Last month, Fiona Hill, a preeminent Kremlinologist and Harvard alumna, joined the National Security Council staff as deputy assistant to the president and senior director for European and Russian Affairs. This is one of the most important positions within government shaping the US relationship with Russia. A dual US-UK citizen, Hill is also a member of the US Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the board of trustees of The Eurasia Foundation.
The new adviser holds a master’s degree in Soviet studies and a doctorate in history from Harvard University. British-born, she started at Brookings in 2000, taking a three-year break to serve on the National Intelligence Council under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. Prior to joining Brookings, Hill was director of strategic planning at The Eurasia Foundation in Washington, D.C. From 1991 to 1999, she held a number of positions directing technical assistance and research projects at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She pursued studies at Moscow’s State Linguistic University (former Maurice Thorez Institute of Foreign Languages).
A frequent commentator on Russian and Eurasian affairs, Fiona Hill boasts an extensive research experience on the Caucasus and Central Asia, among other issues. She is co-author of the second edition of «Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin» (2015). Lashing out at the Russian leader, Hill emphasizes it would be a mistake to underestimate Vladimir Putin.
She is also known for her book «The Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold» (2003). Hill proposed to actually evacuate Siberia and start developing its resources working in shifts. The book was praised by Jeffrey Sachs who had advised Russia to adopt «shock therapy» methods to implement economic reforms, Richard Pipes, a former member of the National Security Council known for his belligerent stance on Russia, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, former assistant to the president of the United States for national security affairs, widely believed to be behind the Obama’s hostile policy toward Moscow.
Being highly critical of Russian authorities in her books, Hill gives them their due pointing out that Russia had to go through the difficult times after the Soviet Union’s break up. She even compared Russian President Vladimir Putin with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Charles de Gaulle who pulled their respective countries out of severe crises.
While some of Hill’s statements indicate that she is prone to taking a hard line on Moscow, others sound positive, calling for a pragmatic approach. Fiona Hill is immune to the influence of ideological stereotypes and knows how to smooth things over. Her harsh statements about incompatibility of Russia’s foreign policy agenda with long-term US interests will calm down the most suspicious persons who believe Russia to be behind everything that goes wrong».The US and Russia just have a very hard time… being on the same page», she wrote in in the Atlantic. «We're going to have an awful lot of friction», Hill said. «And Trump isn't exactly the most diplomatic of people. So I imagine he'll fall out with his new friend Vladimir pretty quickly», she predicted. Last October, Fiona Hill advocated keeping anti-Russian sanctions in place and rejected the idea of a «grand bargain» with Putin in which the US would «trade concessions» in Ukraine for Russian help in the Middle East.
While President Trump has yet to lay down his Russia policy, most signs suggest no swift changes in the relationship. The president’s decision shows that a major reset is not in the cards. Hill’s appointment came as a relief to Republicans. But as a seasoned scholar, she knows Russia will not become pliant under pressure. She can make cold-blooded calculations and come up with ideas on how to reach deals on issues of common interest. Nobody expects friendship under the circumstances but it could be partnership. Hill is far-sighted enough to realize that.
Fiona Hill can do her job in a professional way without temper tantrums that take place now and then in Washington. A renowned scholar on Russia and an experienced former government official, she was chosen to implement Realpolitik. Her vast knowledge of the country and perfect Russian will come in handy for the job.