Sarasota-Manatee debuts first session of Ukraine: What’s Next? speaker series

Attendees will join speakers for the virtual session on April 13 to discuss military and intelligence insights in Ukraine. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/USF

USF Sarasota-Manatee’s new Ukraine: What’s Next? speaker series aims to provide students insight into the economic, security, military and diplomatic impacts of Russia’s war on Ukraine with four events, each featuring discussions with various international relations experts.

Inspiration for the series began when staff at the Sarasota-Manatee campus were approached by The Air Force Association (AFA) Florida West Coast Chapter in early March to host an event to raise awareness for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

Consultant for Marketing and Communications William Hampton said as military engagements in Ukraine began to increase, USF and the AFA quickly shifted plans for the event from a two-day workshop on Ukraine to the current four-part speaker session format.

The first session will occur April 13 with a keynote speech from retired Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove. Having also served as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO from 2013 to 2016, Breedlove is expected to use his extensive military experience to evaluate the effectiveness of intelligence strategies in Ukraine, according to Hampton.

“Being able to hear from someone like Philip Breedlove … who has been sought after by the major news networks and obviously was a former head of NATO himself, will be incredibly interesting as he offers an expert’s point of view,” he said.

Students and faculty interested in attending Wednesday’s session can register for a seat on the series’ Eventbrite webpage. Attendees will need to complete their registration before being provided a Zoom business meeting link for the session, which will occur from 9 a.m. to noon.

There will not be a cap on the number of individuals able to register given that the first part of the series is a virtual event, according to Hampton. He said the number of people registered exceeds 200 as of Monday and is expected to increase as the event nears.

Following a Q&A session between students and Breedlove will be an experts roundtable event featuring four other speakers.

Those planned to sit at the roundtable include retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, Staff Director for Florida Center for Cybersecurity Ron Sanders, founding partner and Chief Technical Officer of Sylint Serge Johnson as well as Managing Director at Security Management International Luke Bencie. Moderating the conversation will be retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gray.

Members of the event’s audience will watch the speakers discuss comments made by Breedlove during his keynote speech as well as their own personal interpretations of military and intelligence utilized thus far during the war.

Deptula has previously criticized Breedlove’s interpretation of military strategy in Ukraine on many major news outlets, so event coordinators are expecting the roundtable to be a fruitful discussion, according to Hampton. He said while he hopes Deptula’s disagreements will aid in stimulating conversation, the objective of the event is to highlight the spirit of partnership, not partisanship.

“We hope that [students] will be able to learn the latest from the experts, some of whom have literally written the book or written the strategy in response to situations like this,” he said. “It’s an authentic, great opportunity to showcase partnerships and bring USF and our community and leading organizations.”

Professor and Director of USF Institute on Russia Golfo Alexopoulos will conclude the session with a brief 20-minute talk outlining the history of conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Hampton said support from sponsors such as USF ResearchOne, the Global Interdependence Center and Cyber Florida helped with paying the speaker and travel fees for the events, which will be completely free for attendees.

Three subsequent sessions will be conducted April 27, May 10 and May 27. Each will host experts specializing in different policy areas of the war, such as financial and economic impacts, cybersecurity analysis and diplomatic and humanitarian aspects.

Despite the event’s focus on military and intelligence, Hampton said he hopes attendees will be able to remember the true focus of the series — to recognize the value of supporting Ukraine.

“All of this is in the spirit of how the war in Ukraine impacts the world and how it affects each of us, whether we’re a student or whether it’s prices and banking,” he said.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s important to hear as much information from as many experts as possible as we form our own opinions about what’s going on, and hopefully learn from that.”