Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack {Ret.} is a U.S. Army veteran, having served over 34 years as a Military Intelligence and Foreign Area Officer in diverse command and staff postings such as Afghanistan, the Balkans, South Korea West Germany, and Russia. He served in Moscow as the Senior U.S. Defense Attaché to Russia during the pivotal years of 2012 – 2014 that included the Russian invasion of Ukraine and is one of our nation's leading experts on Russia. 

For over three decades BG Zwack frequently traveled both professionally and personally across Russia’s vast Eurasian landscape from the Atlantic to Pacific, and arid southern regions to the Arctic Circle. He interacts with Russians and international colleagues on multiple levels including defense, security, academia, policy, veterans, and private citizens. His written and spoken insights are based on his over 30-years of analytical and in-country USSR-Russia experiences that began with an extraordinary summer spent in 1989 as a young U.S. Army Captain studying Russian and culture in a provincial Soviet city on the Volga River.  

After his military retirement in 2015 he wrote, lectured, advised and taught at The National Defense University, lecturing on a wide range of topics to high school, college, graduate students and governmental and interagency members at a wide range of institutions. These include Boston, Brown, George Washington and Harvard Universities, Universities of Virginia and Denver, National War College, U.S Naval War College, Army War College, NATO, KFOR, West Point, European and Pacific Commands, U.S. Army Europe, numerous Thinktanks (Atlantic Council, Council on Foreign Relations and CSIS) and other domestic and international venues. His articles have appeared in Politico, The Hill, The National Interest, Defense One, New York Daily News, The Washington Times and The Cipher Brief. He has often been cited in the New York Times and Washington Post. Major news networks including ABC Nightline, CNN, CBC, PBS, MSNBC and AlHurra have sought his expertise.

BG Zwack currently is a Global Fellow at The Kennan Institute within the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars which is the premier American center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasian. From this perch he lectures, publishes, and speaks while also participating in non-governmental “Track II” exchanges between retired American and Russian governmental, academic and cultural professionals. He is also a Fellow at the Pell Center for International Relations. He is an international relations graduate from the University of Denver, and received a Masters degree in National Security at both the Defense Intelligence College and Naval War College.  He appears frequently on CNN. BG Zwack speaks Russian, German, Italian, and some French. 


Brigadier General Peter Zwack (Ret.) served as the United States Senior Defense Official and Attaché to the Russian Federation during the challenging years of 2012-2014 when Ukraine was invaded by Russia.  He was Director of the Joint Intelligence and Operations Center located at the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan from 2008-2009.  Retired in 2015 after 34 years of military service, BG Zwack is currently a Wilson Center Global Fellow at the Kennan Institute.  One of America’s leading experts on Russia, Afghanistan and the complex geo-politics of Eurasia, he presents lively, illustrated talks, that decode and helps bring clarity to audiences on these challenging issues:

• Explaining key aspects pertaining to the US-China-Russia triangle, and increasingly the India quadrangle, and how these relationships will shape the course of the world ahead.

• How does the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban completely change the nature of the vast Central Asian region?

• How does the US, China, Russia, and increasingly India, balance their interests and global actions regarding one another? 

• How does this geo-political reshuffle impact both US foreign and domestic policies? 

BG Zwack's talks are infused with compelling vignettes and stories, rooted in over three decades of unparalleled on-the-ground eyewitness expertise and his ongoing outreach work and research in these regions.  His new memoir about serving in Afghanistan, Afghanistan Kabul Kurier, includes perspectives on Afghanistan and related foreign policy issues we now face.  He appears frequently on CNN.


Decoding Putin • Understanding Russia

Seemingly wrapped in our own domestic challenges, Vladimir’s Putin’s Russia is also undergoing stress and upheaval that will affect American interest worldwide.  Whether major street protests and increasingly emboldened internet culture magnified by Alexei Navalny’s poisoning and imprisonment, an imbalanced carbon-centered economy with persistently low oil prices hampering Russia’s economy, major inflation since 2014, international sanctions, major cross-border and overseas military commitments, vast, vulnerable borders, an aging and imbalanced population and poor health aggravated by a scarred ecology and climate change, the regime of Vladimir Putin has much to balance. While aggressive and noisy internationally, much of Putin’s regime is quietly focused inwardly, starkly aware of these challenges that risk tearing a not eternally patient population from the Kremlin. Furthermore, despite parliamentary measures intended to enable the 68-year-old Putin in his 22nd year of power, to remain as Russia’s “Uber” leader out to 2036, his political future, and that of Russia overall remains uncertain. Persistent complaints of massive regime corruption continue, as well as the role and loyalty of Putin’s up to now loyal oligarchs and power brokers wrapped in a veneer of democracy.  In a hard-hitting, thought-provoking presentation, laced with vignettes from his time on Russian street, BG Zwack will discuss these complex and unpredictable issues that will have direct impact on the U.S. and the world regardless of what occurs. 

