Former US ambassador speaks on Ukraine-Russia conflict

Emily Chin, Assistant Campus Editor

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer spoke to about 30 people on the crisis between Ukraine and Russia at the Buffett Center on Tuesday.

When a Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down over Ukraine in July, a government-supported Russian news agency reported Ukrainians had shot it down and Russian president Vladimir Putin was in that plane, Pifer said.

Pifer is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the director of Brookings’ Arms Control Initiative. He was also former senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Pifer’s talk is part of the Buffett Center’s “New Cold War?” speaker series. The other two speakers coming to campus in February and March are Eric Rubin, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, and John Beyrle, former U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Ian Kelly (Weinberg ‘79), an international studies adjunct professor and former U.S. representative to the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe, worked with the Buffett Center to organize the event.

“These are very topical issues and I think that students in particular can benefit from this because this is an issue that will not go away as the U.S. deals with challenges with Russia,” Kelly told The Daily.

Brian Hanson, director of programs, research and strategic planning at the Buffett Center, worked with Kelly to create the speaker series.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to be able to hear the perspective of current policy makers and those who follow these policies very carefully,” he said. “It’s an important conflict.”

In his talk, Pifer highlighted three main topics: Ukraine’s internal situation, the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the West’s response.

Pifer found that many of Ukraine’s problems are internal. When in Ukraine, he made a point of eating meals with the residents. He said national security was a frequent topic during these meals. At one of the dinners, he asked Ukrainian residents, “What is the greatest single threat to national security?”

They answered Ukrainians, Pifer said.

“If there are not serious reforms, they are going to lose support from the populations, which has come to accept hardship,” he said. “They will also lose support in the West.”

Pifer also criticized Russia for not sticking with European agreements banning using military force to obtain land. Russia also implemented its ceasefire agreement with Ukraine, he said.

He especially emphasized the need for the U.S. to take action in Russia because it is our obligation to Ukraine. He said he hopes Russia will sit down and negotiate with Ukraine. Realistically, however, he said he thinks things will stay the same as they have been for the past few years with no war, but no peace.

“This is a problem that goes beyond Ukraine,” he said. “I think we should take care of and support Ukraine. There’s been a lot of political support.”

Ron Ganim (School of Law ‘72), a Glenview, Illinois resident, came to the talk because he wanted to learn more about Russia. Prior to the event, Ganim said he only knew what he had heard on the news about the issue.

“It gave me a better perspective about what is going on there,” Ganim said. “I didn’t quite understand the point of view of the Ukrainians or the Russians, but now I do.”

Email: [email protected]