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Monterey Conversations

U.S.-Russian Relations - A Conversation with Ambassador John Sullivan

Monday, March 27, 2023 | 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM EDT (8:00 AM PT) 

This Monterey Conversation will be with Ambassador John Sullivan, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2020 to 2022. In conversation with Hanna Notte and Michael Kimmage, Ambassador Sullivan will draw on his diplomatic experience to address the lead-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the course of the war and the overall drift of U.S.-Russian relations. He will offer his thoughts on the kind of diplomatic contact that still exists between Russia and the United States and how it could be put to practical use in the future.



Public Talk: A Year of War: A Reporter’s View of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Tuesday, March 7, 2023 | 12:15pm- 1:50pm PT 

MORSE B104, 426 Van Buren St. 

Speaker: Joshua Yaffa, Contributing writer for The New Yorker.

Joshua Yaffa

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, long-held assumptions about geopolitics and matters of war and peace in the twenty-first century have been upended. But the war has not gone as Vladimir Putin hoped, either. Over the first year of war, Joshua Yaffa, who spent a decade living and reporting in Russia, has traveled across Ukraine—where he also has deep experience as a journalist—witnessing the war up close. He will share his impressions from his numerous reporting trips, which have spanned the early, fraught days in Kyiv, to the grinding artillery battles in the Donbass, and the liberated territories in the Kharkiv region. What does the conflict look like for the people of Ukraine, from civilians trapped under bombardment to newly enlisted soldiers? And what do everyday Russians understand about the war and their own responsibility? What sort of end to the fighting is possible? And what kind of world will emerge in its wake? 

Joshua Yaffa is a contributing writer for the New Yorker. He is also the author of Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin’s Russia, which won the Orwell Prize in 2021. For his work in Russia, he has been named a fellow at New America, a recipient of the American Academy’s Berlin Prize, and a finalist for the Livingston Award.

In person & Virtual 

Register here in advance to attend virtually. 

Costs of War: Is US Support for Ukraine Costing It ‘Peanuts’?

Friday, February 24, 2023 | 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM PT


 Upcoming Event Harvard | MIRS

One year into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States has poured billions of dollars in aid and weaponry into Ukraine’s war effort. Public support for this aid, initially widespread, has waned somewhat as the war continues, with newly-elected U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy promising in the fall no “blank checks” for Ukraine, if Republicans took control of Congress in the midterm elections. While some, like Timothy Ash of Chatham House, argue that Western support has been a cost-effective investment, others, like Trita Parsi of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, believe the benefits do not outweigh the costs—including the strategic ones—if the war becomes protracted.

Join Russia Matters and the Monterey Initiative in Russian Studies on Feb. 24 at 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM PT (2:00-3:30 PM ET) for an online debate between Ash and Parsi on the costs and benefits of the United States’ support for Ukraine. 


  • Timothy Ash, associate fellow in the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House and a senior sovereign strategist at Bluebay Asset Management in London
  • Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft


Kate Davidson, researcher with the Avoiding Great Power War Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Register here.

Recordings of Past Events

Rethinking the Cold War 

The present often modifies the past. For a few areas of historical inquiry, this is as true as for the history of the Cold War. In this Monterey Conversation, Serhii Plokhii (Harvard University) and Mary Sarotte (Johns Hopkins SAIS) discussed the connection between the Cold War and the war in Ukraine, focusing on the history of Ukraine and on the history of U.S.-Russian/U.S.-Soviet relations. They focused on the ways in which this conflict is embedded in the history of the Cold War, and how this conflict may cause us to think differently about the Cold War. This conversation is moderated by Jeremi Suri (University of Texas at Austin). Watch the recording of this Monterey Conversation.

Listen to the podcast.

Great Power Connections

In this Monterey Conversation, Ali Wyne (Eurasia Group), who is the author of a recent book, America’s Great-Power Opportunity, and Kori Schake (American Enterprise Institute) contrasted great-power opportunities to the prospect of great-power competition and related these theoretical debates to the triad of the United States, Russia and China. What is a great power? Where among the great powers do the opportunities lie? And where do the dangers lie? This Monterey Conversation is moderated by Michael KimmageWatch the recording of this Monterey Conversation.

Listen to the podcast.

Covering the War in Ukraine

News coverage has been a crucial element of every modern war. In this Monterey Conversation, two distinguished journalists - CNN’s Clarissa Ward and the New Yorker’s Joshua Yaffa - will address the challenges of covering the war in Ukraine. They will discuss the complexities of gathering accurate information, the role of social media in the prosecution and coverage of the war and the balance between the war’s many local realities on the one hand and its global impact on the other. They will take up the achievements of journalists covering the war, while also reflecting on where journalists and journalism have fallen short. Watch the recording of this Monterey Conversation.

