Over spring break, students typically flee academic work and flock to warmer weather. For REEI students Megan Burnham and I, Nicole Hash, the prospect of research at the Baltic Defence College drew us to snowy Tartu, Estonia. We were fortunate enough to both be supported by an REEI Mellon travel grant. REEI MA student and RSW fellow Megan Burnham’s research interests focus on Russian information warfare and media, whereas my own studies pertain to the intersection of Russian cyberwarfare, Just War Theory and Russian military doctrine. The Baltic Defence College conference served as an optimal venue to meet with and learn from experts in the aforementioned fields and many others.
The Baltic Defence College trains mid-career North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military officers and hosts two annual conferences – one on the cyber world in the fall, and another on Russia in the spring. The conference gathers defense and academic researchers together from all over Europe, including former and current leadership of NATO, the NATO Cyber Center, influential researchers on hybrid war and experienced warfighters, negotiators, and diplomats from Europe’s current conflicts in Ukraine, Georgia, and Syria. The conference was optimized for not only lessons from experts, but also thirty-minute catered breaks between sessions that allowed the hundreds of students from all over Europe (and two from the US) to discuss ideas and different perspectives on Russia from a vast arrayal of viewpoints.
For me, the conference was a perfect bridge between my academic studies in the Russian and East European Institute and my career in the military. While I could speak the military language before, I can now understand and contribute to an academic conversation as well. This is a valuable lesson I can apply to professional decision-making in the future. For Megan, the opportunity to meet with and engage in discussions with prominent scholars and students on information warfare helped her refine and shape the scope of her research for her MA essay and beyond. As a recipient of the Boren Fellowship, Megan will return to the Baltics in the fall for a year of studying the Russian language and continuing research on information warfare.