On Thursday 26 January 2023, the Phelan US Centre hosted the public event “Lessons from the edge: a memoir” with the former US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. Lorenzo Rezzonico gives an overview of the event and the Q&A segment.
On January 26th, the former US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, visited LSE and spoke at the Phelan US Centre event, “Lessons from the edge: a memoir”. Marie Yovanovitch is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a non-Resident Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University. As well as to Ukraine, she has previously she served as the US Ambassador to Armenia and the Kyrgyz Republic.
The first part of the event saw former US Ambassador Yovanovitch replying to answers from Phelan US Centre Director, Professor Peter Trubowitz and Professor Tomila Lankina of the LSE International Relations Department. First, she emphasized that her parents were the main reason she decided to start a diplomatic career. Indeed, having grown up under totalitarian regimes, they immediately realised what it meant to live in a democracy like the United States. Her parents’ experience led former Ambassador Yovanovitch to pursue a diplomatic career. She remembered her first job in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), where the US needed to build a relationship with a newly emerged country after the fall of the Soviet Union. In this and other early experiences, Yovanovitch remembered that the means and tools at her disposal were few, but that nonetheless she and her colleagues were able to build trust with the local authorities and representatives and strengthen bilateral relations. From these experiences, Yovanovitch underlines the importance of perseverance and of building relationships: especially in diplomacy, where the day-by-day work of a diplomat might not always be entertaining, the importance of perseverance and effort in building and maintaining valuable human relationships based on mutual listening is fundamental to build trust.
When asked about the infamous episode which saw her victim of public attacks made by President Trump on Twitter during her 2019 impeachment testimony to the US Senate, Yovanovitch recalled that moment as incredibly difficult, but also an important one. Indeed, she felt incredible pressure and disbelief. However, in that moment she realised that her testimony had a strong meaning and that she had to react firmly to the President’s words, also to be an example for other women that might be judged differently in their workplaces.
In the last part of her speech, Mrs. Yovanovitch highlighted three elements that surprised her about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The first was the miscalculations made by a leader like President Vladimir Putin, who did not fully understand the strength of the Ukrainian people. Second, Putin overestimated the capabilities of his military, after many years of incredible focus and spending in this area. Lastly, Putin was wrong in evaluating the strength and unity of Western allies’ reaction to the invasion. However, she also remembered that Putin had never hid his real intentions since he came to power, and events like the wars in Chechnya or Georgia in the 2000s are clear examples. For these reasons, there were also miscalculations on the part of Western powers to believe that Russia was a constructive rather than destructive power.
The last part of the event was dedicated to questions from the public. There were many of them. Most were focused on the war in Ukraine, and former Ambassador Yovanovitch emphasised the importance of continued Western support for Ukraine, and that the aim must be the defeat of Russia, because only in this way the contemporary international order might be preserved. She also focused on the possible consequences of a Russian victory for countries near to Ukraine, that might legitimately fear to be the next targets. Finally, she also talked about some details of her work as a diplomat, stressing the importance of building human connections, knowing the local language and culture, and being morally strong and politically wise, since her work sometimes required her to follow a line of action that was in contrast with her personal beliefs.
Listen to Podcast interview with former US Ambassador Yovanovitch
- Watch the video recording of the event [YouTube]
- Listen to a podcast of the event [LSE Player]
- Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of USAPP – American Politics and Policy, nor the London School of Economics.
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