View the archive of my 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about this critical time in history and how we can forcefully support Ukraine – essential lessons from my years engaging the highest echelons of Russian military and political leadership.
My name is Alexander Vindman. I’m a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, former Director for Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Russia on the White House’s National Security Council, former Political-Military Affairs Officer for Russia for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia, current doctoral student at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Pritzker Military Fellow at the Lawfare Institute, executive board member for the Renew Democracy Initiative, senior advisor to VoteVets, and author of The New York Times bestselling memoir, Here, Right Matters.
I’d like to invite you to join me in my upcoming class, Five Things I’ve Learned About Responding to Russian Aggression and to the War in Ukraine.
This class comes at a critical time in history amid a growing global struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. In our 90 minutes together, I’ll share the wisdom I gleaned from more than two decades of public service at the highest levels of the U.S. national security apparatus and U.S.-Ukraine-Russia relations. I’ll explain where we have gone wrong in both the current crisis and across decades of U.S. policy toward Russia and Ukraine since the collapse of the Soviet Union. More importantly, I’ll tell you how we can change course in support of U.S. national security interests, Ukrainian democracy, and the Western liberal order. I’ll also present ideas on how you can offer your support for Ukraine today. Ukrainians have already mobilized a whole-of-society effort to protect their country, Europe, and global democracy from the forces of tyranny. Now, the West must do the same, and we need your support to ensure that democracy triumphs.
I plan to share my analysis of the most recent developments on the ground in Ukraine, the current trajectory of the war, and likely outcomes depending upon the collective West’s response. I will also do my best to dispel existing myths about the war and answer any questions you might have.
But first and foremost, I’ll share the essential lessons I can offer every American—from the individual voter all the up to the Oval Office—from my years of engaging with the highest echelons of Russian military and political leadership:
- Navigate the long road to disaster. The expansion of Russia’s war on Ukraine was not the result of an arbitrary decision from Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. Putin learned to operate with impunity over two decades in power. Time and again, the West failed to confront Putin’s brutality and blatant disregard for international law and norms. Instead, Putin had a free hand in Chechnya (1999-2009), Georgia (2008), Syria (2015-present), the U.S. presidential elections (2016 and 2020), and Ukraine (2014-present). By shrinking from the moment during these crises, the West gave Putin the impression that he could act as he pleased, Saber-rattle with nuclear weapons if anyone objected, and undermine the foundations of the Western liberal order with minimal resistance and few consequences. We didn’t end up here by accident. The road to disaster is a long one, and there were missed opportunities to deter Putin.
- Manage hopes and fears. After the fall of the Soviet Union, there was a profound and unprecedented wave of rapture over what was then perceived as the everlasting triumph of liberal democracy over totalitarian communism. The West rested on its laurels and instead of hedging against the resurgent forces of Russian authoritarianism, ultra-conservatism, and neo-imperialism. We bought into our hopes and put up the blinders to ignore any potential signs that this was not, in fact, the end of history. To make matters worse, once we finally began to wake up to the threat emanating from the Kremlin, we abandoned all reason. Hope turned to fear overnight. We forgot the lessons of the Cold War and became paralyzed during crises. Rather than controlling escalation and managing confrontations with the Kremlin, we ceded ground to Putin. The West became Putin’s prey. We were either slaves to our hopes and ignored Russian transgressions through reset after reset, or we refused to confront Russia out of misplaced fears of nuclear war.
- Focus on outcomes, not aspirations. Ukraine and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe were always more willing partners than Russia. Despite difficulties with post-Soviet legacies and corruption, they carved out thriving democracies and active civil societies for themselves. And yet, at the same time, the U.S. continued to privilege its relationship with Russia, a decidedly unwilling partner, over countries such as Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, and Moldova. Every foreign policy decision or national security issue was viewed through the prism of Russia. This has all been to the detriment of long-term regional stability. Our aspirations for a stable, predictable relationship with Russia were well-intended but ill-fated. If we had focused on tangible outcomes rather than pie-in-the-sky dreams that ignored shifting realities on the ground, we could have acted differently and contained the resurgence of a revanchist Russia.
- Don’t self-deter. Your adversary knows how to warn you off. Russia practices a doctrine known as “reflexive control” in which the Kremlin sets conditions and generates an information environment that the Russian leadership knows will elicit a particular response from the West. For instance, Putin and his cronies consistently sabre-rattle with nuclear weapons through various means in order to force the U.S. and its allies to second guess themselves and back down. The U.S. must recognize, however, that nuclear deterrence cuts both ways, and we are more than capable of facing down this inflammatory rhetoric. The answer to nuclear threats is not to turn tail, abandon our allies, and surrender in spirit to Putin. We must speak to Putin in a language he will understand, and we can mitigate the risks of escalation through deconfliction channels.
- Calculate risks. The U.S. should take risk-informed decisions based on probabilities and consequences with an eye toward long-term horizons. Short-term risks should not dictate policy. Otherwise, we end up with a situation like Russia’s war in Ukraine, wherein policy band-aids have precipitated a long-term crisis. No decision is without risk, and the U.S. must understand that taking risks now—for instance, by providing greater assistance to Ukraine—may buy down greater risks later.
I hope that after our time together, you will leave with a better understanding of where we are, how we got here, where we are headed, and where we need to go in Russia’s war on Ukraine. I’ll focus on practical steps that both you and Western leadership can take to support Ukraine, and I’ll give you the perspective you need to act as a well-informed voter, grassroots activist, and citizen of a just, free, and democratic world.
Turning back the tide of authoritarianism requires effort from all of us. I need you. Ukraine needs you. The West needs you. The world needs you.
Please join me in solidarity. Let’s all stand with Ukraine.
– Lt. Col. (Ret.) Alexander Vindman
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