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2024 will prove a crucial year for EU, the Russia-Ukraine war, former State Department official says

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image of maia cross and karen donfried speaking at conference in front of audience

In the months leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, mainland Europe was somewhat divided over the intelligence officials were receiving about the Kremlin and Ukraine. One part of the continent was sure that Vladimir Putin wouldn’t initiate a ground war, while the other — the countries geographically near the superpower — saw war as all but inevitable. 

That’s according to Karen Donfried, who was the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs at the time, and was leading the largest regional bureau at the State Department during the war. Donfried discussed the matter with Mai’a Cross, dean’s professor of political science, international affairs and diplomacy, and director of the Center for International Affairs and World Cultures at Northeastern University, on Tuesday. They also talked about the current state of the war and what the future might hold. 

The chat was the inaugural event in Northeastern’s Leaders in Foreign Service speaker series. Donfried opened the dialogue by providing a sketch of the pre-war landscape in the U.S. and Europe. She said she accompanied Williams Burns, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and other U.S. officials on a trip to Moscow in November 2021 to meet with senior Russian officials — including Putin by video call.  

“There was nothing that was said on the Russian side that made us think that this wasn’t very serious,” she said. Still, Donfried said that some of her diplomatic counterparts simply couldn’t stomach the idea that Putin would take such a bold step. 

Read more at Northeastern Global News.

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