It is more than 15 years since the collapse of the Soviet empire, but the need to understand developments in Central and Eastern Europe remains.
The Centre for East European Language Based Area Studies, which was launched last week at University College London, will bolster research on the region in areas such as migration, cultural identity and recent history, health, energy, politics, economic integration and democratisation.
The centre is a consortium of UCL's School of Slavonic and East European Studies, Oxford University's Russian and East European studies department and the Centre for Russian and East European Studies at Birmingham University's European Research Institute.
It will work closely with a network of partners at the universities of Bath, Cambridge, Kent, Manchester, Sheffield, Warwick and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, to develop multidisciplinary, language-based research around key themes.
The centre will do this through a programme of postgraduate scholarships, postdoctoral fellowships, mid-career training, workshops and conferences, as well as engagement with the user community and international networks.
Robin Aizlewood, director of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, said: "UCL, Oxford and Birmingham have a considerable number of academics for coverage of Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, but together we can make much more of our strengths."
The "remarkable" expertise that the centre would assemble would make the UK a very prominent research player, he said.
The centre's funding of £5.6 million - from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council - will also pay for the studentships and fellowships that will help to develop the next generation of researchers in this area.
Dr Aizlewood said: "The fellowships will be based in the three main universities, but the network is very important as a way of enhancing collaboration.
"The things we are trying to do in postgraduate training could be of great value to other universities. Over the past decade, we have been concerned about where the next generation of scholars would come from."
The training programme is designed to make new researchers take on a more multidisciplinary approach to their work. "The programme is designed to help combine disciplines rather than just leaving students to bump into each other in the common room. So social scientists are being made familiar with approaches in literature and cultural study, for example," Dr Aizlewood said. "Big collaborative research needs to be multidisiplinary, and this fits into that agenda."
Students and academics will also learn a new language during their two-year courses. "It enhances the comparative possibilities," Dr Aizlewood explained.
The centre will also emphasise mid-career training through workshops and conferences.
"There has always been and still is a significant body of researchers working on Russia and a growing body working on Poland. The Balkans as an international flash point means scholars and researchers are drawn to it; but if you look at the number of PhDs in Hungary, Romania or Bulgaria they are few and far between," he said.
"There's definitely a need to enhance coverage, and this initiative addresses that. We are keen on research being transnational and comparative rather than just focused on one country."
WHO'S IN THE REGIONAL POWER BLOC?
The Centre for East European Language Based Area Studies will study Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia (above), Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine. Work will cover the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Its research network comprises the universities of Bath, Cambridge, Kent, Manchester, Sheffield, Warwick and the School of Oriental and African Studies.