| by Sierra Abukins

News Stories

What was it like in Russia in the months leading up to the invasion of Ukraine?

In an interview, John Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador to Russia for both the Trump and Biden administrations, shared what was happening behind the scenes during the phase of increasingly tense relations between the United States and Russia that culminated in the February 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine.

Jill Dougherty, former CNN foreign affairs correspondent, interviewed Sullivan in January 2023 for the Ambassadorial Series, a collection of interviews with former U.S. ambassadors to Russia and the Soviet Union, sponsored by the Monterey Initiative in Russian Studies. The interviews are presented in video, podcast, and PDF format for use by scholars and students of international relations.

Highlights from John Sullivan’s Interview

Did the U.S. know that Russia was going to invade Ukraine? 

“First, they were lying through their teeth. We know that now, because there’s no way that the special military operation, it’s now failed spectacularly so. But for that military operation to kick off at zero dark 30 on February 24th, that was months and months in the making, plans and preparations.”

Would Russia use its nuclear weapons?

“They leverage those nuclear weapons. It’s one thing that they can leverage that scares everybody. Do I think they want to start a nuclear war? I sincerely believe they do not. But they will go as close to the edge to leverage that strength that they have, for their own benefit and against us.”

What is the future of the U.S.-Russia relationship?

“If there’s one thing that history teaches us, it’s how things change in the U.S.- Russia, U.S.-Soviet relationship. I’m focused on this month, this year, next year. But there’s going to be a relationship between whoever’s running this country and whoever is running that country going into the future. The size of that Eurasian landmass, that history there, which now includes this war in Ukraine, we need more diplomats and diplomacy, not fewer. Absolutely.”