Fiona Hill, a Russia expert and frequent critic of President Vladimir Putin, will join the White House National Security Council as senior director for Europe and Russia, officials said Tuesday.
Hill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former member of the National Intelligence Council, was first recruited for the NSC job under Michael Flynn, President Trump’s now-former national security adviser.
Flynn was forced to resign after barely three weeks in office after the White House said he had misled Vice President Pence about contacts he had with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s U.S. ambassador, before Trump’s inauguration.
Russian efforts to influence the U.S. election and contacts between Flynn and other Trump associates and Russian operatives during the campaign have since become the subject of FBI and congressional investigations.
Flynn’s departure and upheaval over the Russia contacts left Hill’s appointment in limbo for a time. The job offer was subsequently renewed by H.R. McMaster, Flynn’s replacement.
Trump spoke admiringly of Putin during the campaign and said that the United States should collaborate with Russia on the counterterrorism fight against the Islamic State, views that were criticized by senior Republican lawmakers and dismissed even by some of Trump’s senior national security aides. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, calling Russia a threat, ruled out any military cooperation with Moscow.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to engage in the Trump administration’s first high-level diplomatic contact with Russia in a visit there next month. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has met twice this year with his Russian counterpart.
The NSC will combine Russia and Europe under one directorate under Hill, after the two were separated by the Obama administration. A deputy is expected to concentrate on European issues.
In her book “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin,” published with co-author Clifford Gaddy in 2013 and updated in 2015, Hill described Putin as a survivalist on foreign policy, willing to use “forms of blackmail, intimidation, punishment, and blatant distortion of the truth” to defend Russia and his position.
Quoted in a November article in the Atlantic, Hill expressed doubts about Trump’s plans to “normalize relations” with Russia. While Trump’s presidency might bring “a stylistic rhetorical change” in the relationship, she said, “I think it will come down to what it’s always been — where the Russians will get all giddy with expectations, and then they’ll be dashed, like, five minutes into the relationship because the U.S. and Russia just have a very hard time . . . being on the same page.”
“We’re going to have an awful lot of friction,” Hill said. “And Trump isn’t exactly the most diplomatic of people. So I imagine he’ll fall out with his new friend Vladimir pretty quickly.”
Hill holds a master’s degree in Soviet studies and a doctorate in history from Harvard University. British-born, she started at Brookings in 2000, taking a three-year break to serve on the National Intelligence Council under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. Officers on the council are senior experts on a range of issues drawn from government, academia and the private sector to provide long-term strategic analysis for the director of national intelligence.