and imperial law, and international law in the context of the Cold War. Most recently, she co-edited the book The Legal Dimension in Cold-War Interactions: Some Notes from the Field. She has been a visiting fellow at Oxford's Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and the Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies. 

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Philippa Hetherington is Lecturer in Modern Eurasian History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. She researches the intersecting histories of gender, sexuality, and international law in imperial and Soviet Russia. She has written on the Russian role in early international criminal law, interwar Russian refugees, and the Soviet contribution to the 1949 U.N. Convention on the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons. She is currently completing a book entitled Circulating Subjects: The Traffic in Women and the Russian Construction of an International Crime.