Retired US Ambassador and Middletown resident George Krol gives students and staff at Middletown High a close look at the war in Ukraine Friday.
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FORMER AMBASSADOR, RUSSIA EXPERT ENLIGHTENS
MIDDLETOWN HIGH STUDENTS ABOUT UKRAINE, WAR
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (MARCH 11, 2022) – Middletown High students got a behind-the-scenes look Friday morning into the Ukraine war.
Retired U.S. Ambassador and Middletown resident George Krol took the crowd of more than 200 people on a ride through the history and latest developments in the battle-torn nation during a presentation from the school’s cafeteria.
Krol said unfortunately, what was happening in Ukraine shouldn’t come as a major surprise, especially in light of the country’s background as the center of so much strife in the past. During World War II, the Napoleonic Wars and even further back, Krol said the Ukraine region has seen it all.
But despite those conflicts, Krol said the 40 million people of Ukraine are an exceedingly strong, proud group that would resist Russian advances down to their last person.
“Ukrainians, they have developed this sense of unity that ‘We have a right to live and exist,’” Krol told the audience. “‘As long as we are alive, as long as there’s breath in our body and there are people who can speak Ukrainian, we will always live, no matter what happens politically and the like.’ There is a sense of great strength. When I was in the Ukraine, I would see this and it was something to behold, how people who have lived through all of this still have this hope in themselves despite when it seems all the odds against them.”
And despite the near constant global media attention on the invasion of Ukraine since Feb. 24, Krol said Russia is limiting the access of information to their own people. For example, Krol said in Russia, if the media describes the invasion as a “war,” journalists and even those with personal social media accounts risk jail time and a heavy fine.
“They don’t have a free press and journalism where people can listen to all different views and they’re respected,” Krol said. “It shows you how important it is to have a free press and the freedom to express yourself because unfortunately, including these recent days, the government of Russia has basically driven out independent media and simply provides what its story is to the people.”
Krol retired from the U.S. State Department in 2018 after 36 years as a decorated senior career Foreign Service Officer.
In that time, Krol served as the United States ambassador to Belarus, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan as well as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asian Affairs.
According to his resume, Krol spent most of his professional career working in and dealing with countries of the former Soviet Union. That included time in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia; Kyiv, Ukraine; Belarus and the Central Asian republics. He also served in Poland and India.
Krol was the Director of the State Department’s Office of Russian Affairs and Special Assistant to the Ambassador-at-large for the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union as well as Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Today, Krol teaches as an Adjunct Professor at the U.S. Naval War College, lectures at Salve Regina’s Circle of Scholars and is an Associate of Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and is a member of the Smithsonian Institute’s Wilson Center for Public Policy. He is a graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities.
High School Principal Jeff Heath said Krol’s presentation was a sought after ticket among students and staff at the school. Almost from the moment the date was announced, Heath said students were emailing and asking for permission to attend, even if it meant missing their regularly scheduled class during B period.
“This is an amazing opportunity for our students — and our staff,” Heath said. “Where else but Middletown could we be exposed to something like this, where a former ambassador comes to speak directly to us about what’s happening in the Ukraine and answers our questions? It’s just another example of all the outstanding work that happens right here in our Town.”
English teacher Chris Richards agreed. Richards helped to bring Krol to the school and line up the presentation.
“Look at this, it’s incredible,” Richards said as Krol spoke to the crowd without notes, using a computer slideshow. “Unless you’re someone who is high ranking in our government or walking in those circles, you’d never hear the candor and analysis we’re getting here today.”
Seniors Callie Brown and Andrea Halpin said they were amazed to hear Krol lived in Middletown, especially with such a distinguished and varied career. Each said when they heard about the presentation, they knew they wanted to be in attendance.
“I really like the way he’s explaining everything to us in an easy to understand manner,” said Callie, who’s looking at the medical field after college. “There are so many different people in this area and what’s happening makes a lot more sense now."
“In today’s world, it’s really important to stay current,” said Andrea, who’s considering a career in finance after college. “If you look at what’s happening around the world, it’s changing on a daily basis and to hear what (Krol) has to say is so informative.”
At the end of his presentation, Krol opened the floor for questions. The first from a student was likely what everyone in attendance was wondering — What would it take for the United States to enter the war with boots on the ground?
“This isn’t World War II anymore because we have nuclear weapons, very, very disruptive weapons that were created the end of World War II, that have only been used once, against Japan by the United States with horrific results,” Krol said. “Those weapons have only gotten more deadly. This is one of the true dilemmas. The feeling is ‘Why don’t we just go in and fight the Russians and stand up for the Ukrainians?’ But, with the Russian leadership, they’ve already threatened if that were to happen, they would look at using nuclear weapons and nobody wins in a nuclear attack.”
As for why more Russians haven’t stood up to challenge Putin and his regime’s pursuit of a clearly unjust war, Krol said there were a couple reasons. One was because the country is so brutal and resistant to anything but the party line, it’s extremely difficult for such resistance to take hold.
Also, he said based on what he and others know about Russians society, media and schools, many might not know any better.
“Facts and history are used to try to change people’s minds and force them into thinking in ways about their neighbors that don’t really have a basis in fact because nobody is really looking for facts when it’s being shaded,” Krol said. “If you look at the history books of what they’re taught in Russian schools now, it’s pretty horrific. The way it interprets these things and this effort to try to inculcate that in the minds of people is extremely dangerous. It’s the why having an open and free education like you have to get different points of view and to be taught tolerance of other points of view is so important.”
Document Link: https://www.middletownri.com/DocumentCenter/View/4110/nycu-krol