The Ukraine Diaries: Is Ukraine a Vital U.S. National Security Interest?

WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 21: (L-R) President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and U.S. President Joe Biden walk to the Oval Office of the White House September 21, 2023 in Washington, DC. Zelensky is in the nation’s capital to meet with President Biden and Congressional lawmakers after attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

By Paul Kolbe

Paul Kolbe is former director of The Intelligence Project at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.  Kolbe also led BP’s Global Intelligence and Analysis team supporting threat warning, risk mitigation, and crisis response. Kolbe served 25 years as an operations officer in the CIA, where he was a member of the Senior Intelligence Service, serving in Russia, the Balkans, Indonesia, East Germany, Zimbabwe, and Austria.

The Ukraine Diaries is a series of personal writings by national security experts who joined The Cipher Brief’s recent visit to Kyiv as part of a delegation led by Gen. David Petraeus (Ret.) This latest trip follows two earlier visits to Ukraine this year by The Cipher Brief team, including The Cipher Brief’s Kyiv Economic & Security Forum that launched in May 2023.

THE UKRAINE DIARIES — When I first visited Ukraine with The Cipher Brief in May, just ahead of the much-anticipated third Ukrainian counteroffensive, western commentators and media had raised expectations for dramatic Ukrainian breakthroughs. By contrast, Ukrainian military and civilian leaders were confident of success, but more muted in expectations. They did not predict or expect a Russian rout. Rather, knowing what they faced and that the going would be tough, they saw this as one phase of a long campaign.

“The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

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