Fiona Hill — expert on Russia, Putin and Trump — coming to Pitt Nov. 2


Fiona Hill, former senior director for European and Russian Affairs on the National Security Council and now senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is coming to Pitt on Nov. 2 to offer her analysis of Vladimir Putin’s motivations and moves in the war against Ukraine and her take on her Trump administration experiences (including her testimony during Trump’s first impeachment inquiry) and the formative experiences of her own life, rising from a British coal mining town to advise three presidents.

Sponsored by the Ridgway Center for International Security Studies (under director Michael Kenney), the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (under director Nancy Condee) and the Pitt chapter of Women in International Security, Hill’s talk will be illuminating not just for center students — who are preparing to be international security experts — but for all members of the Pitt community and the public, say Kenney and Condee. 

That, of course, is due to “what’s happening right now in the real world,” Kenney said. “Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent war in the country. We are today potentially closer to the use of nuclear weapons in a war since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.”

Hill’s expertise on Russia and Putin — she co-authored a well-received biography of the Russian leader — “is going to help us understand what is going on with him,” Kenney said. “Why is he staking so much on this conflict? Why is this conflict, as he put it, existential? Is he just bluffing?”

Condee expects Hill also will address the economic impact of the war — issues that will be top of the mind for voters in the U.S. midterm elections just a few days after Hill’s talk.

Fiona Hill, Kenney said, “had a front seat to everything that transpired in the Trump administration. What did she observe? What’s the larger meaning of that?”

The West, as the “liberal international order,” he said, “has clearly come under threat. And Fiona Hill understands this. We’re excited about the opportunity to bring her in … and to learn from her. We want to hear more about her journey, and what do Americans need to know. What do our students need to know to make their journeys successful?”

“She’s astoundingly tempered in her views,” Condee said of Hill, as she dismisses others’ arguments that Putin is perhaps insane. “How would we know and what would we do if it is true?” Condee said. “So it is a kind of lazy man’s analysis.”

Putin styles the conflict as a clash of civilizations, and claims the need to re-unite large Slavic populations in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. He is thus “a revisionist,” Kenney said, “seeking to reinvent the global order in a way that they believe suits (Russia’s) interests better. That’s why what happens in Ukraine really matters.”

Hill’s talk, Condee said, should help us “become more skeptical of the notion. … That theory has been co-opted and used for war crimes.” She expects Hill to address the economic pressures that the war is placing on the world as well — pressures that should only increase in 2023 when a western embargo of semi-conductors kicks in.

Kenney expects Hill to address other aspects of Russia’s war efforts: to build a buffer between itself and the West, keeping Ukraine from aligning with NATO.

“We hope that the public engages with this event,” Kenney said, “for it is sure to be an insightful discussion.”

Advance registration for this in-person event is required via Eventbrite.

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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