On Thursday, December 10, Marvin Kalb and Gregory Feifer – two of the sharpest minds writing about Russia whose views diverge – debated this urgent question at an event hosted by ICWA and Johns Hopkins SAIS.  The fault lines in US thinking about Russia and the pressing decisions facing the Obama Administration, were exposed in stark relief.

Is Vladimir Putin’s Russia an unalloyed menace – to its neighbors, to its people, and to the United States?  Or is it, warts and all, a great power that must be reckoned with if we are to achieve key foreign policy goals?  If we fail to stand up to Putin in Ukraine, will we see Russian attempts to provoke conflict with NATO member states in the Baltics?  Or is backing Kiev a policy doomed to fail, indeed, likely to put us on a collision course with a nuclear armed Russia?  Should we work with Putin in Syria – or would doing so simply make the US an even bigger target for Islamist extremists? These are some of the questions raised and answered in the debate, which can be watched in its entirety below.

Marvin Kalb is the senior advisor at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. His career spans three decades of award-winning reporting and commentary for CBS and NBC, including a turn as host of Meet the Press. For nearly an equal amount of time he was founding director and senior fellow of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He is also the Edward R. Murrow Professor (Emeritus) at Harvard, James Clark Welling fellow at The George Washington University and guest scholar in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. He recently completed the 22nd season of The Kalb Report, a series of radio/TV forums on ethics and excellence in journalism, produced by the National Press Club Journalism Institute and several academic institutions. Kalb’s latest book, Imperial Gamble: Putin, Ukraine, and the New Cold War, takes a critical look at the recent political history of post-Soviet Russia.

Gregory Feifer is a journalist and author whose book Russians (Twelve, 2014) explains the social behavior behind the country’s political culture. He reported about Russia’s resurgence under Vladimir Putin as NPR bureau chief in Moscow. His other books include The Great Gamble (2009), a history of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. His work appears in various publications, including POLITICO, Foreign Affairs and Reuters.com. An associate of Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian Studies, he is working on a book about anti-Americanism. He is a former Institute of Current World Affairs Fellow, and current trustee.

Edward P. Joseph is a foreign policy academic and practitioner who has held senior positions in conflict areas for over a dozen years. He has written articles this year in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, among other publications. Edward directs the Institute of Current World Affairs, a non-profit foundation that has, for over 90 years, identified, mentored and transformed the lives of highly promising young professionals through two-year immersion Fellowships abroad.