Over the course of six sessions, a study group, led by Dr. Karen Donfried, will examine key foreign policy debates flowing from Russia’s war against Ukraine. The objective is to provide a deeper understanding of the geopolitics of the war in Ukraine and the implications for U.S. interests.

Small teams of students will debate each of the four topics. Students will be asked to develop their key arguments and then the two teams for each topic will participate in a live debate, with the rest of the study group serving as the audience. Each debate will be followed by an in-depth discussion of the relevant issues. Students will be asked to represent and actively argue views that they may not espouse. All participants need to share an understanding that the objective is not only to explore all elements of a particular issue around which there is legitimate debate, but also to model how to have a respectful exchange of informed, diverse views and how to disagree about policy matters in a civil and professional manner.

Some minimal reading – about 20 pages – will be required before each session for all participants. Students responsible for a debate are expected to do their own research and preparation in addition to the assigned reading. No debate experience is necessary.

Session 1 | February 21, 2024

Scene setter: The first session will provide general background on Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. What led to the invasion? What were Russia’s motives? What diplomatic actions did the Biden Administration take to avert the war? How unified was the transatlantic community? What has the trajectory of the war been over the past 24 months? What are the most relevant issues today for the outcome of the war? Dr. Donfried will be the speaker.

  • We will also discuss the format for the other five sessions, including how to structure the debates.

Session 2 | February 28, 2024

First debate: NATO should invite Ukraine to join the Alliance at its 75th anniversary summit in Washington this July.

  • The debate should address whether Ukraine has met the requirements for NATO membership and what the risk to NATO is of admitting a country which is involved in an active war with Russia.

Session 3 | March 6, 2024

Second debate: The United States, together with its partners, should confiscate sovereign Russian assets and hand them over to Ukraine for reconstruction in light of Russia's destructive war.

  • The debate should address the merits of the EU, US, Japan, Canada, and others seizing the roughly $300 billion of Russian central bank assets that they froze in 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine. Only about $5-6 billion are in the US, with most held in Europe. For the US, such action would represent the first-ever seizure of central bank assets from a country with which the US is not at war.

Session 4 | March 20, 2024

Third debate: The Biden Administration should provide Ukraine with any weapons (short of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons) it requires to win the war.

  • The debate should wrestle with whether the Biden Administration has been too concerned about the risk of escalation, thereby undermining Ukraine’s war effort. Critics of the Administration argue that fear of escalation has led the Administration to hold back on giving Ukraine the weapons it needs to win.

Session 5 | March 27, 2024

Fourth debate: The Biden Administration should pressure the Ukrainians to go to the negotiating table and resolve the dispute with Russia diplomatically.

  • The focus of the debate is likely to be on Putin’s interest in diplomatic negotiations to end the war: Is he ready to compromise or is he only interested in Ukrainian concessions? Might the Chinese play a helpful role in pressuring Putin? Another key issue is the implications for U.S. leadership of appearing to sell out the Ukrainians.

Session 6 | April 3, 2024

Closing discussion: The last study group session will focus on the future: What is most likely to happen next and how might the war end? The implications of how the war ends will be considered not only for Ukraine, but also for NATO and for global order. Dr. Donfried will sum up the key takeaways.

  • Students will be divided into small groups to discuss various trajectories the war could follow from negotiating a diplomatic settlement to continuing to fight. The staying power of Ukraine’s closest supporters, including the US, will be considered, along with the importance of the support Russia is receiving from China, North Korea, and Iran.

Dr. Karen Donfried served as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs from 2021-2023, a tenure marked by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  She also served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council in 2013 and 2014, when Russia illegally annexed Crimea, and as National Intelligence Officer for Europe on the National Intelligence Council in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from 2011-2013.  Between these assignments in the Obama and Biden Administrations, she was president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, headquartered in DC with seven offices across Europe.