Inside Russia: Culture, History & Politics

BG Peter Zwack (Ret.), the former US Defense Attaché to Russia, delivers a tour de force presentation on Russia and its broad Eurasian periphery that touches and challenges many interests held by the United States and its allies.  This detailed illustrated presentation, laced with personal pictures and vignettes from his over thirty years of extensive and recent regional travel, focuses how the fundamentals of geography and difficult history of 11-time-zone Russia informs and explains Russia’s unique culture and worldview that affects the security and economics of the entire world. His discussion touches on a wide range of issues including demographics, natural resources, arms control, arctic rivalries, Putin’s presidential future and the impact of the Belt and Road initiative, Additionally, how Russia's relations evolve with a rising China is spotlighted as it is fundamental to how global security will look into the next Generation. 

Russians:  Who They Are, How They Think, and Why

Retired BG Peter Zwack has been personally and professionally intertwined with Russia for much of his life. This began in early 1960s watching grainy early Soviet-era “Sergei Eisenstein” movies with his mother, a Columbia University Russia scholar, who later met her second husband, also an American, on the Trans-Siberian railroad in 1969.  At the dawn of his 34-year Army career he was a young Cold War era US Army officer in a cannon unit that could fire atomic shells.  Thanks to the US-Soviet Glasnost “opening,” in 1989, then a Captain, he received a Soviet visa and US permission to study Russian language and culture in the provincial city of Kalinin-Tver just two years before the Soviet Union imploded into 15 different republics. Since that memorable summer of which he has written about, for the next three decades up to COVID-19 he frequently visited Russia traveling across its vast Eurasian landmass via trains, planes and automobiles where he experienced its rich, complex culture and people. This included an epic for its time, a three-thousand-mile 1989 drive in a Soviet rent-a-car with a fellow American officer, immortalized in Ralph Peter’s book “Looking for Trouble.”  Zwack will lavishly illustrate his intensely personal discussion with a wide range of graphics, maps, and photographs with which he will add a number of colorful vignettes. This unique presentation promises to provide viewers with different, useful, and lively perspectives on how to view Russia and its rich, complex people, culture, and history in the context of our currently challenging circumstances. 

The Russian, Chinese & U.S. Triangle:
Navigating Complexities & Challenges

Much media lately has focused on Washington’s seemingly deteriorating relationship with both China and Russia. In recent years Chinese and Russian military and economic cooperation has significantly increased. Notably Chinese and Russian troops have recently conducted major training, while their strategic nuclear bombers have flown together near Japan and South Korea. China purchases natural gas from Russia and lively commodities trading occurs along their vast 2600-mile border (roughly the size of the US-Canadian border).  Furthermore, both authoritarian states stay lockstep politically in international forums such as the United Nations, World Health Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. What does this all mean?  Yet with all these recent initiatives between these two traditional distrusting nations that battled along their borders as late as 1969, what are some of the built-in wedges – physically, historically, ethically, religiously, culturally, societally, economically, demographically, and philosophically that both nations must reconcile in the years ahead as China rises and Russia likely recedes. For example, how does Moscow balance the financial benefits with existential security concerns regarding major Chinese economic efforts via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) boring through the former lands of the former USSR and the recently declared Polar Silk Road that will extend through the Russia dominated Northern Sea Route (NSR) along its vast, melting Arctic flank.  Highlighting these contrasts, BG Zwack, will speak of these issues while taking his audience on a fascinating visual journey through the vast, complex Far Eastern region separating the two behemoths, recounting his own personal experiences from numerous trips into the region between 1997 and 2018.

The Astonished General; Lessons in Adaptation, Persistence and Leadership

What did the speaker learn and experience about leadership, adaptation, and human dignity from his early life of relative privilege where he squandered numerous opportunities, to his sixties after volunteering as a Private into the US Army for just three years and unexpectedly became a 34-year military “lifer” unexpectedly becoming a well-decorated Brigadier General?  This lively session provides timeless, often colorful, lessons-learned about firm but empathetic leadership with its inevitable crossroads and dilemmas useful for any life’s endeavor regardless of age, vocation, or position. 

Russia and its Schizophrenic Relationship with the West

Why thirty years after the end of the cold war does nuclear-tipped Russia remain in dangerous competition and confrontation with nuclear-tipped Washington and the west that on a bad, miscalculating day could result in the end of our world as we know it.  With all that Russia is facing along its vast periphery it would seem logical that she would want calm with culturally related U.S. and Europe that absolutely does not want perpetual confrontation, or worse, a disastrous conflict that no one wants.  Meanwhile Russia’s relationship with Beijing tightens. Addressing this paradox, BG Zwack will provide his perception of the sources of deep Russian resentment, suspicion and xenophobia that mark Moscow’s policies and actions regarding the west. To do such, he will weave in multiple seemingly interlocking factors including centuries of gruesome war, the rise of the Soviet Union and its unexpected collapse, the lost decade of the 1990s, NATO’s expansion, and renewed tensions accelerated by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 using disruptive new hybrid and cyber capabilities.  He will spice the presentation with an array of images and personal vignettes designed to build awareness of this stalemated and seemingly schizophrenic relationship – one with tremendous risk, or positive potential.  

