I first met Anna Makanju in September 2016 at a nondescript Le Pain Quotidien near the White House, where she was working as then-Vice President Joe Biden’s advisor on Russia, Ukraine, and NATO. Before joining the Vice President’s office, she was the Russia director for the National Security Council. Her first day in that job was the day Russian-backed separatists shot down Malaysian Airlines flight 17, filled with nearly 300 civilian passengers, all of whom were killed. She had also worked in the Pentagon’s office for NATO and Europe. (Anna was a true believer: she began as a volunteer on Barack Obama’s campaign, and, unlike most political appointees who leave the administration after a couple years, Anna worked for Obama all eight years.)
Shortly after our meeting, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton and Anna, despite our blossoming friendship, did what so many young people who had followed Obama to Washington were doing that winter: she left town. Still, our friendship has grown and deepened over the years and, along with a core group of friends who originally came together over our shared experiences in Russia and the former Soviet Union, she has been one of the people I have spoken to most about the slow-motion winter crisis that is now a full-blown war.
So I decided to ask Anna, who is still in the private sector and has only ever given a couple press interviews, to talk to me—and, by extension, to you. We talked about the war, her connection to Ukraine, her experience advising Biden, and what comes next. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.