Back in 2018, international affairs expert and Utah native Miles Hansen returned to his home state to take over the helm of World Trade Center Utah, a local nonprofit that works to expand the international reach of Utah businesses, attract foreign investment to the state and build Utah’s global reputation.

Hansen is a Brigham Young University alum and a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies who speaks Arabic, Farsi and Russian. He has experience in more than 70 countries and is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Hansen was most recently the director for gulf affairs at the National Security Council in the White House after having served as a staff aide to the State Department’s assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs. As a diplomat, Hansen was the energy and economic officer at U.S. Consulate General Dhahran in Saudi Arabia advising U.S. government and private sector leaders on the Saudi energy industry and economic reform agenda.

He also served tours focused on Iran at U.S. Embassy Yerevan in Armenia, and the Iran Regional Presence Office at U.S. Consulate General Dubai. Before joining the State Department as a Thomas R. Pickering Fellow, Hansen started his career in Utah as a special assistant in the lieutenant governor’s office.

The way home
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A not-so-distant war

With his unique perspective, global affairs experience and current dual mission to expand the international presence of Utah businesses while building international investment interest, Hansen sat down with the Deseret News for a discussion about the wide-ranging impacts on the one year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Deseret News: It’s now been a year since Russian military forces began their attack on Ukraine. What stands out to you about how the world has responded?

Miles Hansen: First and foremost, the human toll of Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine cannot be understated. This is a nation, a people that have experienced untold suffering and loss and it’s a travesty that this continues.

One of the things that stands out to me is the incredible leadership of (Ukrainian President) Volodymyr Zelenskyy. A year ago, some wondered if he’d jump on a plane and flee the country. But he’s stayed with his people and rallied the nation and rallied Ukraine’s military. And just as important, he’s rallied the world to supply significant aid to Ukraine to augment their ability to fight against this criminal invasion.

And that was not a foregone conclusion. You’ve seen, over the past year, increasingly more potent weaponry being provided and it’s a direct result of Zelenskyy’s leadership.

We’ve also seen a remarkable revitalization of NATO. This war has catalyzed the most historic NATO expansion in 50 years. Spending on NATO has increased dramatically, particularly among European members, the organization has strengthened and a new clarity of purpose has emerged.

The resilience of the global energy market has also been a revelation. At the outset of the war, a very strong economic response led by the U.S. and partners aimed to appropriately isolate the Russia economy. Numerous concerns, and fears, were raised including how the sanctions could drive up energy prices and potentially push Europe, which is heavily reliant on Russian energy, into a recession. But other resources were made available as Russia funneled energy output to China and while there were some market disruptions, catastrophe was averted. And what we saw, in terms of the strength of the global market, is that economic leverage (President Vladimir) Putin and Russia hold over Europe is much less significant.

DN: Are you seeing downstream effects from the war on Utah businesses with connections to Russia and Ukraine?

MH: Ukraine and Russia are not among our state’s biggest international trade partners but there are a few Utah businesses that have seen more significant impacts because of their presences there, either on customer or supply side. (The most recent Utah export data, compiled by Michigan State University, shows that of $17.7 billion in export business generated by Utah companies in 2020, about $6 million in exports went to Ukraine and $34 million to Russia.)

But what’s been really amazing is the response our Utah companies, nonprofits and state leaders have had since the beginning of the war. The collective first response was “what can we do to help the Ukrainian people.” Utah businesses, the governor and first lady, our faith groups, all leaned in to showing their support and rallying others to do the same. Millions of dollars in aid and supplies were on the way to Ukraine before national organizations were able to respond. It was critical help at a critical time and World Trade Center Utah did all we could to help coordinate those efforts.

DN: Ukraine’s economy has been devastated by the war. Beside supporting humanitarian aid, are there opportunities for Utah businesses to help provide a boost?

MH: We’ve been working very closely with the Ukrainian Counsel General and trade team as well as the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine to do exactly that.

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Ukraine is in the midst of a wartime economy so it’s chaotic and can be very difficult to navigate from a business perspective. One thing that’s happening is an effort to connect Utah companies with Ukraine-based technology developers. There may also be Utah-Ukraine manufacturing partnerships that make sense in some areas. One of them is definitely in the agtech (agriculture technology) space.

DN: As someone who served for years in various roles for the State Department, including postings in or near conflict areas, what’s your sense of the near-term future for Ukraine?

MH: There is no quick resolution in sight. I think one of the reasons why President (Joe) Biden’s trip to Kyiv was so important is that it helped remind everyone that we’re in this for the long haul. Ukrainian people are on the front lines and dying. The U.S., NATO and allies are not going to grow weary of providing the support Ukrainians need to fight against this terrible aggression.

On the Utah side, humanitarian support was so important, so critical in early days because global aid groups hadn’t mobilized yet. Every time we talk to the Ukrainian government, they thank us for what Utah and the U.S. has done, but they remain in need of significant help. I adamantly believe we should continue to support Ukraine in this effort. There are some voices now saying that we should stop our support, but it’s important for every voice to push back on that narrative. The costs are not insignificant but it’s nothing compared to the cost the Ukrainian people are paying. And, nothing compared to the costs of what would happen if we didn’t push back against the Russian aggression because, if left unchecked, it could easily spread to devastating consequences far beyond the borders of Ukraine.

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