Monday, April 16, 2018

American Foreign Policy Study Trip: Exploring Modern Warfare in the Ukraine

SAIS Europe has many extracurricular activities that I have been eager to take advantage of. One of these opportunities was the American Foreign Policy study trip to Ukraine. It is a country that has particularly interested me, as a nation that is torn between western integration and separatists fueled by Russian support. 

While a trip to Ukraine was not already organized, I knew past SAISers had done it. I proposed the idea to my fellow AFP classmates and Professor Harper, the AFP advisor. From the start, my classmates and my professor were supportive of the idea for a study strip during spring recess.

Dinner with the Deputy Chief of Mission 
Thus, the planning began. In October, we started having dinners to discuss logistics and the research topics we wanted to focus on during our trip. We decided to investigate different implications of the current war and write individual research papers informed by our meetings in the Ukraine. Each of us would focus on specific topics of our interest, ranging from corruption to informational warfare to soft power. 

Then we began organizing meetings with the help of SAIS connections. Throughout the year, other SAISers heard about our plans and joined in. We even hosted a karaoke fundraiser night to help cover the cost of travel.
Kiev, Ukraine

Then spring break arrived, and the trip began. The first half of the week we were in Kiev. There,  we met with the Ukrainian Diplomatic Academy, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the Crimea SOS, Members of Parliament, the U.S. Embassy, the Department of Defense, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Delegation, the National Institute of Strategic Studies, the Independent Defense Anti-Corruption Committee, the Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons, a former Foreign Minister of Ukraine, and the Presidential Administration.

Dnipro, Ukraine
Following our packed schedule in Kiev, we then headed east to Dnipro, where we met with students of Alfred Nobel University, security monitors with the OSCE, and where we toured the Anti-Terrorist Operation Museum, that covers the war in the Donbass. It was an incredible learning experience that complemented my studies with practical exposure to a modern conflict.

Now, as I write my research paper investigating how soft power can counter Russian sharp power in Ukraine, I realize the value of on-the-ground information. The study trip changed my perspective on foreign policy towards Ukraine and revealed the potential for meaningful reform, especially as the country nears elections. Our exposure to a diverse group of high-level experts was invaluable, and I will remember it for years to come.

I am also extremely thankful to have had the SAIS community to make it all happen. It would not have been possible without my professors’ unwavering support and the enthusiastic student body.

Caitlin O’Grady

Caitlin is a MA student, currently spending her first year of study at the SAIS Europe campus. A US national, she is concentrating in American Foreign Policy.

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