Listen to the podcast.

Science Diplomacy, Past and Present

In this conversation, moderated by Hanna Notte, Professor Michael Gordin and Professor Siegfried Hecker discussed the role of modern physical sciences in the U.S.-Soviet and U.S.-Russian relationship: What collaboration between scientists from both countries exist historically? Were there instances in which such collaboration had a positive impact on policy, and what can be learned from them for the future? And why and how does science diplomacy matter more generally? Watch the recording of this Monterey Conversation.

Listen to the podcast.

Russian Foreign Policy: Past and Present 

In the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, the historian Stephen Kotkin published an essay titled “The Cold War Never Ended.” In this conversation, moderated by Michael Kimmage, Professor Kotkin discussed the history of the Cold War, the thirty-year period between the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine and the unfinished nature of the Cold War contest that began in the 1940s. Professor Kotkin brought historical examples and precedents to bear on causes of the current war. Kleinheinz Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Professor Kotkin is the author of many books on Soviet and post-Soviet history. He also writes frequently on international affairs in the present tense. Watch the recording of this Monterey Conversation.

Listen to the podcast.

The Biden Administration Policy on Ukraine

The United States has been a key factor in the war launched by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. This panel on the Biden administration strategies and decision making takes up three questions in turn. What was the Biden administration policy before the war? In what ways has the Biden administration policy shaped outcomes in the war? And what end state for the war is the Biden administration trying to achieve? This panel features three leading experts on Western policy toward Russia and Ukraine: Andrea Kendall-Taylor of the Center for a New American Century; Michael Kofman of the Center for Naval Analysis; and Kadri Liik of the European Council on Foreign Relations. Watch the recording of this Monterey Conversation.

Listen to the podcast.

Europe in the Shadow of World War I

Europe is facing unprecedented turbulence. This installment of the Monterey Conversations is not forcing any analogies between past and present. Instead, it takes up the subject of the First World War with an eye to its present-day salience. What might the origins of World War I tell us about the nature of conflict in Europe? How did the First World War become a world war in the first place? How did it radiate out from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand? And how did World War I end - on the battlefield and at the diplomatic tables? What can we learn today from the elusiveness of order and the recurrence of disorder in Europe since 1914? To take up these questions we have two remarkable scholars, Margaret MacMillan, author of Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World and The War that Ended Peace; and Patrick Cohrs, author of The New Atlantic Order: The Transformation of International Politics, 1860-1933Watch the recording of this Monterey Conversation.

Listen to the podcast.

Debating the War in Ukraine: A Conversation with Daniel Kurtz-Phelan

Historically, Foreign Affairs magazine has published some of the most important writing on Russia, the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet space, going back to George Kennan’s legendary “X” article of 1947. In this conversation, Michael Kimmage and Daniel Kurtz-Phelan (Editor of Foreign Affairs) discuss the origins of the war in Ukraine, the global ramifications of this war and the choices faced by the Biden administration. It also takes a close look at the policy debate over which Foreign Affairs has presided since February. What is the spectrum of opinion? And what is the relationship between policy prescription and the analysis of a rapidly unfolding situation on the ground? Watch the recording of this Monterey Conversation.

Listen to the podcast.

Understanding Ukrainian History: Online Lecture Series by Professor Serhii Plokhii

The Monterey Summer Symposium on Russia hosts Professor Serhii Plokhii, Harvard-based historian and leading authority on Ukraine in the United States, as part of this year’s program. The series of three lectures, respectively titled “The Rise of Modern Ukraine,” “The Making of Soviet Ukraine,” and “The Fall of the USSR,” sheds light on the formation of modern Ukrainian identity through competing imperial and national projects from the Napoleonic Wars to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The lectures were delivered in webinar format on June 22, 24, and 27. Watch the recordings here.

Listen to the podcast.

Reporting on the War in Ukraine

This conversation takes up the work of two leading English-language journalists, Joshua Yaffa (The New Yorker) and Anton Troianovski (The New York Times), both of whom are covering the war in Ukraine. At issue are the challenges of covering this war, the difficulties of writing about Russia when so many non-Russian journalists have either left the country or been expelled and the uses and abuses of information in this first major twenty-first century war. Watch the recording of this Monterey Conversation.

Listen to the podcast.

