The Foreign Service Journal, December 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 35 and were harassed regularly. We tried to preserve our peopleto-people programs. I and my staff traveled around the country. We worked hard to get our message out to the people of Russia but were constantly attacked by a withering Russian propaganda onslaught blaming the U.S. for nearly everything. FSJ: You are the only U.S. FSO to have served as both ambassador to Russia and to Ukraine. Are there particular insights you gained from this unique experience that might inform policymakers today? JFT: I wrote an article for The Foreign Service Journal in March 2020 in which I reflected on the course of Russia and Ukraine in the post-Soviet period and the challenges it presented for the United States. I think most of my judgments in that article remain pretty sound, although back then no one predicted that Putin would make the strategic mistake of an allout invasion of Ukraine with his February 2022 attack. I think we will continue to need strong bipartisan support for our Ukraine policy. We are at a seminal inflection point in Europe now, as President Biden has frequently said. The results of this war and the security structure that emerges from this conflict will profoundly affect the region and American foreign policy for years to come. The conflict in Ukraine will have a serious impact on our country and our foreign policy. This conflict cannot be ignored any more than the Hamas attack on Israel can be ignored. The United States is still the leader in defending the world from aggression and terrorism. We cannot retreat into an isolationist shell and pretend otherwise. FSJ: How can our diplomats rebuild the relationship with Russia after Putin? JFT: This is really an impossible question to answer right now. We do not know how the Russian war on Ukraine will turn out, and it is hard to estimate today what lasting changes will occur in Russia as a result of the war. We need to help Ukraine defeat Russian aggression, and then help build a new, more stable order, which will restore and preserve Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. There is good work going on outside the government now in think tanks and among Russian experts, trying to scope out what our priorities need to be. Clearly, we will need to address the control of nuclear weapons as the New START treaty comes to an end in 2026. That will not be easy with all the new weapons and technologies being developed. And China is rapidly building up its nuclear arsenal. I suspect we will have a broader struggle to rebuild the international order, with Russia partnering with China in opposing democracy and promoting an authoritarian world. Other Postings FSJ: You served as ambassador in Lithuania from 2000 to 2003. Today, some 20 years later, what’s the biggest change you see there? What was the highlight of your time as ambassador and what was the biggest challenge? JFT: The most important development during my ambassadorship, and one on which I and my staff worked hard, was Lithuania’s selection to be a member of NATO. Along with membership in the E.U., NATO has transformed the Baltic states. I was very impressed with what the Lithuanians have achieved politically and economically when I visited Vilnius in With the war having a serious impact on Russian finances, I do not think the Kremlin wants to get into any new arms race. Ambassador John Tefft and his wife, Mariella, had lunch with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (center) at the ambassador’s residence in Kyiv on June 24, 2012. COURTESY OF JOHN TEFFT