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The 21st Annual Spencer Lecture

William Pomeranz ‘78 returned to University School to deliver the 21st Annual Spencer Lecture entitled, “What Was Putin Thinking? The Roots of the Russian-Ukrainian War.” All students and alumni visitors gathered to fill Gund Auditorium this morning for his talk and a question and answer period. 

Dr. Pomeranz spoke about the challenges that President Vladimir Putin is facing in his unprovoked war against Ukraine. As Dr. Pomeranz said, “the war is not going well for Russia,” the recent rapid retreat of Russian forces from northern Ukraine is the latest evidence that the war is not as “easy” as Putin thought it would be. Among many things that Putin did not count on is the involvement of the west, the resilience of the Ukraine people, and their leader, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The consequences will be felt by Russia for generations, whether Putin is successful in this attempt or not. Economically, it is estimated that thousands of western companies have stopped doing business in Russia, and western banks have frozen over $700 million in assets that Putin did not move before the war. Politically, the attack has propelled Sweden and Finland to join NATO, and Ukraine has started the process to join NATO and the EU. Russia itself has experienced a massive “brain drain” as several hundred thousand citizens have left the federation. Though, Dr. Pomeranz said, “Putin has always thought of human capital as expendable.” Further evidence of that has come out in reports recently as Russia is running out of people and weapons. They have resorted to “rounding up factory workers, giving them a week of training and putting them on the front.”  

Dr. Pomeranz was glad to speak in the spirit of increasing knowledge of international relations while honoring a fellow alumnus and family friend.

About William Pomeranz ‘78
Dr. Pomeranz is the Director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute and is an expert guide to the complexities of political and economic developments in Russia, particularly through the lens of law. He leverages extensive, hands-on experience in international and Russian jurisprudence to address a wide range of legal issues, from the development of Russia’s Constitution to human rights law to foreign investment and sanctions. He is also the author of Law and the Russian State: Russia's Legal Evolution from Peter the Great to Vladimir Putin. 

He holds a B.A. from Haverford College, an M.Sc. from the University of Edinburgh, a J.D. cum laude from American University, and a Ph.D. in Russian History from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London. Prior to joining the Kennan Institute, Dr. Pomeranz practiced international law in the United States and Moscow, Russia. He advised clients on investment in the Russian Federation as well as on U.S. anti-money laundering requirements, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and various U.S. sanctions programs.

The George E. Spencer III Lecture Series honors the life of US alumnus George “Twig” Spencer III ‘69. It was founded by his family, classmates, and friends to pay tribute to his caring and adventurous spirit while enhancing awareness and knowledge of international relations, tolerance, and understanding. Twig was at his office in the South Tower of the World Trade Center when the building was struck by the second plane of the attacks of September 11, 2001. As his colleagues began their descent from the 84th floor, above the impact point, Twig told his two friends, "I’ll meet you down there. I just want to make sure the rest of the team is out." Twig is the only known US alumnus to lose his life in the terrorist attacks.

    • William Pomeranz '78 delivering the 21st Annual Spencer Lecture.

    • William Pomeranz '78.

    • William Pomeranz '78 and Head of School Patrick Gallagher.

    • Audience members included alumni and guests.

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