Renowned Soviet studies scholar dead at 91

Marshall D. Shulman, one of the world's best-known scholars of Soviet studies and founding director of the W. Averell Harriman Institute for Advanced Study of the Soviet Union at Columbia University in New York, died on Thursday.

It was during his service in world war two that Shulman began to give deeper thought to what the end of the war would bring. Convinced that U.S.-Soviet relations would be at the heart of what was to come, Shulman enrolled in Columbia's newly founded Russian Institute.

It was during his service in world war two that Shulman began to give deeper thought to what the end of the war would bring. Convinced that U.S.-Soviet relations would be at the heart of what was to come, Shulman enrolled in Columbia's newly founded Russian Institute.

Decades later, he would become director of the institute and instrumental in obtaining funding that, to this day, is the focus of the Harriman Institute.

No one could have predicted that his early career as a print reporter could have led to such a passion for Soviet studies. He was special advisor on Soviet affairs to Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance from 1977 to 1980. And it was during those years that Shulman was involved in what would later be called second track diplomacy: the convening of scientists and public figures in the Soviet Union and the United States to seek common ground on key issues.

“I think being the oldest among those who were called in the United States the Kremlin watchers, of course, he played an important role. I say because he was friendly, he was never biased regarding Russia but at the same time he understood rather well what was happening behind the Kremlin walls, what was happening in the Soviet system. I think to a large extent he helped to create a set school of American specialists on Russia who always were sympathetic of Russia, who were not enemies of Russia, like some other experts who also knew Russia but at the same time were very unfriendly to Russia and to the Russian people,” expanded Viktor Kremenyuk from Moscow-based U.S.-Canada Institute.

Soon after the cold war, Shulman pushed for a more subtle understanding of the Soviet Union that required a re-thinking of the past a new attitude for the future.

“He had tremendous belief both in the power of democracy and the Soviet Union's ability to be responsible and to respond to reasonable overtures from the U.S.  He never took a hard line on the Soviet Union and I think he had a genuine love of Russia,” says Catharine Nepomnyashchy, the current director of Harriman Institute, New York.

According to a New York Times article some years ago, Shulman visited the Soviet Union 40 times, either as a scholar or as a diplomat.

According to his colleagues at Columbia University, his legacy is clear. Using his talent for diplomacy, Marshall Shulman changed the face of Soviet studies in the U.S. by bringing his insights as a listener – and not a preacher.