The Historical Gadfly — Episode 5: Anton Zykov on Russia-South Asia Relations, Russian Foreign Policy, & Zoroastrianism

The Historical Gadfly continues, this time with a conversation with Anton Zykov (Антон Зыков), scholar, diplomat, and interpreter extraordinaire. Anton, a Weidenfeld Scholar and M.Phil. student in South Asian Studies at St Antony’s College in Oxford, represents a tradition and connection that many readers may not be familiar with: Russian interest in South Asia, primarily India but also Iran and to a lesser extent Pakistan. The USSR and India had especially close relations, and in recent years, the two countries, both seeing themselves as members of a BRIC group of rising nations, have moved closer together. Anton’s life, as we discuss in the podcast, was in part formed by these historical shifts: when not being kicked out of it, he attended one of the few Hindi-language schools in what was then the Soviet Union, before moving on to refine his Hindi skills at MGIMO (Moscow State Institute for International Affairs, or Московский Государственный Институт Международных Отношений), an institution of higher education run by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Americans pining for a civilian national service academy, take note. All of this education paid off, as Anton has served in the Russian Embassy in Delhi, and even served as Dmitri Medvedev’s Russian-Hindi interpreter during a Presidential visit to the country.

India to Moscow Flight in the Cold War

One flight route to escape the Indian summer

In the podcast, we touch on a number of more specific issues: Russia’s view of terrorism and the key terrorist events of the last 20 years, Zoroastrian burial culture in Iran and India (the topic of some of Anton’s recent scholarly research), and women in the Russian Foreign Service. I’ve touched on some issues relating to this topic before, when I wrote on Anne-Marie Slaughter’s talk at Rhodes House. As Anton explains, the bureaucratic culture within MID (the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or Министерство Иностранных Дел) remains quite antagonistic to women, although there is some space in it for better-connected professional women, such as Valentina Matviyenko, to build empires for themselves. It’s a complex topic that bears further discussion, especially the more I speak with women interested in international affairs, global studies, and so on.

Putin & Ahmadinejad

Russian-Iranian relations: one of the topics we hit on in our discussion!

You can download our conversation here. (We’ll have the Russian version up in a day or two.)


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