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Russia expert speaks in Scranton

Jill Dougherty
Tom Riese
Russia expert and CNN contributor Jill Dougherty at the University of Scranton

When Dunmore native Jill Dougherty returned to Moscow just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, she knew something was about to happen between the two countries. Like most of the world, though, she wasn’t sure exactly what.

“I expected, actually, and I think a lot of people expected this, that what you would see would be Russia would try to take the Donbas region (of Ukraine),” she said. “I thought it would be a big reach to take the entire country of Ukraine … but it became very obvious once I arrived, that that’s exactly what they were planning on doing.”

Dougherty is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and spent years as CNN’s Moscow Bureau Chief. She was in Moscow before the invasion at CNN’s request.

Dougherty spoke at the University of Scranton as part of The Schemel Forum, a series of world affairs seminars and courses organized by director Sondra Myers. Myers introduced Dougherty, welcoming her “back to her hometown.”

“Whenever our speaker today can make it is a perfect day for us,” she told the crowd. “Jill knows Russia and its leader like the back of her hand. We are fortunate to have her here today to help us understand the situation.”

Dougherty told the audience of her belief that Putin started the war under the assumption that Russia would declare victory in a matter of weeks.

Russia expert Jill Dougherty in Scranton

The war has lasted three months now, and Dougherty said while Ukraine has suffered immense physical damage, Russia has damaged its future, its economy and its global standing.

The Russian people are not winners, the Russian people come out as losers. And it's very sad to think, you know, a country that in 30 years of existence has gone through so much economic turmoil and … people just suffering so much from a very unstable situation,” she said. “And now you have them embroiled in a war that has angered the rest of Europe. I mean, they're really turning into pariahs.”

Dougherty left Moscow after new laws restricted what the press could say about the invasion. She said she doesn’t know when she will be able to return to Russia.

Dougherty predicted Putin’s focus would shift as the war drags on. She said he would likely give up the idea of taking over Ukraine as a whole and instead try to seize control of the mainly Russian-speaking Donbas region of Ukraine.

“Then if you go south, around the eastern part of Ukraine, they want to take the city of Mariupol which is kind of in the southeast. And then they already have Crimea, which is a peninsula in the south,” she said. “And they will just create this kind of belt of control, which will allow them to go all the way up to the western part of Crimea, and then to go into Moldova, which is a completely other country… so they're intent on taking a big swath of land.”

Dougherty said she hopes Ukraine can survive and that the country will be able to rebuild with global help.

“You've got a country that right now is physically decimated, but you have people so far, who are very united and think of themselves as Ukrainians,” she said. “And Vladimir Putin did that, you know, ironically.”

Sarah Scinto is the local host of All Things Considered on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.