Dismantling the Imperialist Mindset: Mikhail Zygar in Conversation with Fiona Hill

November 21, 2023
11:00 am - 01:00 pm

About the Event

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 brought new salience to the subject of Russia’s colonial legacy and its impact on the country’s society and politics. The imperialist politics driving Russia’s Ukraine policy have brought new scrutiny from analysts and activists – both Russian and foreign – seeking to better understand the influence of Russia’s imperial history on its present.

In his haunting and unique new book, War and Punishment, Russian journalist and historian Mikhail Zygar interrogates the Kremlin’s current justifications for its brutal war and debunks the historical myths that have supported Russian imperialism over the centuries. Through examining 350 years of history, Zygar seeks to dismantle the imperialist mindset that has shaped Russian foreign policy and explain how colonialism and chauvinism continues to shape how many Russians view Ukraine. From debunking the claim that Russia and Ukraine were co-founded to outlining the pattern of anti-Ukrainian persecution from one era to the next, the book makes significant contributions to ongoing conversations about the legacy of empire and the importance of coming to terms with the past for a democratic future in Russia.

Mikhail Zygar, Press Freedom Fellow at CUNY’s Journalism Protection Initiative and a columnist for Der Spiegel, joined Fiona Hill, senior fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe within the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, for a discussion on War and Punishment and why understanding the Kremlin’s motivations toward Ukraine today is crucial for policy-making and planning for the future.

About the Speakers

Damon Wilson (opening remarks) is president and chief executive officer of the National Endowment for Democracy. Prior to joining NED, Mr. Wilson served as executive vice president at the Atlantic Council, as special assistant to the president and senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council (NSC), as executive secretary and chief of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and as deputy director in the private office of the NATO Secretary General. Mr. Wilson began his career with Save the Children in Rwanda. He is a graduate of Duke University and Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs.

Mikhail Zygar worked for Newsweek Russia and the business daily Kommersant, covering conflicts in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Serbia, and Kosovo before becoming the founding editor-in-chief of Russia’s only independent news television channel, Dozhd, which provided an alternative to Kremlin-controlled federal TV and gave a platform to opposition voices. He won an International Press Freedom Award in 2014. He is the author of All the Kremlin’s Men, a number one bestseller in Russia that has been translated into more than twenty languages and was called one of “nine books that can help you understand Russia right now” by Time magazine, and The Empire Must Die, a Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year.

Fiona Hill is a senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe within the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. Hill served as deputy assistant to the president and senior director for European and Russian affairs on the U.S. National Security Council from 2017 to 2019, as well as national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the U.S. National Intelligence Council from 2006 to 2009. She gained further prominence through her testimonies before Congress in 2019 during the first impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. Hill is the author of the bestselling memoir “There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century” (2021) and co-author of “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin” (first edition 2013, second edition 2015) and “The Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold” (2003), both with Clifford G. Gaddy. Hill holds a master’s in Soviet studies and a doctorate in history from Harvard University where she was a Frank Knox Fellow. She also holds a master’s in Russian and modern history from St. Andrews University in Scotland, and has pursued studies at Moscow’s Maurice Thorez Institute of Foreign Languages.