The Trouble with the “Free World”

This is a conversation about the notion of the free world, stemming from a May 6, 2022 Foreign Affairs article published by Peter Slezkine (East China Normal University). In this article, Slezkine argues that the Cold War idea of the free world maps only inaccurately onto the current war in Ukraine. Joining him to debate this idea are Anatol Lieven (Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft) and Jeffrey Gedmin (American Purpose), who offer their perspectives on the proper connections between the Cold War past and the 21st-century present, asking not just about the trouble with the “free world” but whether the free world is itself in trouble or whether it is once again salient and ascendant. Watch the recording of this Monterey Conversation. 

Listen to the podcast.

The Ukraine Scenarios

Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, many predictions about the course of the war have been put into question. In this Monterey Conversation, Michael Kimmage and Liana Fix discuss with Justin Vogt the multiple pathways of this war - and the consequences for U.S. and European security if the war doesn’t end. Watch the recording of this Monterey Conversation.

Listen to the podcast.

The Wild 1990s: (Mis)remembering the Yeltsin Era in Today’s Russia

In this Monterey Conversation, Michael Kimmage, Olga Malinova, Will Pyle and Jade McGlynn examine the politicized memory of the 1990s and its role in shaping Russian society, attitudes towards the West, and a sense of national humiliation. They contrast this with the economic reality of that era, outlining how the turbulence was used to fuel a sense of grievance and consider where memory and history diverge and how political uses of the 1990s are changing against the backdrop of Russia’s war on Ukraine. Watch the recording of this Monterey Conversation.

Listen to the podcast.

The War in Ukraine: What It Means for NATO and the EU

For this Monterey Conversation, Michael Kimmage, Max Bergmann, Hans Kundnani, Jade McGlynn and Rachel Rizzo explore the many European reverberations of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This panel assesses the war itself as a threat to European security and the challenge the war presents to NATO and the EU as well as the long-term opportunities that may result from this terrible war. Watch the recording of this Monterey Conversation.

Listen to the podcast.

Prisoners of History? Memory, Myth-Making, and Russia’s War on Ukraine

In this panel discussion, Ivan Krastev, Jade McGlynn, and Michael Kimmage discuss the role of historical myths in justifying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as how the systemic flaws of the authoritarian power vertical in Russia contributed to masking reality and the extent to which analysts overlooked the role of emotion and messianism in Russian decision-making. Watch the recording of this Monterey Conversation.

Listen to the podcast.

The Return of the Taliban: What Does it Mean for the Region, Russia, and the West?

In this discussion, Elena ChernenkoAnatol Lieven, Rakesh Sood, and Clarissa Ward discuss the far-reaching consequences of the Afghanistan crisis. Watch the recording of this Monterey Conversation.

Ambassadorial Series

The Ambassadorial Series is a one-of-a-kind docuseries featuring in-depth interviews with eight of the living former U.S. ambassadors to Russia and the Soviet Union. Watch the recordings. Listen to the podcast.

Past In-Person Events

A Blind and Militant Attachment: Russian Patriotism in Times of Peace and War 

On October 20, William Pyle, Frederick C. Dirks Professor of International Economics at Middlebury College, spoke at CNS on the MIIS campus about the nature of patriotic sentiment in Russia and patterns in support for and opposition to the ongoing war in Ukraine, drawing on surveys spanning the Yeltsin and Putin eras as well as recently released microdata from Levada Centre polling. Watch the recording

Where Something is Thin, That’s Where it Breaks: How the War in Ukraine Affects Conflicts in the South Caucasus

On May 5, Olesya Vartanyan, senior analyst for International Crisis Group, spoke at McGowan Hall on the MIIS campus about whether the war in Ukraine might provoke new wars in the South Caucasus. Read the MIRS News piece here

A Conversation with Elena Kostyuchenko (in English and Russian)

On May 3, Elena Kostyuchenko, special correspondent for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, met with MIIS students in Morse Hall to discuss her work as a frontline journalist. Ms. Kostyuchenko also met with MSSR alumni over Zoom on May 5 to answer questions about her career and the war in Ukraine. Read the MIRS News piece here.

The Informational Dictator’s Dilemma: Citizen Responses to Media Censorship, Cooptation and Marginalization in Russia and Belarus

On April 26, Sam Greene, professor of Russian politics and director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London, discussed how citizens of authoritarian regimes respond to the restrictions placed by leaders on their ability to consume news. Watch the recording.

Exiting Communism’s Enduring Effect on Russian Public Opinion

On April 21, 2022, Frederick C. Dirks Professor of International Economics at Middlebury College William Pyle examined the shock of economic transition that occurred in Russia thirty years ago and how it affects Russians’ worldview today. Watch the recording.