As the Arctic Melts; New Challenges … 

Just in February, the Russian LNG tanker Christophe de Margorie traversed formerly iced-over Arctic waters along Russia’s 5770 mile “Northern Sea Route (NSR).” The widening NSR is increasing economic opportunity in the Arctic that also opens major ecological concerns for the Arctic’s pristine waters. Enhanced oil and natural gas extractions have also opened another large strategic flank for Russia that touches the US along the Bering Strait with Alaska, and NATO in the Norwegian Sea. It is also a sensitive nuclear-armed region where US, NATO and Russian forces could inadvertently clash. Russia is aggressively status quo in the Arctic where she proactively is working to consolidate its claims in the fast-melting region.  Russia, with over 40 icebreakers – compared to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2 aging icebreakers, commands the region. Russia currently chairs of the 8-nation Arctic Council, accounts for 50% of the Arctic’s landmass which makes the Arctic a major priority for Moscow. Russia while officially welcoming enhanced Chinese involvement in the Arctic, is also wary of China’s role including possible claims in the high north under the rubric of a “Polar Silk Road,” that mirror images strategically its Belt and Road Initiative through the “Southern Lands of the Former Soviet Union.” In an eye-opening presentation, BG Zwack takes his audiences through this increasingly important aspect of US-Russian and overall regional relations, one with major security, economic, resource, ecological and climate change dimensions.

War and Peace; Russia’s Eternal Struggle for its place in the world

No major nation in the world has been more molded by its thousand-year struggle for its place in the world.  In a compelling presentation, the speaker with many images and maps brings the audience into Russia’s stark prism of existential threats, real, perceived, and contrived.  This struggle has pulled at Russia both internationally along its vast borders, and domestically with a historically traumatized population in constant flux.  Having a better understanding of the culturally rich but scarred Russian psyche matters tremendously today as we parse out both challenges and opportunities in today’s complex, dangerous and increasingly intertwined world.

Brigadier General Peter Zwack (Ret.) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Russia: Resurgent or Declining Power? A Eurasian perspective.

Brigadier General Peter Zwack on White House Chronicle

Host Llewellyn King discusses What Russia Wants & Why

“One of the great joys of serving as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation was working with General Peter Zwack. Every day, he demonstrated a deep commitment both to serving our great nation and to understanding Russia. The latter helped him do the former. Swimming the Volga shows just how deep into Russian society, history, and culture Peter dug. Jumping from the analytic to the personal with ease, it’s a brilliant story."

—Ambassador Michael McFaul U.S. Ambassador to Russia 2012-2014
Author of Cold War, Hot Peace; An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia

“Loaded with great insights and stories from his days before serving as US Defense Attache in Moscow and from his deep involvement with Russia, General Zwack brings the past alive to help us understand what Putin is doing today. It is very rare to have pages filled by someone who really knows, and knows how to write it.”

— Leslie H. Gelb 
President Emeritus Council on Foreign Relations

"Peter Zwack managed to become one of the best intelligence officers, and when I say that to make colonel in our army is 1% of the several thousand you start out with. To make general is less than .001% to be selected. There are 300 generals there are only 20 MI (military intelligence) generals, Peter is one of them. He was great at intelligence whether he was in Germany, South Korea, Afghanistan, at the top of his game the senior intelligence officer in Afghanistan and Europe. At critical times, he was tremendous. He was a force to be reckoned with. But what made him also equally extraordinary, he was also a very, very, talented foreign area officer who we could put in policy positions, who we could put in as the special assistant to commanders, who we could choose at the end of a career to send to Moscow at a critical time.  Peter’s extraordinary talents every day showed up at work. Because there is a consistency in his decency, his civility, his selflessness, his courage, and his commitment, all of us have the same experience with Peter and Stephanie Zwack, it’s the same, it’s consistency. And it’s never about them. Nobody was more delighted to see him show up on the general officer's list than we were.  No one was more surprised than Peter Zwack. He would never have thought it was going to happen. Three or four years into being one star he keeps saying, “I can’t believe I’m a general”. I’m saying Peter, you’re going to Moscow, you gotta get over that! So, but an extraordinary career. We have a lot of young officers here who have been touched by Peter who is looking for examples and you really need not look any further than the person you were lucky enough to work with. For the choices that you made of always taking the hard job, for the teamwork and understanding that your wife had, to be the best you always have to go at the hardest things to see how it comes out. So, to both of you, thank you for your choices."

—LT General Mary Legere

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