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Ironies of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

March 15, 2022 - Simon Miles, assistant professor at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy, describes how Russia's invasion of Ukraine has likely produced the opposite of Russian President Vladimir Putin's goals.

'Putin has gotten the opposite of what he wanted,' Russia expert says.

Sanford School professors Simon Miles and Bruce Jentleson brief media

DURHAM, N.C. -- Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine, while poorly planned and shoddily executed in many ways, may still force Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to negotiate concessions his people will not want to make, two Duke experts said Tuesday March 15.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to create discord among Western powers is having the opposite effect.

The two Sanford School of Public Policy scholars discussed those and many other issues related to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine in a virtual media briefing with journalists. Watch the briefing on YouTube and an explainer video on sanctions here.

Here are excerpts:


Simon Miles, public policy professor and expert on Russia and former Soviet Union

“We’re seeing the Russians continuing to pay the price for launching this war with really just a fantastical concept of operations. That is to say they built their military planning for the beginning and what they thought would be the end of the war on a pretty heady brew of prejudice and really, really bold assumptions about the Russian military’s performance and the Ukrainian military’s what they thought would be extremely poor performance. So they started off, to put it very mildly, on the wrong foot, and they’re paying a price for that.”

“But we do see the Russian military beginning to adapt on the ground in ways which are positive for them from a military effectiveness standpoint.”

“One of the ironies of this entire disaster has been that in many ways Putin has gotten the opposite of what he wanted. He wanted a fractured West that was just squabbling over sanctions; he’s gotten the opposite. He wanted Germany sitting on the sidelines; he’s provoked a revolution in German foreign policy. He wanted Ukraine never in NATO, never in the European Union. I think both of those are fair game at this juncture.”


Bruce Jentleson, professor of public policy and political science, former senior adviser, U.S. State Department

“There are a number of problems with doing (a no-fly zone). As a military operation, to basically provide the protection people are calling for, it would have nothing to do with ground artillery and rockets that are coming. It’s really about the air. So it wouldn’t necessarily solve the humanitarian problem.”

“It pretty much guarantees that there will be a military confrontation – intentional or inadvertent – between American/NATO troops, armed forces and Russia.”

“This is something we have avoided throughout the nuclear age. In 1956, when the Soviets brutally repressed the Hungarian rebellion, there was no military action. In 1968 in Czechoslovakia, and throughout the history of the nuclear age. People should not underestimate the risks of getting involved in that. The risks of starting to climb the nuclear ladder are very real.”

“Putin would love to see us do this. It would change the dynamic of the conflict to the West bearing some responsibility for escalation. We would say we’re trying to do the right thing … but in some ways it would help Putin get out of some of the dilemmas that he’s faced as well as the possibility for shared responsibility for any nuclear escalation.”

“President Kennedy in the Cuban Missile Crisis was very intentional in trying to avoid that.”

Featured Video

Prof. Bruce Jentleson Discusses No Fly Zones Over Ukraine

March 7, 2022 - Politicians are talking about establishing a no-fly zone in Ukraine as a legitimate option. Professor Bruce Jentleson, lays out the concerns and consequences of that strategy on Dan Abrams Live.

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Briefing: Russian Troops in Ukraine

Feb. 24, 2022 - Just hours after bombing started, Sanford faculty Simon Miles and Bruce Jentleson assessed the war and the U.S. response in a Duke University media briefing. Read the summary of the briefing.

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Policy 360: The Truth About Sanctions

Former State Dept. official and current Sanford professor Bruce Jentleson joins Judith Kelley on Sanford's Policy 360 podcast to discuss Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the potential for the use of sanctions to end the crisis.

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Simon Miles' new book "Engaging the Evil Empire" shifts the focus from Washington onto the years of back-channel communiqués and internal strategy debates in Moscow, Prague and East Berlin. Listen to this Policy 360 podcast interview with him.

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Ukraine Invasion: Comments & Opinions

Explore the most recent comments and opinions from Sanford School of Public Policy faculty members related to the invasion of Ukraine.

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​Bruce Jentleson

Bruce Jentleson is a professor of public policy and political science at Duke University. He served as senior adviser to the State Department Policy Planning Director from 2009-11 and is author Sanctions: What Everyone Needs to Know and The Peacemakers: Leadership Lessons from Twentieth-Century Statesmanship.

Sanctions: What Everyone Needs to Know

Simon Miles

Simon Miles is an assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke and an expert in Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is the author of “Engaging the Evil Empire,” an account of how Washington and Moscow ended the Cold War.

Engaging the Evil Empire: Washington, Moscow, and the Beginning of the End of the Cold War

Jennifer Siegel

Jennifer Siegel is the first scholar named the Bruce R. Kuniholm Distinguished Professor of History and Public Policy, named for the founding dean of the Sanford School Bruce Kuniholm. Her research focuses on the intersection of international diplomacy, modern intelligence, finance, the origins of war and the nature of alliances. She is the author of the book For Peace and Money: French and British Finance in the Service of Tsars and Commissars.

For Peace and Money: French and British Finance in the Service of Tsars and Commissars