With more than 100,000 Russian troops lurking on the border of Ukraine, and the terrifying possibility of all-out war in Eastern Europe for the first time in decades, I was grateful to speak this week with Fiona Hill, a legendary scholar of Russia and Vladimir Putin. I’ve known Fiona for several years as a member of Washington’s foreign policy establishment—she’s a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution—and I was relieved when she accepted a post as President Donald Trump’s senior advisor on Russia. At least someone in the White House knew what they were doing, I thought.
Of course, I was also relieved when Fiona left the Trump administration, in July 2019, which allowed me to talk to her once again. Last year, she published a book, There Is Nothing for You Here, which explores the parallels between post-industrial regions of the U.S. and Russia, as well as her hometown in County Durham, in the U.K., where her father was a coal miner. We discussed all that, below, in addition to the current crisis on the Ukrainian border: why it’s happening now, whether Putin will invade, and where we go from here. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Julia Ioffe: You grew up in the post-industrial north of England, which, in your descriptions of it, sounds like a British West Virginia. When you worked in the Trump administration, did your personal experience give you some insight into the kinds of people who voted for President Trump?