Russia expert Fiona Hill visited WashU and shared, through the lens of her own life, how education and opportunity are two important ways by which the world can save democracy.

“Russia is America’s “Ghost of Christmas Future.”

With those words, an alarmed murmur rippled through the crowd at the Assembly Series fireside chat with Fiona Hill, an expert on Russia who rose to global prominence after her candid 2019 Congressional testimony in the first impeachment inquiry of former President Donald Trump. 

Hill warned a capacity audience that the United States could be headed down the same authoritarian path as Russia because a lack of opportunity in the post-industrial era has left people angry and susceptible to Putin-like populist messages that exploit fissures in our society.

“Think about all of our experiences in the last several years of the country pulling itself apart on a partisan level, and the partisan myths and the stories we tell ourselves about ‘the other,’” said Hill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C. “That’s what I mean when I say Russia is the Ghost of Christmas Future for the United States. Now remember, of course, in the Dickens story, the worst doesn’t come to pass [because the warning is heeded].” 

It’s much easier to exert social control and manipulate and push disinformation on people who are not educated.

Fiona Hill

During the talk, “The World Putin Wants: The Invasion of Ukraine and the Threat to the International Order,” Hill and James Wertsch, the David R. Francis Distinguished Professor who is also an expert on Russia, discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the danger of false populist narratives. Hill said Putin wants the world to believe his version of history. In his rise to power, she said, Putin bent historical national narratives to serve his purposes while exploiting the fears of Russians who felt forgotten after the collapse of the Soviet Union.