Spotlight: Johnson's Russia List
By: David Johnson
This article was orignally posted in the March NewsNet
Johnson’s Russia List has been a favored source of Russia-related information since it was founded by Editor-in-Chief David Johnson in 1996.
Studying and understanding Russia has never been easy. A huge country with a complex and controversial history, Russia is today even tougher to grasp through the rhetorical mists. While some argue that “Russian studies is thriving” in the US, others might be more impressed by the political and other factors that obscure a clear and balanced vision.
The struggle to find real facts and to comprehend them has perhaps never been more difficult.
The daily free email newsletter ,Johnson’s Russia List, (JRL) is a resource that could be useful to Russia-watchers. Many know of it and use it, but others may not be aware of its value.
JRL has its origins in the years I spent in Washington at the Center for Defense Information, an independent monitor of US military and foreign policy. Since its inception, JRL has sought to provide a wide range of information and analysis about Russia, reflecting different perspectives. For Russians themselves, it’s important to see how Russia is being covered in the West. JRL was an early example of how the Internet can be used to monitor an important subject, both in gathering content and in distributing it quickly and widely. JRL was met with a very positive response. Michael McFaul, later US ambassador to Russia, wrote in 2006 that “there is no better English-language source than Johnson’s Russia List,” adding (perhaps with some exaggeration) that “JRL also plays an absolutely critical role in policymaking in both Russia and the U.S.” JRL currently enjoys support from the Carnegie Corporation, and is hosted at http://russialist.org/.
There are currently around 6,000 JRL subscribers – a large portion of the Anglophone community of serious scholars and observers of Russian affairs. This includes journalists, government officials, academics, writers, NGO staff, and students.
Since the 2014 developments in Ukraine covering Russia has become a much more controversial and emotional subject. The polarized political atmosphere has worsened with the election of Donald Trump and subsequent unpredictable developments. In a situation where there are daily headlines about Russian propaganda and disinformation some Russia-watchers appear to have given up on paying attention to many Russian sources.
But it seems to me that journalists, diplomats, and academics must strive to do this – to adopt what has been called “strategic empathy,” in order to really understand the other side, its desires, the constants under which it operates, and so on. Only in this way will costly mistakes and unnecessary misunderstandings be avoided.
The JRL is a project sponsored through the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES) at George Washington University‘s Elliott School of International Affairs.