SIPA Faculty-Stephen Sestanovich

Stephen Sestanovich

Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Professor for the Practice of International Diplomacy

SIPA Faculty-Stephen Sestanovich

International Affairs Building, Room 1234



Personal Details

Focus areas: U.S. foreign policy, Russian politics and foreign policy, diplomacy

Stephen Sestanovich joined SIPA's faculty in the fall of 2001 as the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of International Diplomacy. He is also the director of the International Fellows Program and the author, most recently, of Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama (Knopf, February 2014).

Professor Sestanovich has had a long and diverse professional career, serving both in and out of government. From 1997 to 2001, he held the position of ambassador-at-large and special advisor to the Secretary of State on the New Independent States (NIS). In this role, he was responsible for the overall coordination of U.S. policy toward the states of the former Soviet Union, both within the State Department and with other agencies of the U.S. Government. He served as the principal public spokesman for the administration and the Department of State before Congress and the public on policy toward the NIS.

Before joining the State Department, Ambassador Sestanovich was the vice president for Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he oversaw the Endowment's policy research center in Moscow and its program of post-Soviet studies in Washington. From 1987 to 1994, he was director of Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. From 1984 to 1987, Dr. Sestanovich was senior director for policy development at the National Security Council. He served as a member of the Policy Planning Staff at the Department of State from 1981 to 1984, and was senior legislative assistant for foreign policy to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan from 1980 to 1981.

Professor Sestanovich’s principal research interests include Russian and post-Soviet politics and foreign policy, and American foreign policy. He has written on these subjects for Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Journal of Democracy, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New Republic, and other publications. Dr. Sestanovich was the principal author of Russia’s Wrong Direction: What the U.S. Can Should Do (2006), an Independent Task Force Report of the Council on Foreign Relations. Volumes he has edited include Rethinking Russia's National Interest (1994), Coping With Gorbachev's Soviet Union (1988), and four volumes of Creating the Post-Communist Order, a series published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Ambassador Sestanovich is the George F. Kennan Senior Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and serves on the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Dr. Sestanovich earned a BA degree summa cum laude from Cornell University in 1972 and a PhD in government from Harvard University in 1978. From 1978 to 1980, he was assistant professor of political science at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research; and from 1979 to 1980, visiting assistant professor of political science at Columbia University.


  • PhD in Government, Harvard University
  • BA, summa cum laude, Cornell University


  • Board, National Endowment for Democracy
  • Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Research And Publications

In The Media

Stephen Sestanovich, former ambassador-at-large to the Soviet Union, assesses the situation in this video interview. 

Oct 18 2022
CBS News

Stephen Sestanovich comments on Putin's potential next moves in the war in Ukraine — "The problem with most of the escalatory options, up to and including nukes, is that they may simply unify Europe, cast Putin himself as a Hitlerian monster and accelerate Western weapons supplies to Ukraine." 

Sep 17 2022
LA Times

Stephen Sestanovich, who served as ambassador at large for the countries comprising the former USSR during the Clinton administration, comments on Russia and Putin.

Sep 12 2022
Daily Beast

Stephen Sestanovich joins fellow scholars and national security professionals in endorsing this essay.

May 31 2022
The Hill

“What puts an end to retrenchment is almost always some sort of shock,” Stephen Sestanovich comments, that “makes people think downsized policies, however desirable they might have seemed earlier, just won’t cut it in a more dangerous world.”

Apr 23 2022
Los Angeles Times