Congressional Seminar on Russia, Ukraine, and European Security

Mar 3, 2022 |
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On March 3, 2022, as part of the project “Promoting Dialogue on Arms Control and Disarmament”, the Academy held a special briefing panel exclusively for Congressional staff, featuring presentations by Dr. Olga Oliker (International Crisis Group) and Brigadier General (ret.) Kevin Ryan (Belfer Center, Harvard University and former U.S. Army), and chaired by Steven E. Miller (Belfer Center, Harvard University). The objectives of the event were to provide up-to-date analysis of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as context for the unfolding situation and assessment of the implications for U.S. policy towards European security.

Speakers provided overviews of military and political developments after the first week of the war, highlighting how they understood the objectives of the Russian military incursion. Although President Putin expected to transform Ukraine into a neutral vassal state based on the model of Belarus, unexpected resistance by Ukrainian military and people was combined with a surprising unpreparedness of Russian forces to thwart any quick resolution. This appeared to have led to an increased intensity and viciousness of attacks by Russia, and consequently a rapidly degrading humanitarian crisis with refugees heading to Western Ukraine and further into bordering countries.

Speakers were pessimistic that the unprecedented depth of sanctions placed on Russia by the US and EU states would cause either elites or the general public to call for or effect a removal of President Putin. Sanctions hold the potential to plunge Russia into an economic crisis that could lead to political change, but this is a long-term process. The proposal for a no-fly zone was judged unrealistic in view of necessitating direct engagement by Western forces that could escalate into a nuclear conflict.

Ultimately, the judgment was that this war will change European and NATO security calculations, and potentially the global order in the years to come. If the world does manage to avoid the use of nuclear weapons in this confrontation, the escalatory risk factor will nevertheless remain high. Beyond the immediate necessity of achieving a ceasefire and the removal of Russian forces from Ukraine, the policy challenge for the United States and its European allies remains to identify ways to reduce the dangers of nuclear weapons use and reinvigorate European security dialogue to lessen the likelihood of future conflict.

About the speakers

Dr. Olga Oliker is the Program Director for Europe and Central Asia, at the International Crisis Group, where she leads the organization's research, analysis, policy prescription and advocacy in and about Russia, Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Oliker’s own research interests center on the foreign and security policies of Russia, Ukraine, and the Central Asian and Caucasian successor states to the Soviet Union, domestic politics in these countries, U.S. policy towards the region, and nuclear weapon strategy and arms control.

Brigadier General Kevin Ryan (U.S. Army retired) is a Senior Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Until his retirement from full time work in May 2017, Ryan was founder and Director, Defense and Intelligence Projects at Belfer Center. A career military officer, he served in air and missile defense, intelligence, and political-military policy areas.