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A Conversation with Fiona Hill

May 4, 2021


Fiona Hill, Robert Bosch Senior Fellow - Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings
Eliot A. Cohen, Dean, Johns Hopkins SAIS

In co-sponsorship with the SAIS Student Government Association, Fiona Hill joined the school for a conversation on foreign policy and European and Eurasian affairs in 2021. The discussion began with Hill recalling her formative experiences growing up in Northern England and working to become an intelligence analyst specializing on Russia. She recalled her mentoring by a widely recognized authority on Russia, Richard Pipes; her Masters in Sovietology, which she noted became defunct only months after her graduation, as the USSR disintegrated; and the importance of Graham Allisons’ book on Cuba on her line of thinking. In particular, Hill was fascinated by how the Soviets went from an allied to an enemy nation stemming from the rise of nuclear powers and the advancements in ballistic missiles, among other factors. Hill then reflected on how during her time as the Senior Director for European and Russians Affairs on the National Security Council, she gained deeper insights into Putin and his inner circle.

In Hill’s assessment, Putin is extremely anti-American, but he still needs the U.S. This is because, in her estimates, China’s attempts to dominate Central Asia, the Arctic, and ‘re-claim’ the Russian Far-East, terrify Putin of being left to deal with China on his own. She noted that even though Russia’s leadership is trapped in Cold War thinking, America’s domestic scene is just as anti-Russian, which solidifies the Kremlin’s views. Still, for Hill, this American anti-Russian sentiment, helps to domestically solidify Russia while keeping China at an arm’s length. Hill also believes there is nuance between Russian leaders as Medvedev was more amenable to the West. As for her time in the Trump administration, she felt un-trusted and unwelcome. There she also realized that foreign policy is affected by personal interests. Furthermore, China hopes to undo the ‘catastrophe’ of the 19th Century became more apparent to her. She noted that China’s pursuit of revenge, emigration to Russia’s east, and Ukrainian tensions, all have trapped the Russian leadership in a difficult place, but still Russia wants to be at the table, they want respect.