“Barn Talks” Returns with Kori Schake Discussion on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

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Lauren Hengehold , writer

At 7:00 PM on Monday, May 9th in the Sebastiani Theater, the Sonoma Barn Talks returned with guest Kori Schake. Created in 2017 to highlight SVHS alumni and connect with current SVHS students, the Barn Talks program raises money to benefit Sonoma Valley public schools. The proceeds of this event went to the SVHS Model UN club and the SVHS GSA club.

Since she graduated in 1980, SVHS alumni Kori Schake has built an impressive career for herself. Working as the Director of Foregin and Defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, she is a professional when it comes to gauging military strategy and NATO proceedings. In addition, she was the Deputy Director-General of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, worked in the US State Department, the US Department of Defense, and the National Security Council at the White House. To share her expertise on military strategy and knowledge on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Schake was warmly welcomed as the returning speaker for the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation’s Barn Talks. 

To begin the seminar, 12th grader Bella Quilici introduced the audience to the senior fellow, and revealed a little bit about the SVHS clubs which the proceeds were being donated to. Subsequently, the discussion was moderated by Angela Ryan, the executive director of the SVEF. 

Schake began by clarifying the status of the war, and how successful Russia has been in taking control of Ukraine. To summarize, Schake said as of May 9th, Russia held control of the Eastern and coastal parts of Ukraine through the integration of Urban Warfare, but were driven out of the North by Ukrainian soldiers. Russian tactics included pinpointing hospitals and transportation centers and lobbing artillery into cities. 

However, the Russian military’s proficiency hasn’t been great. “They don’t rotate the tires on heavy equipment, so they’re getting flat tires all over the place,” she says. “Russian officers are refusing to obey orders in Ukraine, so as the political leadership in Russia gets more brutal, the Russian military itself – which has already committed atrocities that should be shocking to everyone’s conscience – even they are refusing to continue fighting in Ukraine.”

Schake said Russia believes they will at least end up with half of what they began the war with, noting that they’ve sent one half of their military (~180,000 soldiers total) into the invasion force, where already 20,000 have been killed. 

Schake beams as she entertains the audience with jokes and uplifting stories of the Ukranian’s brave courage. “Honestly if our country were ever invaded, I hope all of us would be as brave as the average ukrainians have been in their current circumstance.”  She shares a story of an old Ukrainian woman taking out a Russian drone by throwing a mere pickle jar out her window, and claims it “stopped the advance for a while, [the Russians] couldn’t figure out ‘who are the snipers coming from this building!’” In addition, there was a video of an elderly Ukrainian woman going up to Russian soldiers and handing them packets of sunflower seeds, asking them to put them in their pockets so when their dead bodies were left flowers would grow out of them. “I mean that takes a lot of guts to say to an armed soldier,” Schake laughs. 

Schake highlights the key differences between the Russian and Ukrainian militaries saying that there is a Russian military where people are fearful and discipline is brutal, and a Ukrainian military that welcomes anyone that wants to fight for their country, all the while respecting, including and trusting them. She says the Ukrainian’s creativity in finding new ways to prevent Russian success is astounding. “It’s what free people do, it is actually the superpower of free societies.”

In addition to the governments of the NATO countries sharing information about cyber security, cyber command and civil society groups like Anonymous have been incredibly successful in blocking cyber infiltration from Russian influences. “Anonymous hacked into the Russian intelligence agencies and distributed the names, addresses, and contact information of all of Russia’s overseas agents.” Schake says their efforts have made a huge difference as Russian cyber technology hasn’t been successful in penetrating Ukraine’s strength. Schake keeps the environment lighthearted by adding, “But I’m holding out for flying sharks with lasers! That’s what I want cyber to produce for us.” Moderator Ryan follows, “Okay, get on that young people.”

Schake also shared the measures taken by the Biden administration to aid Ukraine with support, her assumptions on how the war would end, the plan for Ukrainian reconstruction, and the threats and upsides of the war long-term. 

The discussion was one and a half hours in total, and was incredibly insightful to the few young people in attendance as well as the majority; worried Sonomans looking for positive and professional assurance that the war is going well.

For those who wanted to help aid Ukraine from a personal level, Schake wants us to learn from our past. “When they were under Soviet occupation, the people who lived in the Baltic states tell us now how much it mattered that the United States never recognized the legitimacy of Soviet control over those territories.” 

She tells the audience that it is most important for Western individuals to do “all of the little things we already know how to do”, because they are actually huge contributors to showing Ukranians support. She urges the audience to “help people be seen, give blood, and show you care by hanging Ukrainian flags, taking pictures of them, and posting them on Instagram and Twitter feeds.” Finally, she says “it will be really hard for young Ukrainians, so when they come here to go to school… befriend them, start companies with them, find a way to help them achieve what they can.” Schake knows “finding ways to help them get back on their feet is the mission of our time.”